Florence Nightingale Museum faces closure

The Florence Nightingale Museum is based in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital, London, the place where, in 1860, Nightingale established her School of Nursing. In this bicentenary year of her birth and the designated International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, the museum is sadly facing the threat of closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you’d like to help save this historically important collection, made up of almost 3000 artefacts relating to Florence’s life, work and legacy, including one of her famous lamps used during the Crimean War, then visit the museum’s website and click on the Go Fund Me link.

D1575 Box 36 81 (i)


“Every nurse ought to wash her hands very frequently”

Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing, 1859


Florence Nightingale: Breaking Barriers

Back in March, we received a very interesting enquiry from an 11 year old fan of Florence Nightingale.  Meenakshi is a 6th grade student from Missouri City, Texas, USA and as part of the National History Day 2020 project themed ‘Breaking Barriers in History’, she has written a research paper entitled The Lady with the Lamp: Florence Nightingale Breaking Barriers in Modern Nursing.

According to their website, National History Day sees more than half a million middle and high school students participate annually by undertaking an historical study and writing an essay, preparing an exhibition or performance, creating a documentary or making a website.  Students enter a national competition (due to conclude in June) and Meenakshi’s paper advanced to the district level.  You can read her paper in full on her blog.

About Meenakshi – in her own words:
I am a sixth grader in Missouri City, Texas. In my free time, I enjoy writing short stories, posting on my blog, and spending time with my family. I have many future aspirations that I desire to accomplish. I want to help advocate for creating a cleaner air environment for our Earth, and make the world a better place for future generations. I believe that one change for the better sparks another, and together we can start a rippling chain of dominoes to encourage people in the future to take care of our Earth. When I am older, I want to become a lawyer, following Nightingale’s principles of equality for all people to establish justice. Lastly, I greatly cherish this opportunity to reveal how Florence Nightingale captured the imaginations and sparked the inspiration of thousands of people across the globe. I want to truly recognize Florence Nightingale for all of her life’s tireless efforts, dedicated to creating a healthier world, and shaping nursing into the honorable and respectable position that it is today.


Florence Nightingale’s local patients (part 2)

Roger has almost finishing transcribing the letters of Florence Nightingale to Crich doctor Christopher Dunn and will be researching some of the patients she cared for.  Here is another instalment from Roger about the letters, and one patient in particular… “little Lee”.

The letters are predominantly about the health and welfare of individuals living in Lea and Holloway.  From the letters emerges the particularly poignant story of  a young boy, often named in the letters as “little Lee.”  Charles Henry Lee, known as Harry, was born in 1875.  His family were living in Lea or Holloway, his father, Andrew, being a hosiery factory worker.  Florence’s letters indicate that Harry had a deformity of the spine, and it seems reasonable to assume that this condition was present from birth.

The first reference to Harry in surviving letters is found in a letter written in October 1877, when Harry would have been two years old.  Taken together, one letter held here at the record office and one at Boston University, USA (see both via the Florence Nightingale Digitization Project website), indicate that Harry was about to be taken from his home to St Thomas’s Hospital in London. Florence asks Dunn for assistance in preparing for the journey:

Could you kindly give directions for someone as to the “small padded board” for the child: & charge it to me?  I am ashamed to trouble you but the parents are too stupid: & I have no one here who is clever about these things.

At the last minute, however, Florence learned that Harry was showing evidence of fresh inflammation.  She needed Dunn to see the boy to confirm that he could make the journey.  First she tried to contact him by word of mouth:

I sent 2 or 3 messages into the village yesterday to ask you, if you were in Holloway, to be so kind as to go & see the child.

When this failed she wrote to Dunn asking him to see the boy immediately.  Approval must have been given for the journey.

Andrew Lee’s child will go up to St Thomas’ on Friday.  The “board” for it is come: & I will send it to Andrew Lee’s to night [sic].  Could you be so very kind as to see the child tomorrow, Thursday – look at “board” & child, & tell me whether both will “do.”? 

Within a few days, at the end of a long letter about other matters Florence assures Dunn that the boy is safely and happily housed at St Thomas’s Hospital.

