Alpine garden in Lea Gardens in Derbyshire

Florence Nightingale’s legacy still resonates today

21, Apr 2020 | Derbyshire, Matlock

Florence Nightingale’s legacy still resonates today and with the new Nightingale hospitals, built in response to the Covid 19 outbreak, her pioneering work is once again at the fore.

Who was Florence Nightingale?

The name Florence Nightingale is known all over the world. She was an ambitious Victorian woman whose determination to improve the health of people, whatever their class, led her away from the Derbyshire countryside she grew up in, to a world of warfare and elite gentlemen. And on a crusade that would transform nursing and hospitals in Britain and throughout the world.

Books about Florence Nightingale with her statue

Where did Florence Nightingale grow up?

Florence’s link with Derbyshire started at an early age. Her father, a wealthy landowner, owned a house in the village of Lea, two miles from Matlock. Florence was raised on the family estate at Lea Hurst, where her father provided her with a classical education, including studies in German, French and Italian.

Florence had a thirst for knowledge, an interest in medicine and caring for the sick. Following a visit to a hospital, which in the Victorian era were dirty and badly run, she made the decision to train as a nurse. Nursing at that time was not a role expected of a young woman with Florence’s heritage and her parents were hesitant in supporting her decision.

Where did Florence Nightingale train as a nurse?

When Florence reached the age of 30 and remained unmarried, her father agreed to allow his daughter to train as a nurse. So, in 1844 Florence started her training as a nurse in Germany. Following her training Florence returned to England to care for her sister who had become unwell.

In the early 1850’s Florence gained a position as superintendent in the Middlesex hospital in London. A cholera outbreak within the hospital set Florence with significant challenges. Florence set to raise the standards of health and hygiene of the hospital which significantly reduced the numbers of deaths within the hospital. The hospital governors were impressed with her response.

In 1853 war broke out in Crimea. The English, supported by France, fought with the Russians. The wounded soldiers were taken to a hospital in Scutari to old buildings in a poor state of repair, often with no beds or blankets. There were no nurses in the hospital for English soldiers. However, French soldiers were cared for in hospital by nuns.

Where did Florence Nightingale travel to, to care for others?

An article from a journalist at the Times newspaper reported the conditions of the English soldiers. The report fuelled the Minister of War in England, Sidney Herbert, to engage Florence to organise nurses to go out to the Crimea to care for the soldiers. 38 nurses, including Florence Nightingale, travelled to the Crimea. On arrival, the medical doctors were against nurses caring for the soldiers.

Supplies, such as bandages and soap were scarce, and the number of ill and wounded soldiers was steadily increasing. Water needed to be rationed. Soldiers were dying from infectious diseases such as typhoid and cholera than from injuries incurred in battle.

Florence quickly set to work the nurses used scrubbing brushes and asked the least infirm soldiers to clean the inside of the hospital from floor to ceiling. During the night she moved through the dark hallways carrying a lamp while making her rounds, caring for soldiers. The soldiers took to naming her “the Lady with the Lamp”. Her work reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds.

Many nurses still carry out duties once introduced by Florence such as turning the pillowcase opening away from the door and hospital corners. Something I still do here at Glendon even though I haven’t worked on a ward for some time.

Pillow cases openings away from the door

Florence returned to England on 7th August 1856 and came back to Derbyshire. It is said she walked from Whatstandwell to Lea carrying her own suitcase. Daffodils bulbs that continue to flower around Lea Hurst are said to have been planted by Florence on her return from the Crimea. They are said to have been a gift from a solider before she left.

If you visit in the spring you will see lots of daffodils along the roadsides of Derbyshire, a reminder perhaps of Florence Nightingale. Another wonderful place to place to visit in Lea are the Lea Gardens with a stunning variety of camelias and azaleas. The stunning array of colours are sure to make you smile.

Pink rhodoendrons at Lee Gardens

Her reputation had grown due to newspaper reports about her work and she became a heroine. She was the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit. Florence did not want recognition for what she had done believing it was her duty but wanted to improve health. She set about writing letters to those in positions of authority people telling them what was wrong with Army hospitals. In September 1856 she met Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in Balmoral to discuss ways to improve military medical systems. Reform soon followed – the Army started to train doctors, hospitals became cleaner and soldiers were provided with better clothing, food and care.

How did Florence Nightingale change healthcare?

In 1860, the Florence founded the Nightingale School of Nursing at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. The school provided excellent nurse training, it made nursing a respectable career for women who wanted to work outside the home.

The work of Florence Nightingale is a stark reminder of how there were some amazing advances socially, culturally and economically in the Victorian era. Something that we are reminded everyday at Glendon, which was built at this time.

Snowdrops and cake at Lea Gardens

The legacy of Florence Nightingale

Florence died in 1910. Her family declined the offer of a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey. She was buried in the family plot in St. Margaret’s Church, East Wellow, Hampshire. However, she was later honoured with a memorial service at St Paul’s cathedral.

Florence Nightingale’s legacy is still evident in hospitals throughout the world. She influenced nurses, nursing care and nursing research. However, her reach was also broader than this and included social and health reform, hygiene standards, hospital design and statistics. As well as been perhaps the founder of nursing and modern healthcare standards, there is much more to appreciate about her achievements.

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