Museums can’t afford to ignore anniversaries, so in this the 200th anniversary of the Lady with the Lamp’s birth, the Florence Nightingale Museum has assembled 200 objects that signify her life and legacy.
It’s a space that opens with her front door – or at least the door knocker from it, the rest having long since been demolished. The door knocker that was knocked by most of the great and good of Victorian England.
The rest is mostly glass cases filled with objects, some from her lifetime, but a good many more being nursing items of interest that tell a story about nursing.
Do look for the gramaphone player, give the handle a wind, and hear the very voice of the lady herself — well, just about — recorded on a very early device. That’s next to a recreation of the bedroom that she spent most of her life in after she returned to the UK from Crimea, and you can even sniff her favourite perfume.
A cast of her hand holding a torch reminds us of how the media image was so very different from the reality. The lady so often depicted with a delicate lamp usually carried a large Turkish lantern, a fanoos.
That’s one of the quirks about the woman who is overshadowed by the gigantic legend she created. The exhibition does help to cast a lanterns light onto the truth.
Candidly though, when you need 200 items about one person, any display is going to be lucky to avoid a few dubious items. While fun to see, a model DeLorean from Back to the Future has a very tenuous link with the lady. That could have sat next to the model of the horse carriage she used.
Other items while only indirectly linked to the lady herself do tell the story of her legacy, not just practical, but as an icon to look up to as the idealised nurse.
The exhibition is a nice addition to the main museum display which goes into a lot more detail about her life, and particularly her voracious letter writing campaigns to improve health care in the country.
It’s a curiosity that a woman so often depicted as a slender young thing with a lamp in an army hospital actually spent most of her life in a London bedroom as a campaigner.
One really quite annoying thing is that the glass cases fade to darkness every few minutes so that people pay attention to a video about her – usually just as you are half way through reading a display card.
I should have brought a lamp with me.
The exhibition, Nightingale in 200 Objects, People & Places is open now until 7th March 2021 – and entry to the museum costs £9 per adult.