It is not clear how long Harry Lee remained in hospital.  In a letter written in January 1879, more than a year after his admission, Florence reports that Harry was no longer in need of hospital treatment but was being cared for at a convalescent home, Ascot Priory in Berkshire.  There can be little doubt that this provision was made at Florence’s initiative: she knew some of the nursing sisters at Ascot Priory from when they had served with her in the Crimea.  Later in that year the sisters reported Harry Lee to be a “peculiarly happy child”:

He is quite “master” at Ascot; and he objects to another patient being called “little man” [saying] ‘He is only a little boy: I am the man.’

By early in 1880, however, Harry Lee was in hospital again.  Florence reported to Dunn that although the Mother Superior at Ascot Priory saw Harry Lee to be happier she was concerned about his increasing deformity.  John Croft, the surgeon at St Thomas’s Hospital was also concerned:

You will be sorry to learn that little Lee has now a very large abscess connected with the disease of the spine. This makes the case much more serious. The parents ought to know that the chances of recovery are less than they were.

At this time Florence was living at her London house.  She asked Christopher Dunn to visit Harry Lee’s mother and father:

When you are going Lea way, could you be so very kind as to inform the parents of little Lee, because you will be able to answer their questions as a Medical Authority; & neither unduly to frighten them nor to flatter their hopes.

In April 1880 Florence relays a further report from the surgeon John Croft.  A long stay in hospital was predicted:

I wish I could give a more hopeful account of little Harry Lee. The new jacket had to be taken off.  The abscess is discharging freely still.  He is very thin & weak.

Surviving letters from Florence to Christopher contain no subsequent reference to Harry Lee.  But Florence writes at length about him in a letter (original is at Boston University) written in August 1880 to Miss Mochler, a Nightingale family assistant living at Lea Hurst.   Harry Lee was about to leave hospital and to return to Ascot Priory.  The improvement in his condition led to him being called “a little miracle”:

He is now able to wear his new splint – a much better one than he has ever been able to wear before – he can walk a little and there is very little discharge now.

Florence was thinking about the advisability of arranging a visit by his mother.  She was cautious about the risk of raising his mother’s hopes about his prospects: his mother would probably think him looking worse that when she last saw him.  Despite the improvement “he is not better and never will be.”

In the absence of any further references in Florence’s letters we rely on other sources of information.  When a census was taken in April 1881 Harry Lee’s family, his father, mother and three sisters, were at home in Lea.  Harry was at Ascot Priory, the youngest of 23 patients and one of only four patients of school age.  Harry Lee must have died in the following few weeks: his name appears in the list of deaths registered between April and June 1881.

A year earlier Florence had written of him:

“Poor little man!  But few well-to-do children could be so carefully nursed and attended.”

D2546 1-88_0133D2546 1-88_0134

Florence Nightingale’s Connection to Pleasley Colliery

I came across a rather unusual connection between the woman famous for nursing in the Crimean War and mining in Pleasley. At first it sounds like the two should be completely unconnected but it involves a little local legend and a connection to her father. What better time to share this story than in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale on the 12th of May 1820.

Pleasley Colliery between Chesterfield and Mansfield was once owned by the Stanton Coal & Iron Company. It opened as a small scale mine in 1872 after the mineral rights were leased from William Edward Nightingale, the father of Florence Nightingale. The Stanton Company decided to branch out into coal so that it could supply their ironworks, as well as competitors in the other local iron and steel businesses. It appeared that Pleasley was a good choice because of its location being close to Chesterfield and Mansfield, from which connections to Sheffield could also be easily made. This was helped by the wharf that was built onsite to sell commercial coal from.

D6326 2 3 000002

Village Scene with Pleasley Colliery in background from Maude Verney’s Pleasley watercolour sketch book [1919], D326/2/3/2

As Lord of the Manor in Pleasley, William Nightingale had the rights to any minerals found on the land but it was also his right to lease them. In remembrance of this, the first shaft to be sunk at the Colliery became known as Nightingale Pit. It was a fitting tribute despite the fact there is no evidence the Nightingales ever officially lived in Pleasley.

