Category Archives: Museum life



When visitors arrive at the Florence Nightingale Museum they quickly identify themselves as a part of Florence Nightingale’s legacy. This is how we can state with such confidence that our visitors are 95% nurse. An impressive figure that does exclude schools, pre-booked groups and national promotions.


One of the most contentious issues facing the Museum is the need for an admission charge.  Not surprisingly nurses and many other visitors are disappointed that the exhibition is not funded nationally as recognition of the nursing profession. It is an understandable misunderstanding we have to accept as a side effect of being a focal point. Nurses are highly skilled individuals with a pronounced sense of historical and communal pride; protecting that sense of individual and collective worth is after all a key objective for the Museum.



We exist outside the vocabulary expected of a medical museum and instead of grisly instruments we offer grisly statistics illustrating the mortality rates of ordinary people denied basic health care. Florence Nightingale began the process that ultimately established the popular culture symbols of the nursing profession.  The Museum relates Nightingale’s life and work through relatively humble objects that perfectly illustrate how much was achieved with little more than soap and a fierce intellect. The therapeutic nature of the exhibition will be boosted by the return of ten Victor Tardieu paintings, depicting a First World War field hospital. True to form, they are a remarkably upbeat series of pictures.

For the last few years the Front of House team have been recording statistical information profiling visitors to the Museum.  It is an ongoing activity which could prove very interesting in the coming months as a refreshed website and exhibition revamp are completed. The process of recording this very useful information has become second nature to the team and has, over time, become a soothing daily activity.

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The next major project for the Museum will be unveiled on 12th May, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birthday. “Take me to Neverland” will explore the history of J M Barrie’s Peter Pan, featuring items from the collection of Great Ormond Street Hospital. The forthcoming exhibition has already created a notable buzz amongst our visitors, especially families. A range of events planned for 2016 builds on last year’s eclectic Twistmas festival. They begin with February’s half-term maths theme, evening talks and more planned weekend activities boosting access to a collection which is 100% relevant to everybody.




The Admirable Parties

Steampunk is a visual medium which has so much more to offer then cogs and corsets.  The Mad Sea Party is a micro trail with pop-up book style artworks that revel in the modestly scaled, detailed environment.  We are inviting visitors to patiently wade through the exhibition as if scuba diving a reef.”

IMG_1191 IMG_1074 sjmflMany visitors come to the Florence Nightingale Museum hoping to be immersed in a heroic quest anchored in a meaningful environment.  A top FAQ is why is the museum here [at St Thomas’ Hospital]?  The relationship between the exhibition and its location is an important part of the visitor experience.

Delving into the society that shaped Florence Nightingale, the exhibition is studded with bold personalities and tales of great heroism set against a backdrop of mortal peril. It tells the story of Florence’s life with a collection of small and curious objects which cumulatively reveal the person behind the great public hero. The distinctive Kossmann.Dejong exhibition design is laid out in three chapters presented as individual pavilions. They resemble antique aquaria with precious artefacts and domestic specimens side by side in glass boxes. The addition of a collection of spy holes and two exceptionally poignant taxidermy personalities provides a wonderful backdrop for a Steampunk themed project.

One difficulty with Steampunk is the inclusiveness of the genre.  Steampunk casts its net very far, gathering in books, film and cult television. The other major challenge is the epic nature of the imaginary steampunk landscape. The best vehicle for it is the written word; only books can truly conjure the opulence of a complete fantasy universe.  And yet going back to the future and revisiting antiquated visions of futuristic worlds is rewarding.  Creaky cinematic effects and the clunky design of vintage science fiction in time acquires an avant-garde beauty exemplified by the silent films of George Melies. As do the stop motion monsters of Ray Harryhausen films, mocked for many years and now compared favourably to modern special effects.  Outside of literature, Steampunk greatness comes retrospectively.  Orchestrated big budget steampunk productions are so often far less influential than the artists and works adopted by the fans.

Creaky science fiction and uncomplicated war films were the staple viewing of my childhood, along with the odd curio that truly captured my imagination.  One my favourite childhood films is a 1957 Lewis Gilbert adaptation of J.M Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton which puts an Ealing comedy spin on the social satire. The film takes Barrie’s Downton Abbey style cast of aristocrats and servants to a fabulous outsider art paradise. The set design was for me the highlight of the film. The quality I most admire in steampunk is the enthusiasm, which is most evident in the creation of and celebration of an enveloping avant-garde fantasy.


Our event will pay homage to the titan figure, Jules Verne, and we could not miss the opportunity to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Steampunk is a visual medium which has so much more to offer then cogs and corsets. The Mad Sea Party is a micro trail with pop-up book style artworks, that revel in the modestly scaled, detailed environment.  We are inviting visitors to patiently wade through the exhibition as if scuba diving a reef.  The overall aim of the project is to temporarily locate Florence Nightingale in a steampunk inspired landscape; to highlight and linger over some of the least travelled areas in her story.

