Florence Nightingale Museum


St Thomas’s Hospital, 2 Lambeth Palace Road, SE1 7EW


020-7620 0374



Opening times:

Mon–Sun 10:00–17:00

How to get there:

Tube: Waterloo and Westminster

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:


Hidden away beneath the modern blocks of St Thomas’s Hospital, this small museum describes the life and work of Florence Nightingale (1820–1910) and preserves a memorial collection of ‘Nightingalia’, formerly the pride of the Matrons of St Thomas’s. The museum opened here in 1989, on the site of the pioneering nursing school that Nightingale founded in 1860. As the ‘lady with the lamp’ who cared for the sick and wounded in the Crimea (1854–56), she became a reluctant legend in her own lifetime. The marble bust which heads the display was one of the very few portraits of herself that she ever allowed to be taken from life, and then only because it had been commissioned by the soldiers who had been her patients. Nightingale’s careful control of her own image also played an important role in securing the political influence that would enable her to contribute to a complete transformation in the status of nursing, eventually providing many women with a new means of achieving economic independence.

Nightingale’s own considerable fortune was provided by the will of her great-uncle Peter, a prominent Whig and supporter of Parliamentary reform. Born during her parents’ three-year honeymoon, she was christened Florence after her birthplace. Her sister, older by one year, was called Parthenope, the Greek name for Naples. To each other, they became Pop and Flo. Some sketches by her sister of the young Nightingale and their family home are shown here. Unusually, their father William educated the girls himself, elucidating the finer points of mathematics, algebra, Euclid, philosophy and statistics. This last proved particularly useful to Nightingale’s improvements in hospital administration. She would eventually be the first female honoured with membership of the Society of Statisticians.

Florence Nightingale regarded her career as a vocation. Aged seventeen, while walking in the garden at home, she experienced a calling from God, and a further adumbration of her purpose in life came during a visit to Kaiserswerth on the Rhine, a Lutheran institution for the help of the poor, founded in 1825. Her decision to become a nurse appalled her family, at a time when the secular side of the profession was best characterised by the likes of Sarah Gamp in Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit. When the horrors of the Crimea were reported in the Times, Nightingale gathered together a disparate team of 38 ladies in four days, all prepared to endure the terrible voyage out to the military hospital at Scutari. Three times as many men were dying from disease as from wounds received in battle. Her first order upon arrival was for 200 scrubbing brushes. Nightingale also called upon the services of the ex-chef of the Reform Club, Alexis Soyer, transforming her patients’ diet. Her celebrity upon her return is demonstrated here by a variety of contemporary china figurines cast in her image; her mission by new designs for hospital wards, the foundation of the nursing school and development plans for district nursing and midwifery. Some of the furniture and a harpsichord from her house at 10 South St, Mayfair, from where she orchestrated her campaigns, can be seen. Also displayed are her black bodice and matching skirt from 1859. In that year she self-published Suggestions for Thought to the Searchers after Truth, still in print today. Frequently unwell herself throughout her long life, she remained unmarried and died at her home in 1910, surrounded by a colony of cats. The exhibition concludes with her pet Little Owl called Athena, rescued from the Parthenon and kept in her pocket, now stuffed and mounted in a glass case. It died, much to her distress, the day before she set out for the Crimea.

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Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.


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