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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Freedom of the City

Edward Revell's certificate of the Freedom of the City of London

Edward Revell’s certificate of the Freedom of the City of London

We had an enquiry last week from the archives at one of London’s ancient livery companies, the Leathersellers’ Company, asking for further details of an item in our catalogue: Edward Revell’s certificate of the Freedom of the City of London. There are two similar documents in the Leathersellers’ Company archives, dating from 1472 and 1488, which appear to be the oldest surviving certificates of their sort. Edward Revell’s certificate – until something earlier shows itself, at least – may be regarded as the third oldest.

As with other certificates of the Freedom of the City, the document bears the name of a Ward of the City of London: Cripplegate, here spelled “Crepulgate”. However, as the text is in Latin, that’s one of the few bits I can actually read!  The others are the names of Edward Revell, his father Thomas Revell, and the man to whom Edward was apprenticed, William Chambers of the Haberdashers’ Company.  The Revell family seat is also mentioned: Cranethwayte, which was also called Carlingthwaite and later became known as Carnfield – site of Carnfield Hall.  As for the rest, we are assured that it is very formulaic – but the word-count is a bit higher because they had to fit in all the titles of Philip & Mary.  As with the examples held at the Leathersellers’ Company, this certificate has clearly spent a long time folded in four – the Company’s archivist says this suggests “that Freemen would carry their certificates about their person like a passport (perhaps inside a small leather pouch), to produce as proof when claiming Freemen’s privileges, such as exemption from market and bridge tolls, etc”.

Explore Your Archive – Pride and Pugilists: Round Two

D5459/4/32/2 A Milling Match, Thomas Rowlandson, [1811]

D5459/4/32/2 A Milling Match, Thomas Rowlandson, [1811]

Jem Belcher had been left partially blind since 1803 after the ball struck his left eye during a game of rackets.  All too familiarly, he carried on after his 1805 defeat to Henry ‘Hen’ Pearce ‘The Game Chicken’, and suffered further losses against the future champion Tom Cribb in 1807 and 1809.  He seems to have been arrested after his last fight, and the Gell letters chart his misfortune that year.  

I have been fagging myself to death to settle the business of my ally Jim Belcher & what with Windham, Lord Archibald, Jackson, & Adam the Lawyer, I have at length got a letter for him to Mr Nolan the great Lawyer who attends at Guildford quarter sessions, who is to defend him for nothing.  That Brute Tom who ought to have gone with him is not only gone to Newmarket to Captain Barclay himself, but has taken with him or rather is taken by a Mr Shelton who should have been bail or security, but I will blow them both well up when they return, d— them.  If you have any of the guts of charity in your r*ctum send me some money for him and I will give it him from you, for he feels a great difference in not being the winning man.

D258/50/22, [2 July] 1809

An August letter to Phillip Gell provides an update on legal proceedings and financial woes, aswell as the latest news.

I hope to be with you by the first of October, for a fortnight.  Pray write to me at Lord Oxford’s, Eywood near Presteigne, Radnorshire directly.  If I had time I would get acquainted with all the young pugilists at Bristol, of which there is a fine young flock who will probably arrive in town in a year or two.  I have directed Jackson to get you a Barclay handkerchief.  Thank you about Mr Kinderley & James Belcher, but the people were so kind to me about it that he would have had all he wanted in court but it was put off till October at Kingston when by the blessing of God I will rout the beasts by the assistance of Mr William Adam & Mr Nolan at Kingston.  Why the devil don’t you write to Henry Raikes.  He does not object to the country & would have bought your living before this time had you managed properly.  I stopped the boat in my way here & landed at Boyle farm to know if Old Raikes had heard of you, no damn me no, so you will lose you living & I & Jim Belcher our regalo.  Lady Elizabeth Forbes has got some good naughty for you when you meet again…There is a fight this day between Richman the black & Maddox who is as you say a slow chap.  People think Richman will win & I have just sent James Belcher by the coach to second that Lilly hero hoping he will put a guinea or two into his pocket by it.     

D258/50/27, 11 August 1809

Unfortunately the court’s verdict did not go Belcher’s way.

Only think, I took Jem to Kingston, no causes tried that day.  He went the next Mr Nolan defended him 3 hours.  He was had up to day Oct 5 2 hours.  He was indicted on 4 charges.  Only guilty of fighting “verdict”.  But one of the jury stuck out & the rest wanted to lick him.  The consequence is that he is come home but is to go on Novr 5 to hear the Judge’s decision.  It is a d—-d shame I wish he had the thrashing of them all.  He is very grateful for your regalo, & Tom who has been sparring to night for Bittons benefit asked after you very kindly.  When you come a-Parliamenting I hope you will come to Benham.  Craven comes here on 11. I came on 1st.  Damn the Judge & Jury for he cannot see about a house with a sign while this hangs over him poor fellow.  

D258/50/29, 5 October 1809

The damned sons of B*****s have confined Jem for 28 days in the County goal Horsemonger lane from 2nd of November blast them.  I sent him a letter saying you, I & Keppel would be answerable for Jem & Mr Frowman has promised the license so on the 2nd or 3rd of December Jem will be out & in his old situation I hope.  I went twice to see him as I passed through Town.  He is very cheerful & merry poor fellow though only to be seen from 12 to 2.  Tom lives almost next door which wir virry good hearing for me.  I don’t think he wants anything, but he is so modest I cannot found out except by a trap so I have sent Richmond to find out.  Said Richmond has received forfeit from Cropley who won’t fight…Jem had a very poor benefit previous to his confinement there being nobody in town…Tom Belcher has a benefit soon after that, at which I shall be if possible…The Covent Garden gets worse & worse.  I saw the Lord Mayor’s show as I returned from seeing Jem in prison.  County gaol Horsmonger lane.  There is a man in the same place with him confined for some small offence of very genteel appearance who does every thing for Jem even to cooking as if he were his servant so well liked is he by every body.  I am very glad tis no worse, he sends his grateful regards to you and as I knew you would like to hear of him I write.               

D258/50/30, 11 November 1809        

Despite Gell’s efforts ( D258/50/31, December 1809 “…Jem is out & I am working to get him re-established.  I think I shall succeed…”), the elder Belcher brother slipped further into decline and died in London in 1811. 

Cropley & Power are to fight & they have matched T Belcher against Lilly White but as I was told the black would prove the best man I have given Tom a lecture about his brother losing his fame by over fighting & convinced him that unless he is sure of winning he ought not to try having left off with 5 victories since his defeat by Sam over Dogherty, Farnborough & Cropley.  He is convinced by my arguments & as 50£ is wanting in the purse Hi doant think it wull be a fite.  

D258/50/39, 16 July 1810

Tom Belcher seems to have fared better than his older brother.  Despite fighting a few more times after this, he was at one point owner of the famous boxing watering-hole the Castle Tavern in Holborn, and eventually died in 1854. 

As one of her chamberlains, Sir William Gell left England in 1814 to accompany the former Princess of Wales, now the exiled Queen Caroline.  He remained in Italy, continuing to publish topographies, with continual money problems, until his death in 1836.  His letters (D258/50/1-155) are available to view at the Record Office on CD 152.

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