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.”

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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.

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