Statues and Monuments

Florence Nightingale (1820–1910)

Statue by Arthur George Walker, 1915
Waterloo Place, St James’s

One of the most recognised names in modern British history, Florence Nightingale was a key figure in the development of modern nursing and healthcare practice. She led a team of nurses during the Crimean War, founded a major London institution for the training of nurses, and was a pioneer in the use of medical statistics.

Arthur George Walker’s statue of Nightingale shows her as ‘the Lady with the Lamp’, a nicknamed she earned on her nightly inspection rounds in the Crimea.


Florence Nightingale pictured in about 1855, during the Crimean War
Florence Nightingale pictured in about 1855, during the Crimean War
© Popperfoto via Getty Images

Nightingale was born into a well off and well-connected family with landed estates in Derbyshire and Hampshire and a fortune originally derived from banking. She was named after the city of her birth, which her parents were visiting as part of their European ‘grand tour’.

She was educated at home, but only broadly, and chafed against the lack of opportunities – apart from marriage – for young women of her social class. On a visit to a community of Protestant deaconesses at Kaiserswerth, Germany, Nightingale felt a calling towards the care of the sick. She was impressed with the deaconesses’ devotion, though not with their standards of hygiene and nursing. The course of her life was set.

In 1853 Nightingale became the superintendent to the Establishment for Gentlewomen during Illness in Upper Harley Street, London. This was an unpaid post, with her father supplying her with an allowance. Her efficiency and drive impressed many, and she showed bravery and resourcefulness in assisting during the cholera outbreak in Soho in 1854.

On a trip to Italy undertaken to overcome a depressive episode, Nightingale met and befriended Sidney Herbert (1810–61). By the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 Herbert was Secretary of State for War, a connection which led to Nightingale being commissioned to take 38 nurses – 14 professionals and 24 from religious sisterhoods – to the military hospital at Scutari, in Turkey. Most of the nursing orderlies she managed there were, however, male.

At Scutari, by rapidly implementing improvements in discipline, food provision and sanitation standards, Nightingale secured a fall in the hospital mortality rate from 42% in February 1855, to 2% four months later. The Times called her a ‘ministering angel’, and its reports of her nightly ward rounds spawned the nickname ‘The Lady with the Lamp’. A variant of this appeared in an 1857 poem by Longfellow, which further lauded her as ‘A noble type of good/Heroic womanhood’.

Nightingale going around the wards at Scutari Hospital. This image was printed in the Illustrated London News, 24 February 1855
Nightingale going around the wards at Scutari Hospital. This image was printed in the Illustrated London News, 24 February 1855
© Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Nightingale’s wider achievement was in raising the status and standard of nursing as a profession – previously, anyone could call themselves a nurse. Admirers, including many contacts from her early life, subscribed £50,000 to allow the foundation of the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses, which was established at St Thomas’s Hospital, London in 1860. In the same year she published Notes on Nursing, in which she observed simply that the purpose of nursing ‘is to put the patient in the best condition for nature to act upon him.’

Nightingale wrote much else – on subjects as varied as public health, religion and the enhancement of rights of women. Her collected works, published over recent years, run to 16 volumes. Her influence, especially in promoting hygiene, extended worldwide. Her later achievements included dramatic improvements in the mortality rate among soldiers in India, and the establishment of an army medical school at Chatham.

Nightingale’s reform drives were all informed by the recording and analysis of statistics – ‘the most important science in the whole world’, she believed. In this she was a pioneer, and also in her use of data visualisation: she was an early and enthusiastic user of pie charts. She was a member of the Royal Statistical Society and the London Epidemiological Society. In this she seems startlingly modern. Less so was her failure to support vaccination against smallpox, and she did not accept the germ theory of disease until quite late in life.

Florence Nightingale in her later years
Florence Nightingale in her later years
© Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Florence Nightingale spent much of the last two decades of her life as a housebound invalid, suffering from what may have been brucellosis. In 1907 she became the first woman admitted to the Order of Merit. She died at her home in South Street, Mayfair, at the age of 90. The site of the house is marked with a blue plaque.

Her first, very thorough, biography came out in 1913, and many more followed. Lytton Strachey’s chapter in Eminent Victorians (1918) was early to point out that her success rested on an iron will, and that it produced casualties – including, he believed, the early death of Sidney Herbert through overwork. But as a woman of that time, she had no other means of exercising influence than by putting pressure on the men who held power.

Florence Nightingale remains a prominent historical figure whose inner life continues to intrigue. She hated being painted or photographed, and yet her image, in her trademark nursing cap, has adorned stamps and banknotes. Her reach remains wide: as well as hospitals and hospital wards, a Dutch aircraft, a US Navy ship and an asteroid have been named after her.

Commission and Design

‘Self Portrait’ by Arthur George Walker painted around 1910
‘Self Portrait’ by Arthur George Walker painted around 1910
© Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum (CC BY-NC-ND)

The statue was commissioned in 1910 to reflect on and memorialise the Crimean War, but was unveiled five years later in the thick of the First World War, on the 24 February 1915. It was sculpted by Arthur George Walker (1861–1939), cast by Fiorini & Co in Battersea, and the architect was TH Wyatt. The Earl of Pembroke was responsible for selecting Walker.

Walker exhibited the work at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society’s Eleventh Exhibition in 1916, at the Royal Academy in Burlington House. There the statue was positioned in the Hall of Heroes, the grandest of the exhibition rooms, inspired by Byzantine architecture and with ceiling paintings on the theme of humanity, while the zeppelin raids threatened the Academy from above.

