Go with the Flo at the Florence Nightingale Museum, London
Have you heard of the Florence Nightingale Museum in London? Squirrelled away in the grounds of St Thomas’s Hospital, it’s dedicated to the life and work of one of the most important figures in modern nursing. We recently went there twice, and here’s why you should too (especially if your name just happens to be Florence).
If you’ve been in and around London with small children, it’s likely you’ll have been to one or several of the big museums, one or several times – the Science Museum, the Transport Museum, the Natural History Museum and everyone’s favourite The Horniman Museum (right?!).
But as one of London’s much smaller museums, you might not have heard of the Florence Nightingale museum. I have to admit, I’d only taken note because of the name (surely one place all Florence’s are guaranteed to get their name on everything on the gift shop?). You might think it sounds very niche, and it also is small, but it’s very sweet, and we all loved it, especially the Spanish Flu exhibition.
What is the Florence Nightingale museum? Florence Nightingale, aka the lady with the lamp, is one of the world’s most famous nurses, and her legacy has had a profound impact on modern medicine. The museum is dedicated to celebrating her life and work and celebrating other significant nurses such as Mary Seacole, as well as nursing and the incredible and dedicated work of all nurses.
The museum is in one room – it is small! – but it’s intricately laid out and there’s a lot to see and do, with the room divided into different sections you can wander in and out of.
Florence’s life story is told, there’s a section about the modern nursing, one on war, and the room is bordered with photos and stories of nurses. There are also nursing uniforms and hospital equipment to look at.
At the moment there is also an interactive Spanish Flu exhibition running until January 2020, and set out like a hospital tent in war used to nurse flu victims. You’re given a story scratchcard to discover the tale of a different character as you walk round, and their ultimate flu fate (yikes).
Despite the grim implications, this exhibition is really brilliant – it’s incredibly visual and clever and uses sound, audio and video, with really neat tricks to depict the horror – the hospital beds are projected on to as video screens, and UV light and paint is used to show how easily germs are spread.
In the main museum there is even Florence’s lamp and her taxidermied owl (no, really).
There’s a feminist theme running throughout – Florence was bound and constricted by the Victorian attitudes towards women and just wanted to break free, and her nursing was her way of doing that. It museum also notes the awful racism directed at Mary, who just wanted to save lives.
What is there for children at the Florence Nightingale museum? A word of warning, it is very small – so if you tend to zip through museums following toddlers round at a rapid pace you might be done soon. But it’s beautifully laid out with lots to see and do, from the rack of nurses costumes for dressing up, and the velcro game in the flu exhibition. There’s also a trail for children to complete as they walk around.
At five, and with her namesake to be found everywhere, Florence liked it. But E, at eight, studied Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole in KS1 as part of the national curriculum so was really absorbed by it. They both loved the Spanish Flu exhibition, which yes, is fairly grim but it’s done so brilliantly.
(Actors playing) Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole also pay regular visits to the museum at weekends, with performances throughout the day.
What else is there to see around the Florence Nightingale museum? It is bang smack in the middle of central London, on the banks of the Thames and opposite the House of Commons. It’s right on the edge of one of our favourite places, the Southbank. For feminist-themed trail, you can also nip across to Parliament Square to see the statue of suffragette Millicent Fawcett, stopping first at Mary Seacole’s statue.
The Florence Nightingale museum is at 2 Lambeth Palace Road, London, SE1 7EW. Adult tickets are £8 and family tickets for four are £16. More info is here.