London-based writer with incurably itchy feet always looking for the quirky and curious
Published December 6th 2010
Everyone's heard of Florence Nightingale. The brave nurse who tended the British troops in the Crimean war and gained the universally recognised epithet: the Lady with the Lamp. But for those who'd like to learn more about this legendary lady, why not take a trip to the illuminating Florence Nightingale Museum?
Located on the site of the original Nightingale Training School for Nurses in the grounds of St Thomas' Hospital, the museum immediately boasts a befitting ambience before you've even stepped inside. With 2,000 artefacts, contemporary to Nightingale's lifetime, you very quickly gain a clear picture not just of the medical legend, but of the Crimean war, politics and the health reforms she played such a crucial part in bringing about.
Highlights of the collection include that most venerated item of Florence-phernalia - The Lamp itself. Interestingly, it's a Turkish lamp - a concertina-like object as opposed to the more commonly associated candle lantern. As well as items from her working life including prescriptions, the uniform she would have worn and her medical chest, there are far more personal objects which really offer an insight into the woman behind the nurse, such as informal photographs, the slate from her home-school education and even her (stuffed) pet owl Athena.
You'll also find a small exhibit dedicated to Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole. Sometimes thought to be overshadowed by Nightingale, it's difficult to gauge just how much contact the women had, but history attests to the commendable qualities they shared, driven by the same passion to help the British soldiers.
If there's one thing this museum will open your eyes to, it's just how great a role Nightingale played not merely in the Crimean War, but in fighting for a revolutionised health service for the Army and the public at large. Her writings still play a part in modern nursing to this day, a legacy which shows that Florence was a bright spark, with or without her lamp!