The Life of Agnes Grace Weld (1849-1915) Little Red Riding Hood
Agnes Grace Weld by Charles Dodgson (not yet Lewis Carroll) taken on 18 August 1857 at Croft Rectory, Yorkshire, home of the Dodgson family between 1843 and 1868. The same sitting as the Little Red Riding Hood photograph. One of the few photos Dodgson exhibited publicly.
“Precious beyond measure to me is the memory of those days of my youth, when we used to take cross-country scrambles over hedge and ditch, or ramble together along breezy downs, and when he used to open to me the treasure-house of his mind and heart.” Agnes Grace Weld, Glimpses of Tennyson, 1903
Anne Weld self-portrait (Glimpses of Tennyson) Sister of Emily Sellwood Tennyson (Lady Tennyson) wife of Charles Weld, mother of Agnes Weld
On 8 February, 1849 Ann (Sellwood) Weld gave birth to a baby girl at Somerset House, in the Assistant Secretary’s apartments where her husband, Charles worked at the Royal Society. Sixteen months later, in June of 1850, Alfred Tennyson married Emily Sellwood now aunt of baby Agnes Weld. According to Ann Weld she could not leave her baby daughter to attend her sister’s wedding but her husband, Charles Weld certainly was there because he signed the church registry book!
In August 1853 at the home of Tennyson’s eldest brother, Charles and his wife, Louisa in Grasby, a four year old Agnes was there with her uncle as well as The Tennyson’s. Agnes says of her memories of those days, “I saw how ungrudgingly the gifts that would have made them shine in the most intellectual socially were turned to the service of the poor villagers among whom their lot was cast.”
The Little Red Riding Hood photo of Agnes Weld taken by Charles Dodgson taken 18th August 1857. Princeton University Library
A young man named Charles Dodgson took a photograph of now eight-year old Agnes Weld in August 1857 dressed as Little Red Riding Hood with her basket of goodies for her grandmother. A now, infamous image and the one most associated with her. This was the most admired photograph of Agnes; Dodgson exhibited in 1858 in London, just a year later.
Later, in 1862, a twelve-year old Agnes was again photographed by Dodgson looking very serious with a pigeon on a table. She is not smiling; looking rather pensive for such a little girl. One month later, on September 14th, Dodgson called on The Tennyson’s at Tent Lodge. He recorded the following passage in his diary, “Only Mrs. Tennyson was at home, and I sent my card, adding (underneath my name) in pencil ‘artist of “Agnes Grace” and “Little Red Riding Hood”. On the strength of this introduction I was most kindly received and spent nearly an hour there. I saw also the two children, Hallam and Lionel, five and three years old, the most beautiful boys of their age I ever saw. I got leave to take portraits of them…Both the children proposed coming with me when I left-how far seemed immaterial to them.”
Father of Agnes Weld, Charles Richard Weld (1813-1869) Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin
Weld family scandal apparently occurred in March of 1861 when Agnes’s father, Charles was asked to ‘resign’ from his position of sixteen years as Assistant Secretary and Librarian of the Royal Society. Charles Weld was caught in his private room with a woman who was not his wife, thought to be a prostitute. He said she was not but he had to resign anyway. His wife’s reaction is not recorded and his daughter, Agnes was twelve years old; definitely old enough to understand what was happening. Sister-in-law, Louisa’s only recorded reaction in her diary, ‘Day great anxiety and distress CW.’ (Dated 14 March 1861).
Agnes's Aunt Louisa Turner sister of Emily Tennyson and Anne Weld. Wife of eldest brother of Alfred Tennyson, Charles Tennyson-Turner. Drawing by Anne Weld (Glimpses of Tennyson) Family members noted the strong resemblance between Agnes and Louisa.
In 1866, The Weld’s moved to Aubrey House for about two years making seventeen year old Agnes very happy. Even though she was engaged she said, “I hope to meet with some young people that I like better than the Milford set-they are so fast and vulgar in their words and manners.” It seems that Aubrey House was located near Hurst Castle as was a garrison of six hundred soldiers! During this time, she began to show signs of anorexia. Her Aunt Emily was always urging her to eat properly saying, “Take porter and port and all that is good for you. Take care of yourself so that you may have the strength to fulfill your appointed task in life.” Strangely enough, Julia Margaret Cameron, family friend of The Tennyson’s and The Welds, told Emily Tennyson that “she was in a similar state as a girl!”
Lady Emily Tennyson, Wife of Alfred Tennyson, sister of Anne and Louisa Weld, Aunt of Agnes Weld. Miniature by Violet Baker (Glimpses of Tennyson)
Agnes grew thinner and thinner and even doctors could find nothing wrong with her. Family members note her not eating very much and discussing how sad it made them. Mrs. Cameron explained to Hallam Tennyson, “That poor child-for I always think of her as still a child in the same dark misery. This life closing round her in dark shades and no ray of the real eternal life visible to her troubled soul.” Alfred Tennyson even told Walt Whitman about Agnes’s condition saying, “She lost her mind and no-one who saw her believed she could live; but under the superintendence of a good doctor she has perfectly recovered and looks plumper and fresher than ever she did before.”
Albumen print of Agnes Weld by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1864. Cameron's handwriting on bottom reads, "Agnes Weld niece of Alfred Tennyson From Life Julia Margaret Cameron." Also, this photograph was found being used as a back mount for Walter Deverell's drawing 'Claude Duval and the Lady. © Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery
In 1869 Agnes’s father, Charles died unexpectedly leaving his widow, Anne and daughter, Agnes behind. During a stay with her sister, Emily and Alfred Tennyson at their home on the Isle of Wight, Farringford, she decided to build a house a mile away named Hawksridge. Agnes Weld never married; dedicating her life to Christian Charity giving away nearly all she had. Today she would be called a missionary.
1854: Mrs Tennyson's niece, Agnes Grace Weld in ringlets and a lace collar. Photo by Oscar Gustav Rejlander.
She did however, become an author. Publishing four books in her lifetime and gathering some notoriety:
1) Sacred Palmlands: The Journal of a Spring Tour by A.G. Weld. Published in 1881. This was her travel diary that she and her mother took during a trip to Egypt.
2) St. Agatha & her Festa by A.G. Weld Published in 1884
3) Glimpses of Tennyson and some of his relations and friends by Agnes Grace Weld. Published in 1903.
4) Tennyson’s Religious Life and Teachings by Agnes Grace Weld. Published in 1909.