ELHAS Meeting Report - June 2016

Meeting Report June 2016

In June we gathered for our last meeting before the summer break where we were treated to a highly entertaining illustrated talk entitled "Our Cousin Florence" by Stephanie Davies, Community Curator from Lotherton Hall. Stephanie, who has worked at Lotherton Hall for eight years explained that on a visit to Trelissick Manor in Cornwall, she was been given access to the attic and after some time rummaging about, found a trunk which contained previously unseen correspondence between Florence Nightingale and members of the Gascoigne family. This started five years of fascinating and exciting research for her which culminated in the "Our Cousin Florence" exhibition currently on display at Lotherton Hall.

Stephanie explained that before Florence became England's most famous nurse, revered for her pioneering nursing practices both in the Crimean War and at home, she was brought up in a large wealthy Victorian family. Florence's extended family included a large contingent of cousins, collectively know as 'The Cousinhood'. Her favourite cousin was Marianne Nicholson who lived at both Trelissick Manor and at Lotherton Hall which eventually became the home of her daughter Gwendolen. Florence and Marianne kept up a lifetime correspondence, and the items Stephanie had unearthed included many letters and pencil sketches produced not only by Marianne but also other cousins such as Parthoney.

We were fascinated by the insight into the cousin's lives which these documents gave us. Stephanie told us how Florence had a vision when she was sixteen years of age, in which God told her she had work to do. This led to her overriding ambition to become a nurse. But this path was not easy for her and she initially faced family opposition. Their wish for her was to follow the normal path of a Victorian young lady and marry well, and become the matriarch of a large family. But this was not for Florence who refused several offers of marriage in order to realise her long held wish to improve the lot of both patients and nursing staff. One of her suitors was Marianne's brother Henry, who following another rejection by Florence, went to Spain and was unfortunately killed. This led to a rift between Marianne and Florence which was healed when Marianne married Douglas Galton, who was a friend of Florence. Stephanie explained that Douglas was a great supporter of Florence and they worked together on the design of Leeds General Infirmary.

Perhaps the most surprising and fascinating aspect of Florence's life which Stephanie recounted for us was the connections between her, and many well know Victorian names. The list ranged from Charles Dickens and Mrs Gaskell to the acting dynasty of the Bonham Carter's. In fact it read like a Victorian version of Who's Who. Stephanie's friendly delivery style and her obvious enthusiasm for her subject ensured an entertaining and informative evening for us all. The exhibition runs until the end of the year.

The next meeting on Monday 26th September will be an illustrated talk by Simon Tomson entitled "Roman Castleford"