Florence Nightingale and Her Derbyshire Home


Florence Nightingale And Her Derbyshire Home By Lady Stephen

I have been asked to write something about Florence Nightingale and her connection with my late brother Louis Shore Nightingale, of Lea Hurst, formerly Vice-president of the Derbyshire Rural Community Council. Lea Hurst, Miss Nightingale’s early home in Derbyshire, was his in later life, and there was a close but somewhat complicated relationship between them I must begin by explaining.

Florence Nightingale’s ties with Derbyshire originated with her grandmother, Mrs William Shore, daughter of George Evans, of Cromford Bridge House, near Matlock, a member of the well-known Evans family, whose name used to be specially familiar in connection with Crompton and Evans` Bank. Mr and Mrs William Shore had an only son, William Edward (the father of Florence Nightingale), and a daughter Mary. William Edward Shore on coming of age inherited a fortune from his mother’s uncle, Peter Nightingale, of Lea, near Matlock. Peter Nightingale made his money in lead mining and other enterprises, and added considerably to the property he had inherited in and near the villages of Lea and Holloway. William Edward Shore took the name of Nightingale under his great uncle Peter’s will, and so it was that his daughter Florence became famous, not as Florence Shore, but as Florence Nightingale.

As Mr W. E. Nightingale had no son, his landed property was to pass at his death to his sister, Mrs Smith, who was treated as a son by the Nightingale family and took the name of Nightingale when he eventually inherited the property. To him Florence, who was eleven years his senior, gave an almost maternal affection. As Sir Edward Cook writes in his biography of her, “She was successively his nurse, playfellow, and tutor,” and it may be added, his devoted friend through life. Her interest and affection were in due course extended to his children – my two brothers, my sister and myself. From our childhood, “Aunt Florence” was one of the foundations of our world. Some of my earliest recollections are of our summer holidays at Lea Hurst, when she usually there. She had a bedroom and an adjoining sitting room with a wide balcony, and I remember seeing her standing on the balcony. We so seldom saw her except upon a sofa that her tall figure, viewed from the garden below, made a striking impression. When we children paid our visits to her upstairs, she was always to be found on her sofa, but we did not think of her as an invalid. Her bright eyes and kind face gave us a warm welcome; we always found her ready to talk and to listen, to sympathize, and to encourage. A visit to her was a never failing pleasure.

All these things were of special value in those early days, when the county library, the public health services, and so forth, were as yet undeveloped; and through Miss Nightingale, they became familiar ground to us young people. When my brother came to live in Derbyshire, before the beginning the last war, he naturally followed on these lines. After some harassing work in connection with agricultural war tribunals, it was a great pleasure to him when her was elected in 1917 to the Derbyshire County Council, as member for the Crich division. He and his wife were then living at Wood End, near Cromford, an old house built by Peter Nightingale. After my mother’s death in 1922, they went to live at Lea Hurst, where his wife died in 1927. Throughout the sad years of her illness and afterwards, his keen interest in public business and his sense of public duty were a strong support to him. He took special pleasure in the work of the Education Committee and the County Library, and in the Rural Community Council. The village had at Holloway, named after Florence Nightingale, was built through his initiative and energy. He was very modest about his own powers, and unwilling to put himself forward personally, but he had a firmness and uprightness of character which with is good sense and practical experience gave his work its special value. His humour, kindliness, and desire to help were, I believe, a real encouragement to officials with whom he worked.

After my childhood, Lea Hurst was let for a good many years, but we saw Florence constantly in London where she lived, and we, too, had our home. We were aware that she was always very busy with the Nightingale Training School for Nurses founded by her at St Thomas’s Hospital, and with the many threads of her work for nursing and sanitation, both military and civil, and in India; but she seldom spoke to us young one of these matters. Her talk was that of a sympathetic older relation, a delightful companion, and it was only later that I realised how much I had unconsciously learned from her. She delighted to hear news of her old friends in the Derbyshire villages where as a young woman she used to try with all her might to give people the kind of help now provided by the District Nurse and the hospital services. She interested herself in a “coffee tavern” at Whatstandwell, an attempt to provide something like the “tea rooms” now so familiar then almost unknown. She was always eager to help with charitable gifts. She sent books for prizes to the village school at Lea, made acquaintance with the successive headmasters, and, busy as she was corresponded with them from her home in London about their work.

Readers may be interested to know that Lea Hurst, his home and Miss Nightingale’s, is now a hospital for private patients. Both would be well pleased that the house should be used for such a purpose.

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