Born in Altrincham, Cheshire, Helen Paterson soon moved to Birmingham after the death of her doctor father in 1862. She was educated at the Birmingham School of Design and subsequently from 1867 at the Royal Academy Schools in London. In her early career she provided illustrations for authors and periodicals yet she was able to expand on her production when she married the poet William Allingham in 1874. In 1875 she became an associate of the Old Water-Colour Society, and exhibited there. Her later work is influenced by her move to Surrey in 1881, depicting vernacular architecture, garden scenes and landscapes.