A new post on Deep Cuts goes in search of Lovecraft’s Other Aunts and Great-Aunts.
I took the opportunity to step back a bit from the aunts to their mother — H.P. Lovecraft’s grandmother. This proved somewhat interesting. Lovecraft once wrote to Moe…
“[In my family tree there is] a knight (Sir Lancelot Allgood of Nunwick) [who I have as one of] my great-great-great-grandfathers” (Selected Letters III)
This was via Helen Allgood (1820–1881), Lovecraft’s paternal grandmother (married 1839). She evidently derived from the Allgood family in Northumberland, in the far north of England. Lovecraft later corresponded with her sister from circa 1905, on the family history she had been researching. Lovecraft learned that Helen and her sister were… “of the [Allgood] line of Nunwick, near Hexham, Northumberland”.
Landed Families of Britain and Ireland now has a long 2014 research article on “Allgood of Nunwick Hall and The Hermitage”, with evocative pictures and several pertinent items. Although Lovecraft’s grandmother does not appear to have been in the central line of Allgood descent, there is no reason (that I know of) to doubt that she was not somehow ‘of that family’ and that her line had originated near Hexham. Lovecraft might then have been delighted to learn he was related by very distant and disreputable blood to a leading 18th century writer, albeit a cookery-book writer. Landed Families explains…
Lancelot Allgood (1711-82) … established the Allgoods as one of the leading gentry families in the county. His father, who died in 1725, seems to have lived a life of some dissipation with a wife and son in Northumberland and a mistress and family in London. The only survivor of his illegitimate children was in fact the cookery writer, Hannah Glasse, whose The Art of Cookery was the most successful cookery book of the 18th century.
Sir Lancelot Allgood was indeed a Knight, as Lovecraft stated. Also a Member of Parliament, and the nominal High Sheriff of Northumberland. He could trace his family line back some 400 years to Devonshire. Lovecraft evidently knew something of him and his roles, since in a letter he noted…
the head of the Allgood house in Northumberland seems always to be High-Sheriff of the County, even to this day; a sort of hereditary manorial appurtenance” (Selected Letters II)
He, like Lovecraft, was also enjoyed wide views of a wild landscape made settled and mellowed by hard work. Again, Landed Families explains…
In 1769 it was said that “Sir Lancelot has given a new face, as it were, to the country about Nunwick, within the space of a very few years, by making plantations, enclosures and good roads”, and nearer the house he laid out gardens: “a grove to the west, a grass-lawn to the south, and a terraced gravel-walk to the east, which commands a view to Chipchase at one end, and a variety of prospects on the other.”
What was the connection, exactly? Lovecraft explains it in a letter to Barlow (O Fortunate Floridian). As he understood it in 1934, a William Allgood of Nunwick married Rachel Morris in 1817…
and became the father of Helen (Allgood) Lovecraft, my father’s mother.
And also of her surviving sister Sarah, a great-aunt whom Lovecraft had corresponded circa 1905. Both were, as the “Lovecraft Family in America” page at hplovecraft.com states…
daughter[s] of William Allgood (1787–1848) and Rachel (Morris) Allgood (1796–1843), both natives of Wales.
So, that’s interesting, if their birthplaces rather than residency can be shown to be Wales. I suspect the latter. My guess here is then… ‘of the line of Hexham’ that went back to Sir Lancelot Allgood, but… moved to Wales just before economic hard-times of “the hungry ’20s” set in? According to Ancestry “Wales” is indeed the given 1820* birthplace of their first child Helen Adelia Allgood (1820-1881), presumably identical with Lovecraft’s grandmother. But of her father and mother no birthplace is stated.
What place in Wales was she born, exactly? That appears to be currently unknown, perhaps unrecoverable. The British Census did not start recording names etc until 1841.
Though there were evidently many Allgoods at Pontypool in the far south of the Welsh Marches, where they were well-known makers of exquisite and well-regarded ‘Japanned’ lacquered boxes and the like. They even had a William Allgood who threw up this business and emigrated to America in 1822 to establish himself in the grocery trade. The town nestled in the hills some miles back from the great sea-port of Cardiff — perhaps a cheap port from which to embark for a new life in what was then still a rough-tough gun-slinging America.
Whatever the apparent location in Wales in the early 1820s actually was, Lovecraft is certain that ‘his’ William Allgood and family were established in America by 1829…
The only duel I know of in my own family was fought by my great-grandfather William Allgood (a native of Northumberland, England) in 1829 in the country near Rochester, N.Y., over animosities bequeathed by the War of 1812. Slight bullet-wounds to both participants formed the only results…” (Selected Letters IV).
I could be wrong, and I don’t have all the relevant books and articles, but if the Wales identification is correct then my hypothesis would thus be:
- William came-of-age at 21 circa 1808 in Northumberland;
- in 1817, at age 30, he had been successful enough in life to marry 21 year-old bride Rachel, seemingly also of Northumberland and of good stock;
- the couple were resident in Wales by 1820/21, where their first daughter was born among Allgood relatives;
- as the ‘hungry 1820s’ bit and the local trade failed, they anticipating a move to America from a nearby Welsh port;
- the growing family were in America circa the mid 1820s, and certainly by 1828.
* Some sources say 1821. It was then a common practice to record the birth certificate later than the actual birth, which may explain the discrepancy.