A local legend tells that Florence and her father dug the first hole, or sunk the first sod as it was then known, of what would develop into the Pleasley Colliery. How true this is just isn’t clear, but nonetheless, it certainly is a compelling story. Unfortunately, both William and his wife Francis often spent most of their time in Hampshire, rather than spending summers at their Derbyshire home at Lea Hurst, as they were both becoming increasingly unwell. It was Florence who nursed them in 1873, but the next year gave this role to her sister as she had to carry on running the school of nursing she’d established in London in 1860.

D1575 Box 36 81 (i)

Photograph of Florence Nightingale, D1575/BOX/36/81

Coal at Pleasley was first reached in 1875, three years after the mine was first opened. Whilst this would have been a time of celebration, it was somewhat short lived. Coal was reached despite problems of the shafts filling with water. To try and solve this problem, iron from the ironworking side of the Stanton Company was used to line the shafts. This was only a temporary fix and didn’t help when digging further underground. The water problems continued until 1877 when better iron equipment and a new pumping system were installed.

Following the death of William Edward Nightingale in 1874, the Pleasley estate was placed in the joint hands of Florence and her older sister Parthenope. This meant that the women, alongside Parthenope’s husband Sir Harry Verney, would inherit the mineral rights in Pleasley that were leased to the Stanton Company.

Pleasley Colliery stopped winding coal in 1973 and from then coal was sent underground to Shirebrook Colliery. It officially closed in 1983 but a shaft was left open to provide ventilation for Shirebrook. This shaft was totally abandoned in 1993. The buildings that remained standing after 1986 were then classed as Grade 2 listed. In 1996 the Friends of Pleasley Pit was formed to ensure the posterity of the site and it became a museum.


‘Death of William Nightingale’, https://lifeandtimesofflorencenightingale.wordpress.com/biography/death-william-nightingale/

Bell, D., Memories of the Derbyshire Coalfields (Newbury: Countryside Books, 2006)

National Coal Board, Pleasley Colliery, 1873-1973 (1973)

Pleasley Parish Council, http://pleasleyparishcouncil.org.uk/page16.html

Pleasley Pit Trust, History, https://www.pleasleypittrust.org.uk/services

Weiss, M., Coal Mines Remembered 2 (2011)

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 


Florence Nightingale’s local patients (part 1)

Today is famous nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday.  Her life is being celebrated across the world during 2020 although the coronavirus pandemic means that many planned events have had to be cancelled or postponed.

Through the course of this week, we’ll be posting on Florence’s connections with Derbyshire and how her story is influencing people today.

While we are in lockdown, not only are staff working from home, but several of our regular volunteers have also had the opportunity to work on projects that might not otherwise have arisen.  Roger is our longest-serving volunteer, and you will have heard about his other projects through the blog.  His latest project is especially timely as it has involved transcribing in full 88 letters written by Florence Nightingale and purchased for £2,000 back in 1982.  The transcripts will ultimately be added to the online catalogue (reference D2546), but in the meantime, here are some insights into the life of Florence as told by Roger:

The collection (Treasure No. 39) contains letters written between 1876 and 1887, representing a portion of the correspondence between Florence Nightingale and Christopher B C Dunn, a medical practitioner living in Crich from 1862 until his death in 1892. We have only one side of this correspondence: none of Christopher Dunn’s letters to Florence Nightingale are known to have survived, so in that sense Florence Nightingale’s perspective prevails. The rhetoric of the letters can be regarded as delicately polite, at times deferential, and respectful of the professional status of the doctor:

Do you wish your Patient’s hair to be shaved or cut short?  Would you say whether he must not leave off the cotton Jersey next his skin?

Florence Nightingale aligns herself with Christopher Dunn as a fellow professional:

I am very much obliged to you for your report of our Patients.

The letters may also be read, perhaps, as leaving Christopher Dunn in no doubt about what was expected of him:

Could you be so very good as to have a Water-bed hired or ordered at once for Mrs Limb; and send me the Acct?  I am giving you this trouble but I hardly know where one is to be had.

