October 2016

Ruscombe Foster: ‘Florence Nightingale- a Hampshire Life and Death’
October 2016

At the October Meeting of the Lymington and District Historical Society, Dr. Russ Foster gave an interesting, well researched, illustrated talk entitled ‘Florence Nightingale – a Hampshire Life and Death’.

The speaker said that Florence was born in 1820 in Tuscany, the city after which she was named. Her elder sister, Parthanope, was born in Naples, her name being the Greek word for that city. Their father came from a relatively prosperous Sheffield banking family and had attended both Trinity College, Cambridge and Edinburgh University. Their mother, Frances, was a daughter of William Smith, the M.P. for Norwich.

However, the family home, Lea Hurst, near Matlock in Derbyshire was considered to be unsuitable as their main residence, being too cold in winter and too distant from London, so in 1825 Mr. Nightingale bought from Sir William Heathcote, the Embley Park estate together with nearly 4000 acres containing several lakes, extensive plantations, cottages and farms. Embley became their main family home with visits to Derbyshire during the summer months.

Although the sisters were initially educated by a governess, they were largely tutored by their father in his library. An extended curriculum also included modern languages, Roman, German, Italian and Turkish history, Latin, Greek and mathematics – statistics being an important element. Florence was also an avid reader. Together with travel abroad Florence and Parthanope were groomed for life in society.

Florence records that on February 7th 1837, God spoke to her and called her to His service. Local oral tradition suggests that at the time she was at Embley, sat under cedars of Lebanon trees. Much to the consternation of her family she eventually decided that she was called to be a nurse. Her parents, in an attempt to divert these thoughts, encouraged Florence to take two extended trips to Europe, however, this ploy was unsuccessful. Realising that opposition to Florence’s wishes was pointless, her father provided her with an allowance of £500 a year and in August 1853 she was appointed Superintendent at the Institute of Sick Gentlewomen, in London where she proved to be an excellent administrator and skilled in organizing committees. Effectively this was the beginning of Florence’s career and Embley ceased to be her home.

In 1854 the Crimean War broke out and this propelled Florence to immortality. One of the results of the alleged mismanagement of the British Expedition was that Florence, backed by her friend and Secretary of War, Sir Sidney Herbert, lead a party of 38 nurses to the Barrack Hospital at Scutari on the northern shores of Turkey. The competence, care and kindness shown by these nurses are legendary and in 1855 ‘The Lady of the Lamp’ picture was published. Following the war Florence was feted by artists, writers and the general public.

Florence was still only 35 years old. It was now that her talents and skills were displayed and the support of her friends ‘in high places’ was necessary. This was particularly so, as she had contracted a debilitating illness in the Crimea which affected her for many years. Florence began to work tirelessly for many causes, including better conditions in army hospitals. She was particularly interested in the Nightingale School of Nursing which was opened in 1860 at St. Thomas’s Hospital. Florence became an accomplished writer and 1859 wrote ‘Notes on Hospitals,’ followed in 1860 by ‘Notes on Nursing,’ both of which became best sellers.

Nearer home, Florence submitted plans for the new Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley. These plans were substantially ignored. However, she was more successful at Winchester, where in the mid-nineteenth century, the hospital, located in the lower part of the city was experiencing severe drainage and resultant health problems. Florence campaigned from her bedside for a new hospital to be built on higher ground and following much opposition a decision was made for this to be done. This hospital, obviously much changed and improved, is still the major hospital in the area. It is also worth noting that the first two matrons were trained at the Nightingale School of Nursing.

Throughout her life Florence campaigned for improved conditions in hospitals and better training for nurses. Her interest extended to other areas, where for example during an extended visit to Embley, she offered advice for the re-design of Wellow School.

Florence Nightingale died in 1910 and following her wish to have a simple burial she was interred in the family vault at St Margaret’s Church East Wellow. However, a memorial service to commemorate her life was held at Westminster Abbey which was attended by a packed congregation.

This excellent talk was much appreciated by the members and visitors. The next meeting of the Society is on Friday 25th November when the talk will be given by Frank Green, NFPA Archaeologist, and is entitled ‘The Archaeology of Churches, Churchyards and Corpses’. Visitors very welcome.