Twistmas Greetings from the Florence Nightingale Museum

“Ignore what doesn’t make you happy, it’s not worth getting upset about.  For everyone else put your Christmas tree up when you want to, and take it down only when it starts to get embarrassing!”

madseapartyWhat  do we mean by Twistmas Greetings?  Holidays have never been more personalised and immersive. Our selection box of events and activities have been inspired by the growing influence of Halloween and the Day of the Dead festival on British popular culture.  It will take us from Halloween through Christmas and the New Year, reflecting  how at least three winter festivals have become part of a wider trend to celebrate vintage holiday chic.

As a museum staffed by artists and ‘death positive’ enthusiasts we have seized  the opportunity to resist conventional holiday wisdom as we welcome the  gothication of Christmas. We salute the homemade and less commercialised charm of Halloween and uphold the right of every individual to create their own holiday heaven .

As a Victorian themed medical museum and one of the few collections dedicated to the life and legacy of a woman, we examine the role of women and Victorian society’s celebration of Death.  Lucy Coleman Talbot’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ talk will discuss historically and culturally the role women have played in death and dying, tracing the maternal links between early life and end of life care, how women seem to be dominating the emerging ‘death positive’ movement, and the new approaches that women are bringing to the field through various academic and artistic means.

Our own curator Holly Carter- Chappell offers a visually rich step-by-step guide on ‘How to Die Like a Victorian’.   Bill Edwards, curator of the Gordon Museum of Pathology, the largest medical museum in the UK, will explore  ‘Art and Medicine’ looking  at the art inspired, at least in part, by Medicine and Surgery, considering how for centuries Medicine and Art were intimately connected and where this “marriage” broke down and the recent resurgence of this vital relationship.

ball 2The Twistmas  activities running over the weekends from November to the New Year are free with admission and open to all.  The Mad Sea Party designed by Sarah Jane McGregor is a steampunk themed art trail. Laura Worthington presents our  poetry and illustration workshop featuring cautionary tales,  and a ‘Twistmas Wrapping Treats’ activity (starter kit and materials included).  Learn how to create wonderfully retro parcels swathed in yards of streamers concealing layers of indulgent treats.

The Autumn/Winter season is a time of hedonism and ritual, whether it be comforting our bodies with extra food and alcohol to fortify ourselves against the lowering temperatures, or buoying our spirits through long dark days by holing up in rooms lit only by television screens that become beacons of pleasure, or lingering at shop windows enjoying  gloriously illuminated displays.  The darkness of winter becomes  enchanting,  enabling us to express child like delight and optimism.  Many complain that Christmas, Halloween and Easter come earlier each year.  For those that want Christmas to last three days then stop, or Halloween to go away because it is not British, I say Bah Humbug!  Ignore what doesn’t make you happy; it is not worth getting upset about.  For everyone else put your Christmas tree up when you want to and take it down only when it starts to get embarrassing and enjoy your hot cross buns on New Year’s day. One thing I’m sure we nearly all agree on, we all hate Valentine’s Day.

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Summer at the Florence Nightingale Museum

Museum and heritage work always seem to hold a charm for the population. There is an element of the mystical, unknown and curious about the behind workings of a museum. Perhaps, this is why we all were attracted to the opportunity to be a member of the Florence Nightingale’s Youth Panel.  However, it was the interesting exhibition, the engaging project and the charming museum itself which meant we spent a few weeks of our summer holiday working toward a project on sun safety inspired by ‘The Kiss of Light’ exhibition in the Florence Nightingale Museum.  We were fortunate enough to be guided in our project by Stephanie who was as warm as anything could be, encouraging and inspiring with her passion for history and the iconic lady Florence Nightingale.  She organised some great workshops for us including a poetry work shop with Simon Barraclough, author of Sun Spots.


At the beginning of our first meeting, Stephanie made us all feel like part of the museum as she showed us round the exhibitions and taught us all about Florence Nightingale and her amazing life. After this introduction, we all ran head first into our project, mind mapping ideas and developing them.  Any awkwardness between the youth panel immediately faded away as History, medicine and Florence Nightingale united us.  From then onwards we endeavoured to make our Youth Panel Project have a positive and lasting impact.


We decided early on that we wanted the project to be targeted at young people around our age and we wanted to raise awareness with them about the risks the sun poses and equally tackle the pressure in the media to be bronzed. We wanted to encourage the idea that happiness and health were far more important than looking like celebrities or other figures in the media. Initially, we did research so that we would have figures and statistics to back up our campaign.  One of the most shocking figures we found was that if an individual is severely burnt twice before they are eighteen, their risk of skin cancer increases by fifty percent. Statistics like these spurred us on as worked towards an informative booklet for the museum. To ensure the booklet was reflective of young people’s views, we had conversations with our friends and included them throughout so the booklet demonstrates the different perceptions of young people when it comes to the sun.  We also decided the best way to reach a number of people would be through social media. Fortunately, Kids in Museums were running a Twitter takeover day. We organised our twitter takeover for a few days later, and it was a success. Kids in Museums were highly supportive and often retweeted our messages so more people could see them, which was really supportive and meant a lot.