On occasion he was expected to act almost as Florence Nightingale’s local agent; Mr Acraman being vicar of Crich:

I hasten to send you a Cheque for your Qr Acc [quarterly account] for the people to whom you are so kind & to thank you for your kindness.  I venture to ask you to be so good as to give £2. 2 (which I have added to the Cheque) to Mr Acraman for his school subscription; for which he wrote to me. I must apologise both you & to him for this unceremonious way of doing it.

Florence wrote these letters in her role as benefactor to the community of Lea and Holloway in general and to a number of individual residents in particular.  She commissioned Christopher Dunn to give diagnoses, treatments and medical oversight.  She paid for medical attention, including in some cases meeting the cost of hospital admission.  She provided some individuals with a weekly supplement of nourishing food.  Many local people enjoyed her generous individually tailored provision:

I have now (this morning) received your kind letter.  And I will trouble you about Milk & meat & such things as you kindly order for our charges.  On meat are Sisters Allen Louisa Peach Mrs Broomhead Widow Barton Widow Brown.  Of the two last, Widow Barton’s was only to be for the winter months.  Widow Brown’s only for her illness.  Both would stop on March 31.  I observe from your letter that good Widow Pearson has been ill.  Would you like her Meat to continue a month longer?

Florence did not limit her interventions to medical matters.  She took a much broader view of her obligation.  She asked Christopher Dunn to take action or to give advice about what might be called issues of public health and community well-being, including tainted water supply and inadequate household heating; relief of financial poverty and the establishment and maintenance of a coffee house in Whatstandwell intended to reduce excessive patronage of a public house.  She sought to remain well informed, even when living in London or visiting her sister in Buckinghamshire.   She can be regarded as having, in modern parlance, pulled strings: involving local men of influence such as William Yeomans, a senior employee of the Nightingale Estate, but also a long-serving Poor Law Guardian and local councillor, and Robert Wildgoose, manager of Lea Mills, a significant local employer:

Would you kindly remember me to Mrs Swann and tell her I have not succeeded (I hardly expected it) in finding Patty Cottrell a suitable place.  I hope she has, for Mr Wildgoose has promised in that prospect not to take her on at the Mill.

She also expected, perhaps required, Christopher Dunn to provide her with information about individuals – aspects of their behaviour as well as their health; and to offer some “patients” moral guidance as well as, or even instead of, medical expertise:

I know you will be so kind as to enquire after Rose Limb (morally not physically) when you visit the mother.  This child, for I think she is only 12, declared that if she did not like her new sister-in-law, she should leave the house & set up for herself elsewhere.  (This is the harm the Mill does – girls of 13 think they owe no allegiance, if they can earn their own bread)  If this fit of rebellion has, as I earnestly trust, passed away, I would not revive the possibility of her doing such a thing.  Rose Limb is frightfully spoiled. Tho’ she is put to school at no expence [sic] to them, she is allowed to go or not as she pleases.  I know you will kindly ask what she is doing. (The girls at Holloway are a heavy anxiety: so much dress: so little putting by money or even mending their own clothes. Many a girl who begs of me spends more money on herself relatively, and in a few instances absolutely, than I do.)

But “clinical” information did not flow in only one direction.  Florence used other sources and gave information to Christopher Dunn:

Thank you for your kind note about Adam Prince.  What I hear of him is that can now take neither milk nor eggs.

On occasions she shares doubts about her practice:

Poor Lyddy Prince has been helped this winter – it is a difficulty about this, knowing that what helps her goes to supply Adam [her son] with drink –  She is now on the parish, with a claim to Medical relief.

The letters, then, offer a glimpse of how Florence Nightingale operated as an influential benefactor.  Do such exchanges of very personal information challenge modern notions about patient confidentiality? We might remember that this is private correspondence, intended never to be seen by anyone other than Christopher Dunn himself.  Is it we, as curious readers achieving access through a world wide web who are intruding on private matters?

