Category Archives: Object of the Month

Object of the Month – March

As our new exhibition The Hospital in the Oatfield commemorating the role nurses played during the First World War opens tomorrow, it seems fitting that March’s object of the month is from the period.

Civilian, military and VAD nurses alike felt a sense of shared identity through wearing a uniform which marked them out as contributing to the war effort, whether at the Front or at home.

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These uniform stripes, kindly loaned to us by Barts Health NHS Trust Archives, belonged to Catherine Elston. Nurse Elston was a truly remarkable woman; she trained at the London Hospital in the deprived East end of the city, where she held the position of Sister. Elston subsequently worked at Poplar Hospital, before taking up a position in Bordeaux, France, and eventually becoming the    Director of the training school there.

When war broke out in August 1914, Elston joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service as a reserve. She went on to serve on one of the many ambulance trains used to ferry wounded serviceman from the Front. In our exhibition The Hospital in the Oatfield you can see examples of letters and postcards Elston sent to her loved ones describing life on No1 Ambulance Train. Among the medals Elston was awarded to mark her work, was the Queen Elisabeth Medal, which recognised those who had given exceptional service to Belgium in relieving the suffering of its citizens during the First World War.

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Object of the Month – February

This month our object of the week is an army spirit stove from the stores here at the Florence Nightingale Museum.Image

This stove was made in London by A. Barrett & Sons. Thanks to the address stamp on the lid of the leather case, we can date the stove fairly accurately to circa 1878-1910; as A. Barrett & Sons only traded at 63-64 Piccadilly between those years.

It is likely that the stove belonged to an army officer and would have been used to boil water for drinking, and possibly to cook small quantities of food. It’s impossible to state for definite what military campaign this spirit stove was used in; however the dates would fit the two Boer Wars, which were fought between 1880-1881 and then 1899-1902, by the British Empire and the Dutch in South Africa.

While army officers may have been equipped with individual spirit stoves for personal use, by and large the British Army was still reliant on the type of field stove designed by French celebrity chef Alexis Soyer during the Crimean War. Indeed the ‘Soyer stove’ remained in use up until the Second World War, and there was not a single organisation responsible for the feeding of troops until the foundation of the Army Catering Corps in 1941.

Object of the Month – January

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This object from the Florence Nightingale Museum’s stores – is Nightingale’s  foot warmer,  which would have come in very handy in the days before central heating!

Upon her return from the Crimea, Nightingale suffered from brucellosis, commonly known as ‘Crimean fever’.

Brucellosis is a highly contagious disease caused by ingestion of unsterilized milk or meat from infected animals. Symptoms include muscular pain and sweating; and if untreated brucellosis can lead to chronic conditions such as spondylodiscitis of the lumbar spine (inflammation of one or more vertebrae and the intervertebral disc space), and sacroiliitis (inflammation of the sacroiliac joint).

Nightingale certainly suffered from ill health for the much of her life, following her time in the Crimea.  It seems plausible that she could have suffered from one or both of these chronic conditions, as a complication of her brucellosis.

Nightingale would have used her foot warmer during carriage journeys. Travelling by carriage may seem romantic and appealing to us in the twenty-first century, but in reality they would be draughty and often rather uncomfortable for long journeys. This foot warmer would bring Nightingale some much needed relief when travelling.

The foot warmer is made of tin, with two wooden footrests on the top. It has a hinged lid, and a well where the charcoal or hot stone would be placed to provide the heat.

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The foot warmer was found with Nightingale’s things at her home in South Street, London following her death in 1910; therefore it is likely it was in use towards the end of her life.