Overall, we believe that we fulfilled our intention to illustrate to all visitors of the museum that light can have many health benefits but equally raise their awareness about sun protection and the danger of sun burn and excessive tanning.  It was an incredibly rewarding experience and we would highly recommend becoming a youth panel member to other young people. It gives a great insight into the workings of a museum, a chance to make new friends and an opportunity to make a difference!

Youth Panel Members 2015, Lydia, Hameda and Karen

America’s first trained nurse

The Florence Nightingale Museum Director was honoured recently by an invitation to Massachusetts General Hospital in the beautiful city of Boston. The main reason for the invitation was to give the keynote lecture at the unveiling of a newly commissioned portrait of Linda Richards, America’s first trained nurse. Warren and Lucia Prosperi (, the husband and wife team who created this beautiful piece, work closely from original photographs and written accounts of their subject. The portrait is now displayed in the Paul S Russell Museum, part of Massachusetts General Hospital (


Linda Richards was the first of four students to graduate from a nursing training programme at the New England Hospital for Women in 1873. Make no mistake – this very early nurse training was tough. Richards wrote: “We rose at 5.30 a.m. and left the wards at 9 p.m. to go to our beds, which were in little rooms between the wards. Each nurse took care of her ward of six patients both day and night. Many a time I got up nine times in the night; often I did not get to sleep before the next call came. We had no evenings out, and no hours for study or recreation. Every second week we were off duty one afternoon from two to five o’clock.

In 1874, The Boston Training School for Nurses started at Massachusetts General Hospital and Linda Richards was approached to become superintendent, initially she refused but was eventually persuaded. Like Florence Nightingale, Linda Richards was clearly a brilliant advocate, as she persuaded the senior hospital staff to lecture to her student nurses, providing them not only with important knowledge, but also increasing the students status within the hospital. Several doctors supplemented their lectures by allowing the student nurses to accompany the morning rounds of the wards. Although this work was important for the nurses – and the hospital – yet more importantly, it created a model of what a modern nursing school should look like.

Linda Richards arranged to visit England to enable her to observe the Nightingale system in action. Nightingale and Richards had corresponded for some time and one morning soon after her arrival in England, Richards was thrilled to be able to meet the great lady. With typical modesty, Richards wrote “It had never occurred to me that she would honor me by asking me to call upon her, so great was my surprise when I received an invitation to visit her at her home.” Richards memoirs relates an encounter that clearly had a huge emotional impact on her, being taken into the presence of a “small lady clad in black silk” who was lying on a coach (by this stage, Nightingale had been living as an invalid for some years.) Richards describes “The sweet face, with the deep blue eyes, and the beautifully shaped head” and says that meeting Nightingale was the fulfilment of her life’s ambition.

An excellent judge of character, Nightingale herself was equally impressed by Richards and offered to help her as much as she could. She wrote to Angelique Pringle, an old student of hers, who was at that time heading up the Edinburgh infirmary in Scotland, and arranged for Richards to go on a placement there as well. Nightingale wrote; “A Miss Richards, a Boston lady, training matron to the Massachusetts General Hospital, has in a very spirited manner come to us for training to herself….I have seen her, and have seldom seen anyone who struck me as so admirable. I think we have as much to learn from her as she from us.”

Richards’ remains rest in the beautiful cemetery in southern Boston: (


The Nightingale Team are Floored…

Tonight is the private view of the exhibition. Everything is ready, party dresses are hanging up in the office for the team to change into after work, wine is cooling in the fridge, RSVPs are still arriving… How nice it will be to acknowledge all our hard work, we thought, and to thank our supporters at tonight’s grand event.

But as always with life in a small museum, it is a good idea to expect the unexpected and we have just been dealing with a minor disaster on the flooring front. For the last few months, mysterious bubbles have been appearing in our lovely floor. In one area, this has erupted into a crater and we have had to rope the area off.  Today, the workmen appeared and decided that today was the day that we should tackle this issue. Decision time – should we send them away and face the fact that an area must remain roped off for the time being? Or should we let them hack away sections of the floor, releasing rubble and dust as they went?


We decided to bite the bullet and try and deal with it today – after an alarming couple of hours, the problem has been solved, at least temporarily, as the crater has been removed, a plyboard layer cut to size, and trip-proof carpet placed over the top.

 Right – can we go back to polishing the wine glasses now, please?