Signature, Jan 1880 (ref: D2546/54)

See the letters for yourself

Images of the letters, along with many others written by Florence Nightingale, from archives and libraries across several countries, have been made freely available: http://archives.bu.edu/web/florence-nightingale.  In particular this searchable web site gives access to a few letters to Christopher Dunn, the originals of which are held elsewhere.

The Crich Parish website has pages devoted to Christopher Dunn, and to the Whatstandwell Coffee Rooms, with transcriptions of a number of the letters held at the Record Office.

Celebrating Florence

Tomorrow sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of the woman credited as the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale (12 May 1820-13 August 1910).

Florence served as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War, in which she organised care for wounded soldiers. Shocked by conditions in the hospital Florence began to campaign to improve the quality of nursing in military hospitals. On her return from the war she was instrumental in professionalising nursing roles for women and encouraged the development of nursing in Britain and abroad. Her birthday was chosen to be International Nurses Day and The World Health Organisation has designed 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse & Midwife.

Famously known D1575 Box 36 81 (i)as ‘The Lady with the Lamp’, making rounds of wounded soldiers at night, many people aren’t aware that Florence came from the Nightingale family of Lea, near Matlock, and retained strong connections with her family home and the people of Lea.

Throughout this week we will be celebrating Florence with posts on how she cared for the people in her local community, her connection to the Derbyshire coal industry and the impact her story has had on generations which have followed. It’s no surprise that, during the current threat facing the world, Florence’s name is back in the headlines. The NHS Nightingale Hospitals, seven critical care temporary hospitals set up by NHS England as part of the response to the COVID-19 epidemic, have been named in her honor.

We hope you enjoy our week of posts celebrating Florence, starting tomorrow with a post from record office volunteer Roger, who is transcribing the wonderful collection of Florence’s letters which the record office is fortunate to hold.

florence nightingale signature

If Florence has had an impact on your life, please share your stories with us, we’d love to hear them.

New Florence Nightingale website

Many people aren’t aware that Florence Nightingale, world famous as the founder of modern nursing, came from a Derbyshire family.  Although mostly associated in popular imagination with the Crimea, of course, and London (where she died), Florence came from the Nightingale family of Lea, near Matlock, and retained strong connections with her family home and the people of Lea.

Florence’s links with Derbyshire are explored in a University of Nottingham project, which has just acquired a new website:  Florence Nightingale comes home for 2020 .

Florence Nightingale snip

On this site you can find out more about the project itself, as well as what researchers have discovered so far about Florence and Derbyshire.  There are all sorts of other resources too, including local history trails you can follow, and you can even take a virtual tour around the Nightingales’ home at Lea Hurst!

The project will be going on until 2020, which would have been Florence’s 200th birthday, and you can keep up with their activities and findings by signing up to their newsletter and following the project blog.


Florence Nightingale’s signature, from a letter at Derbyshire Record Office.

Derbyshire Record Office is working closely with the team at Nottingham, and you can also get involved.  The project team are keen to make contact with people who have a research interest in the Nightingales.  If that sounds like you, then you could become involved in the project as a Citizen Researcher.  You don’t need to be an academic, so if you’d like to be involved, they would love to hear from you.

William Nightingale’s ‘Domesday Book’: guest post by Dr Richard Bates

Did you know that in a couple of years it will be 200 years since Florence Nightingale was born?  Many people aren’t aware that Florence’s family was from Derbyshire, but to link with her anniversary, the University of Nottingham has a major Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project called Florence Nightingale comes home for 2020. 

One of the researchers on this project, Dr Richard Bates, has been here at the Record Office looking through the records of the Nightingale family and was particularly interested by item D4126/1, snappily titled “Schedule of the Title deeds and Particulars of the Estates of Wm Ed Nightingale, Esq, in Lea, Holloway, Wakebridge, Matlock, Wensley &c &c in the County of Derby”

D4126 1 front

Richard writes:

This volume, dated 1825, was produced either by, or for, William Edward Nightingale (born William Shore), Florence’s father. It was most likely drawn up in the early 1820s. In 1815, William had assumed possession of a considerable estate of land, bestowed on him in the will of the eccentric Derbyshire industrialist Peter Nightingale, his uncle, who had died in 1803. However William, who had to change his name to Nightingale as a condition of taking the inheritance, only came to live in Derbyshire in 1821, having spent the initial years of his married life travelling in Europe, especially Italy. His daughters were named Parthenope, the Greek name for Naples, and Florence, after the cities in which they were born.

