Blue Plaques

NIGHTINGALE, Florence (1820-1910)

Plaque erected in 1955 by London County Council at 10 South Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 1DE, City of Westminster

All images © English Heritage

Profession

Nurse, Reformer of nursing organisation

Category

Medicine, Philanthropy and Reform

Inscription

in a house on this site FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE 1820-1910 lived and died

Material

Ceramic

Notes

This is a new plaque on rebuilt premises. The original plaque was erected by the Duke of Westminster in 1912 and removed when the house was pulled down in 1929.

Florence Nightingale became an icon in Victorian England when she led a team of nurses in Turkey during the Crimean War. She later campaigned for healthcare reforms and established modern nursing as a profession. Her blue plaque commemorates the site of her former home at 10 South Street in Mayfair, where she lived for 45 years, dying there in 1910.

EARLY CAREER

Named after the Italian city in which she was born, Nightingale had a privileged upbringing on her family’s estates in Hampshire and Derbyshire. Despite pressures to marry, she recorded at the age of 15 that ‘God had called her to His service’ and subsequently committed herself to charity work in hospitals. In 1853 she took an unpaid post as superintendent at a Harley Street hospital, and soon impressed with her skill both as a nurse and an organiser. She demanded improvements in the facilities, threatened to resign unless Roman Catholics and Jews could be admitted as patients, and went to help with the flood of cholera patients overwhelming the Middlesex Hospital during the outbreak of August 1854.

Photograph of Florence Nightingale, taken during the Crimean War (1854–56)
Florence Nightingale pictured in about 1855, during the Crimean War © Popperfoto via Getty Images

‘THE LADY WITH A LAMP’

When the Crimean War broke out in 1854, Nightingale was personally sought out by the government to lead a party of nurses to Scutari (now Üsküdar), Turkey, where wounded soldiers were suffering from inadequate treatment. She soon improved hygiene standards, bought much-needed equipment and supplies, and organised the male nursing orderlies. After the battle of Balaklava in October that year, the hospitals were overwhelmed: the nursing staff were faced with 4 miles of patients, and Nightingale was forced to act as quartermaster as well as nurse when the supply chain broke down. Among the other nurses in the Crimea at this time was Mary Seacole who, after trying and failing to join Nightingale’s team, set up her own hotel and supplies base in Balaklava.

Painting of ‘Florence Nightingale receiving the wounded at Scutari’
An 1856 painting by Jerry Barrett, titled ‘Florence Nightingale receiving the wounded at Scutari’ © National Portrait Gallery, London

Nightingale achieved iconic status among the British public when John Macdonald, writing for The Times in 1855, described her midnight vigils in Scutari:

She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.

Among the hospital staff, however, she was autocratic, demanding complete control, and was often brusque in her dealings with would-be helpers.

Nightingale herself fell dangerously ill with ‘Crimean fever’ – now thought to have been an infectious disease known as Brucellosis – while inspecting war hospitals in the Crimea. After a long recovery she continued working in Scutari, until finally in 1856 she returned – a heroine – to England.

MAYFAIR HOME

Nightingale dedicated the rest of her life to nursing and social reform. She played a major part in reducing deaths in the Army, in the improvement of health care and in the establishment of nursing as a profession. She founded the Nightingale School of Nursing at St Thomas’s in London in 1860, and throughout her lifetime made significant contributions to the advancement of hospital design, advising on the build of an estimated 49 hospitals. Her talent for mathematics and statistics, which she had displayed early in life, was crucial to much of her reform work as it enabled her to assemble and convey vital information, such as the factors affecting mortality rates in hospitals. In particular she pioneered the use of the polar area diagram, a kind of pie chart. In 1859 Nightingale became the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Statistical Society. 

Nightingale’s father William bought number 10 (formerly 35) South Street for her in 1865, and she died here 45 years later. Cecil Woodham-Smith wrote that, ‘To enter her house was to receive an instant impression of whiteness, order and light’. Nightingale lived at South Street with five servants to attend her but spent almost all her time in her bedroom, at the back of the second floor, only receiving visitors by appointment. She continued her campaigns for reforms by letter, however, including the improvement of training for midwives and home-nursing for the poor and infirm.

Sepia toned photograph of Florence Nightingale in old age, sitting at writing desk
Florence Nightingale pictured in 1891, engaged in the letter writing that occupied much of her later life © Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

During these years, wrote a biographer, she was ‘treated with an almost religious deference – ministers, kings, princesses, statesmen waited at her door, and her utterances were paid the respect due to an oracle’.

Number 10 was marked with a plaque in 1912, but the house was demolished in 1929–30. In 1955 the London County Council decided to commemorate its site, as was then occasionally done.

Read more about Florence Nightingale at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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