Florence Nightingale letters in Derbyshire sale

A collection of Florence Nightingale letters reveal her great compassion for a sick friend in a village she once lived in.

Hansons' expert Jim Spencer with Florence Nightingale letters
Jim Spencer with some of the Florence Nightingale letters. Credit: Mark Laban Hansons

The seven newly-discovered letters were tucked away in a Victorian desk in Holloway, Derbyshire, for decades until they were found by Hansons Auctioneers. They are now expected to sell for thousands of pounds. Experts say they ‘epitomise all that Florence Nightingale stood for’.

The founder of modern-day nursing, known as the Lady with the Lamp, displays endless kindness in the letters which relate to Hannah Allen who lived in Holloway, near Matlock, close to Nightingale’s former family home, Lea Hurst.

Dating back more than 120 years to 1892 and 1894 and written to a Mrs Walker, the letters ask after Hannah’s wellbeing, mental and physical, and refer to gifts of food and payments made for her care.

And yet Nightingale, who lived from 1820 to 1910, was in her 70s in the 1890s – and not in the best of health. She mentions being overworked and ‘for months together such a prisoner to my room from illness’.

The Florence Nightingale letters, together with a book inscribed for Hannah by Nightingale, are due to be sold by Hansons on July 21 with a guide price of £1,000-1,500 each. Together they could make £8,000-£12,000.

Florence Nightingale
Credit: Wikpedia image

Jim Spencer, works on paper expert at Hansons, said: “These letters are a wonderful find. They epitomise all that Nightingale stood for – boundless kindness and compassion and the importance of gaining the right care. They demonstrate her dogged determination to ensure the welfare of others.  Despite being overworked and ill, Nightingale continually looked out for Hannah.

“Mrs Walker, the recipient of the letters, was the vendor’s great-grandmother and acted as a go-between. Mr and Mrs Walker lived in Holloway, near Lea Hurst. Some of the letters thank Mr Walker for supplying meat and the vendor confirmed his ancestor was a farmer and butcher in Holloway.”

The seller, who did not wish to be named, inherited the letters through descent in 1986 and discovered them in the family Victorian desk where they had lain for decades. The seller said: “We’re extremely proud to own them and to have a family connection to Florence Nightingale. However, we feel it’s time for the letters to go to a museum or to keen collectors to be preserved for future generations.”

In one of the letters, dated  May 14, 1892, and addressed to Mrs Walker, Nightingale writes: ‘I feel very anxious to hear something from her…would you kindly tell me how she is by night as well as by day – mind as well as body – and give her my love and God bless her. Are there any parts of the Bible printed in large letters that she would like to have & that she has not?…My permanent & constant work is so far beyond my strength that I am quite unable to undertake any extra work, however willing & anxious to do so. Would you be so good as to tell me whether she likes the things she has from Mr Yeomans – & whether she would like me again to send her pounded meat & orange jelly…Thank you so much for your kindness to her…Florence Nightingale‘.

A letter written by Florence Nightingale

In a letter dated August 17, 1892, Nightingale writes: ‘Thank you for your very kind note about a woman to wash & clean for Sister Hannah Allen. But you do not tell me the name of the woman…The main thing, of course, is to have a person whom Sister Allen will like & not suspect. Please be so good as to assure me of this…I shall be so very glad to secure our good old friend some comfort. You will excuse my short pencil note for I am as usual overwhelmed with work & illness & very unequal to writing a single unnecessary line. Yours faithfully, F. Nightingale‘.

A further letter dated April 7, 1894, requests confirmation that instructions are being carried out: ‘Though you have not answered my letters, I am sure you are very much interested in poor old Miss Hannah Allen – you will remember how anxious I was that flannel (which I hurried off before Christmas – & there is scarcely anyone who is more overworked that I am) should be made up directly – & paying for it. Can you tell me whether it is not still by her, waiting for the long days for her to cut it out, that is for the warm weather when she will not need it! I wish to thank Mr Walker for supplying good meat to my friends, and I am, yours faithfully, Florence Nightingale. Pray excuse the trouble I am giving you.’

Nightingale’s personal battles come to the fore in a letter dated June 11, 1894: ‘I am sorry that the repayment to you of the money for the woman who by your kind arrangement cleans & washes for Hannah Allen has been so delayed. But I am so overworked & for months together such a prisoner to my room from illness that I wish all my payments could go thro’ one person…I now send a cheque for £2. 12…I must say that I feel very uneasy about Sister Hannah Allen (as we used to call her) living alone, sitting up all night & lying in bed in the day – I presume with her door locked. But I suppose nothing can be done – she would become suspicious of anybody who lived with her? With many thanks, yours sincerely, F. Nightingale.’

A book entitled The Story of the Resurrection of Christ, by R. E. H., London: National Society’s Depository, 1886, inscribed by Florence Nightingale, ‘For our dear old friend Hannah Allen, with Florence Nightingale’s Easter love, 1893‘, is also due to be sold. Estimate £1,000-£1,500.

Charles Hanson, owner of Hansons Auctioneers, said: “It’s a privilege to sell items which demonstrate Florence Nightingale’s wealth of human compassion. She is a British icon whose legacy should never be forgotten. It’s something I feel so strongly about, Hansons held a charity auction in lockdown which raised more than £18,000 for London’s Florence Nightingale Museum.

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