Letter penned by Florence Nightingale found 122 years later

Letter penned by a bedridden Florence Nightingale that sets out her vision for community nursing is found 122 years later during a house clearance

  • Letter details her polite refusal to an invitation to an event because she was ill
  • In it she talks about training up of district nurses to go out into the community
  • The letter fell out of photo album during a house clearance in Chickerell, Dorset

A remarkable letter penned by a bedridden Florence Nightingale that sets out her vision for community nursing has been found 122 years later during a house clearance.

It was written by the heroine of nursing in 1897 and was her polite refusal to an invitation to an event she couldn’t attend as she was ill.

In it she talks about training up of district nurses to go out into the community and tend to both sick children and the elderly nearing the end of their life.

The four page hand-written letter, addressed to a ‘Mr Hollingsworth’, fell out of a photo album during a house clearance at a deceased estate in Chickerell, near Dorchester, Dorset.

Bev Peck of Weldmar’s retail team with auctioneer Tim Medhurst with the remarkable letter by Florence Nightingale

The letter was written by the heroine of nursing in 1897 and was her polite refusal to an invitation to an event she couldn’t attend as she was ill

It was picked up and read by stunned Bev Peck, the regional manager for the charity Weldmar Hospice had been bequeathed items from the estate.

In the letter the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ wrote: ‘I always feel that we are still on the threshold of training.

‘Till every poor mother knows how to feed her infant, wash and cloth it, till private nurses have an organisation, a principle and a high idea of their calling, till every poor sick person has a trained District nurse, we can not be said to have passed the threshold.’

By the time Nightingale, who came to prominence during the Crimean War in the late 1850s, penned the letter she was in her late 70s and struggling with her health.

But even although she had been bedridden for two years, she was determined to carry on her campaigning.

The letter has been authenticated by BBC TV auction expert Timothy Medhurst who has valued it at £1,000.

The letter, pictured, was picked up and read by stunned Bev Peck, the regional manager for the charity Weldmar Hospice had been bequeathed items from the estate.

Florence Nightingale is known as the founder of modern nursing and a profoundly talented statistician and advocate of social reform

Weldmar Hospicecare, who provide end of life care in the county, have yet to decide whether to sell the letter or display it.

Mrs Peck said: ‘I was sorting through a box in a room and found the photo album.

‘I flicked through it and this letter fell out of it and I saw Florence Nightingale’s name.

‘I get goose pimples whenever I talk about it. It’s such a piece of history.

‘The letter is a response to an invitation to an event and her letter explains that she would have liked to have gone but she can’t, because she’s not very well.

‘Also, she’s very concerned about healthcare and wants to introduce district nurses so that children can be looked after properly and be trained to go out in the community and look after the very sick.

‘Nightingale may be best known for her work during the war but I would say the idea of the NHS probably started with her because of her efforts to bring nursing and care to everyone in society.’

Mr Medhurst, who stars in the BBC’s Antiques Road Trip, said: ‘She says in her letter that she’s been unwell at home for two years, and yet she is talking about going out and looking after other people and their sickness.

‘It talks about beginning of life care, in clothing and feeding children but then also end of life care which is what Weldmar is all about.

‘When it comes to value, with historical letters and signatures of famous people, it comes down to the content and why the were written – if she had mentioned soldiers on the front line, that would bring a big price.

‘This letter has a lot of writing by Florence Nightingale, so I would imagine it could fetch up to £1,000. Well done Bev for finding it.’

Nightingale was one of 38 volunteer nurses from Britain who during the Crimean War went to medical stations in Turkey to help.

She became the face of the effort after a newspaper dubbed her ‘the Lady with the Lamp’.

When they arrived they discovered many of the soldiers were dying not from their wounds but from diseases like typhoid and cholera, which were rife in the army hospitals.

She fought to improve conditions with better sanitation, nutrition and more supplies, which saw the death rate fall.

Nightingale kept meticulous notes on the number of deaths and their causes and when she returned to Britain she campaigned to improve conditions for the army and then more generally in hospitals.

She used the data she had gathered to lobby the government for reform. The Royal Commission on the Health of the Army was created and Nightingale’s testimony and statistical analysis was published with the commission’s findings in 1858.

Nightingale died aged 90 in 1910.

WHO WAS FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE?

Florence Nightingale (pictured circa 1856)s known as the founder of modern nursing and a profoundly talented statistician and advocate of social reform

Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 in the Italian city of Florence and moved with her family as a baby to the East Midlands in 1821.  

The Nightingale family was wealthy and well-connected and Florence’s father William Shore had inherited the Lea estate (and with it the right to change his surname) from his uncle, Peter Nightingale.

Her mother, Frances ‘Fanny’ Smith was the sister of Benjamin Leigh Smith who was an outspoken critic of the slave trade. 

Benjamin had a son of the same name who became a famed Arctic explorer on board the Eira. 

On their return to England the family built Lea Hurst, a 15-bedroom family home in Derbyshire, where they lived until 1825. 

Lea Hurst, located in Holloway, Matlock,  remained the family’s summer home and Nightingale returned there consistently throughout her life.  

Florence Nightingale played a key role in the 1860s in advising on the redesign and management of the biggest hospital in the area, the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, which opened in 1869 with a wing named in her honour. 

The hospital remained the primary hospital in the city of Derby until the opening of the Royal Derby in 2010. 

Her mother, Frances ‘Fanny’ Smith was the sister of Benjamin Leigh Smith who was an outspoken critic of slavery 

Demolition works began in 2010 on most of the building with plans for only the the two iconic ‘pepper pot’ towers to remain.

A statue of Florence Nightingale survives outside the hospital’s site to this day after being first unveiled in 1924, 14 years after her death at the age of 90.

She is known as the founder of modern nursing and a profoundly talented statistician and advocate of social reform. 

After tending to soldiers during the Crimean War she soon garnered a reputation for professional excellence and was known as the ‘lady with the lamp’ due to her continued observations of the wounded and ill overnight.

She helped found the first secular nursing school in the world and her name is synonymous with nursing of the highest standard.

The Nightingale Pledge is now taken by new nurses, and the Florence Nightingale Medal and is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve.  

International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday.

Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 in the Italian city of Florence and moved with her family as a baby to the East Midlands in 1821

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