D4126 1 open

The book, held in the Derbyshire Record Office in Matlock, is a compendium of every parcel of land comprising the estate built by Peter Nightingale in the Lea / Holloway / Cromford / Matlock Bath region of the Derbyshire Dales. The estate included the cotton mill at Lea – still a going concern as John Smedley Ltd – and a lead smelting factory, as well as agricultural lands, rented cottages, and a large swathe of garden and parkland. The size and annual value of every piece of land is enumerated.

D4126 1 page detail

The book is embossed in gold lettering, perhaps reflecting the importance of the contents to William – it was, in effect, the key to his fortune – and the pride he took in the estate and its management.  An accompanying account book, dated 1820, shows that the annual value of the Lea estate was at least £2200 – equivalent to around £125,000 today – from land totalling over 1100 acres. In total the Nightingale inheritance gave William an annual income of around £7,000. In addition, the Nightingale land in Derbyshire turned out to contain coal deposits, which generated further income that William could invest.

The Nightingale inheritance thus allowed William and his family to lead leisured gentry lives, mixing with and entertaining the great and good of 19th century liberal Britain.

Florence’s father turned out to be a good accountant, marshalling the family fortunes sensibly and solidly over five decades. This was crucial to Florence, who never married, and thus always relied on the family income. Florence could never inherit the estate herself, since Peter Nightingale had stipulated it could only be transmitted through the male line. This left her and her family in a precarious position – if her father had died young, her immediate family would have lost control of the money and been forced into reduced circumstances.

Fortunately, however, William lived until 1874. From 1853, when Florence definitively left the family household, William allowed her an allowance of £500 per year, which gave her independence. Later in life, Florence used the money from her Derbyshire-derived income to live in Mayfair, close to the politicians she was lobbying to enact sanitary reforms.

Treasure 39: Florence Nightingale’s letters to C B N Dunn

Florence Nightingale’s letters to Crich surgeon C B N Dunn are a fascinating read, for their social history content as well as for the insights they can provide into the life of their author.  You can find out more about them in some of our previous blog posts.  In this example (D2546/ZZ/54), Nightingale tells Dunn of candidates for membership of the local Women’s Club – not a recreational club, but a benefit society, which provided a form of insurance against sickness and death.  It was hoped that Dunn could “pass” people as being in good health on joining the club. Collection D1575 (deriving from the Nightingale family’s estates) includes the rules of Lea Friendly Society dated 1832 – this society may well have been the forerunner of the Women’s Club mentioned in the letter.


Continue reading

Florence Nightingale letters now online

Derbyshire Record Office is among seven new contributors to the Florence Nightingale Digital Collaborative Database, a project run by the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, Massachusetts.

We hold a small but very rich series of letters from Nightingale to a surgeon named Christopher Dunn, of Crich, on a wide variety of topics. The correspondence has been mentioned in past blog posts, and we are not averse to blowing the same trumpet now – especially as the new site lets you see the whole lot and even browse their contents by subject.  Just as an example: I have looked at these letters numerous times and never noticed that there are five references to a proposed coffee shop in Whatstandwell.  Here’s how to re-trace my steps, should you wish to dip your toe in the water:

  1. Go to www.bu.edu/florencenightingale
  2. Click “search the collaborative database”
  3. Under “choose a collection”, click Derbyshire Record Office.
  4. Click “search”. You don’t need to use a keyword first, although you can if you prefer of course
  5. Click “subjects”
  6. Click “Whatstandwell coffee house”
  7. Choose a letter. Read it!

CoffeeHouseEasy as that!

Today’s press release by the project organisers tells us there are currently 2,200 items on the database – this number continues to go up. Other contributors include the Wellcome Library and the Royal College of Nursing in the UK, and the Countway Center for the History of Medicine and the University of Illinois in the US.