Helen Acquroff

Other names: 
sometimes recorded as Ellen or Hellen, perfoming name Sister Cathedral
Dates: 
12th October 1831 - 18th September, 1887

Helen was a Music Teacher, born in Edinburgh on 12th October, second eldest of 10 children: Elizabeth (born 1830), Mary Ann (1833), Thomson Paul (1834), Alexander Fletcher (1836), Ann Paul (1838), John (1839), Susan Carter (1842), Sophia Sarah ((1843), Robert Wingfield (1846). Their parents were John Acquroff, a Hairdresser of Russian ancestry (a naturalised British subject), and Sophia Campbell Fletcher from Ardelach, Nairn.

At the 1841 Census the family were living at 8 Muse Lane.

Helen was blind from birth. She remained unmarried and had a son James born on 2nd August 1862 at 20 Rose Street in Edinburgh.

Helen sang in the city's concert halls and theatres in Edinburgh and across Scotland, being particularly involved in the Temperance Movement, when she adopted the name of Sister Cathedral (sometimes known as Sister Helen Acquroff), as well as a humorous irreverant style.

Helen is mentioned in Working-Class Women Poets in Victorian Britain: An Anthology, and in One hundred modern Scottish poets : with biographical and critical notices.

She attended the Blind Asylum School which at that time will have been located at Nicolson Street and she later taught there. She wrote songs, hymns, temperance music and poems, some of which appear in A Good Templar Song Book, published in 1873. They include Polly Hopkins,the Sabbath School Song,The Swiss Girl,When We Were Bairns Thegither, The Reformed Drunkard To His Wife.

In 1871 Helen was living with her parents and son at 26 South Richmond Street. In 1881 after her father's death she was living with her mother and her son, now an unemployed Hairdresser at 41 Clerk Street.

On 18th September, 1887 Helen died of Nephritis at 51 Clerk Street, Edinburgh, aged 55.

There is a memorial fountain near Jawbone or Coronation Walk at the pavilion at The Meadows in Edinburgh.

From a descendant on the Ancestry.com 'Acuroff name' page, ‘I was in Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago and went past the "family birdbath" (actually it used to be a fountain dedicated to Helen Acquroff, but the dolphin fountain disappeared years ago)’.

Sources
Helen Acquroff birth, death; son James birth; brothers and sisters birth; 1841. 51, 71, 91 census records
Birth and Death and Census Records
History and Archaeology
Friends of the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links Website
Acquroff Name
Ancestry website blog for the name Acquroff