A small version of Walker’s Nightingale statue is now displayed in Downing Street as part of the Government Art Collection, showing the central place she still occupies in the national psyche.

Walker also produced a marble memorial relief of Nightingale for the crypt of St Paul’s, while a plaster version was set up in the chapel of St Thomas’s Hospital.

Arthur George Walker relied on photographs of Nightingale such as this studio portrait by CE Goodman from around 1858
Arthur George Walker relied on photographs of Nightingale such as this studio portrait by CE Goodman from around 1858
© Wellcome Collection (public domain)

Arthur George Walker was born in Hackney. During his studies at the Royal Academy Schools, he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy, eventually being appointed a Royal Academician towards the end of his life, in 1936. Walker produced figurative and monumental sculpture, and was also a painter, book illuminator and mosaic designer. Works in public collections include the quintessentially 1920s Christ at the Whipping Post (Tate Britain), the statues of William Morris and the bookbinder Thomas Payne on the Exhibition Road façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and a group of fascinating interiors of his Chelsea studio (featuring many identifiable examples of his work) at the Royal Academy.

Walker portrayed Nightingale at about the age of 36, as she appears in the studio portraits by CE Goodman, and added in her spurious ancient Greek or Roman lamp (it is likely that she carried a paper lantern). He also relied on the busts of 1856–7 by John Steell, possibly augmented by documentary sources describing her appearance. Queen Victoria, who met her on several occasions, wrote in her diary ‘She is tall, & slight, with fine dark eyes, & must have been very pretty, but now she looks very thin & care worn’ (21 September 1856). She then describes how the simple little cap Nightingale wore concealed her chopped off hair ‘on account of the insects with which the poor men were covered in the Hospitals!’.

Four bronze reliefs on the plinth depict Nightingale advising in the hospital at Scutari, at the hospital door at Woolwich as wounded soldiers arrive (a replica of the prime version by JH Foley on the nearby Sidney Herbert memorial), meeting with senior officers at the War Office, and in old age surrounded by her nurses.


Photo by View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Photo by Tracy Jenkins/Art UK

Detail of statue’s plinth depicting Nightingale at the hospital door at Woolwich as wounded soldiers arrive. Photo by Tracy Jenkins/Art UK

The statue of Sidney Herbert sits beside that of Nightingale in Waterloo Place. Photo by Tracy Jenkins/Art UK

Photo by View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Detail of the statue’s plinth depicting Nightingale meeting with senior officers at the War Office. Photo by Tracy Jenkins/Art UK

Detail of the statue’s plinth depicting Nightingale advising in the hospital at Scutari. Photo by Tracy Jenkins/Art UK

Photo by Tracy Jenkins/Art UK


A poster from the First World War, published in 1916. It advertises Lamp Day, May 12, when citizens were asked to purchase a lamp for women’s service in war time
A poster from the First World War, published in 1916. It advertises Lamp Day, May 12, when citizens were asked to purchase a lamp for women’s service in war time
© Library of Congress

The statue was unveiled on 24 February 1915 without ceremony, as was thought appropriate in wartime. As The Times reported the next day, the deed was done in at 7:30 in the morning by:

‘...three workmen from the Office of Works [who] arrived with a hand-cart and a few ladders. The statue, swathed in canvas, was covered in snow. Ladders were placed against it, the men shook the snow from the covering, pulled the cords, and disclosed the figure, and then departed as quickly as they came.’

Some press coverage claimed this was the first public statue in London to a non-royal woman, though in fact that honour belongs to the actress Sarah Siddons, whose statue in Paddington Green was unveiled in 1897. Siddons was also the first female recipient of a blue plaque, though this has not survived.

Some alterations were made to the Nightingale statue’s pedestal in 1916. The granite carvers worked all night to ensure the works were completed in time for a wreath laying ceremony to mark Nightingale’s birthday on 12 May. It became regular practice to lay a wreath at the statue on this day. In 1917 this was described as ‘Lamp Day’, and used to fundraise for wartime medical women’s units. Margaret Lloyd George, the wife of the Prime Minister, was in charge of the effort at the statue’s base.

In 1931, 12 May was adopted as Red Cross Day. That year, a wreath consisting of a shield of white hydrangeas and a cross of scarlet carnations was laid at the statue by Olive Prentice, a cousin of Florence Nightingale. Forty-three years later, in 1974, it was reported that Prentice would be selling flags at the same place on Red Cross Day.

In 1925 the statue was reported to have been ‘described by many critics as one of the most dignified statues in London’. When the sculptor Walker died in 1939, it was cited as his best-known work. Any criticism since seems to have been muted: an MP complained in 1949 that the skirts depicted would have harboured germs, while a biographer in 1978 noted that the lamp depicted differed from the collapsible lantern she would have carried.


The statue is situated in Waterloo Place, on the north side of and facing its junction with Pall Mall – a site first mooted for it some four years before it went up. A few paces to the east is the statue of Sidney Herbert and behind lies the imposing Crimea memorial, both of which were moved to their present locations when the Nightingale statue was unveiled.

Today the site is effectively a traffic island, which led one commentator in 2013 to advocate moving Nightingale’s monument to St Thomas’s Hospital. Conversely, before that location was selected for Mary Seacole’s statue, it was suggested that Seacole ought to join Florence Nightingale and Sidney Herbert in Waterloo Place.

Use the map below to explore more London statues and monuments in our care.

 Place(s) To Stay


  • Multiple places
  • Place