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The Nightingale family acquired Embley Park near Romsey in 1825 for £125,000, and with it an estate of approximately 4,000 acres which included much of East and West Wellow. It was to be their main family home until W. E. Nightingale, Florence’s father, died in 1874 . The house is now an independent school (Hampshire Collegiate School), part of the United Church Schools Trust, whilst St Margaret’s parish church in Wellow contains the Nightingale family grave. Like-minded people from the school, parish and county are coming together in 2010 to coordinate their own series of events to mark the centenary of the passing of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) on 13 August 1910.
A key objective will be to involve young people. Thus, in one initiative, pupils from the senior school will be working with a professional photographer to produce a series of pictures depicting ‘Embley now’ as part of a new display for London’s Florence Nightingale Museum. Similarly, pupils from Wellow Prep School, of which the Nightingales were patrons, will be reviving memories from the mid-nineteenth century in processing to Embley for a picnic on the lawns!
The charitable/fund-raising dimension is also central to much that is being planned. The Hampshire Group for the Visually Impaired is due to visit Embley for one of their book readings in braille. Two band concerts are being staged in the summer by the army on behalf of the Army Benevolent Fund, the latter of which to be attended by the descendants of John Kneller, the Crimean veteran who memorably caught the eye at Miss Nightingale’s funeral in August 1910.
The county council are hoping to put together a portable ‘Nightingale Museum’ which will tour Hampshire venues during 2010, including doctors’ surgeries. It is envisaged that this will then find a permanent home in what was the celebrated Nightingale Drawing Room at Embley. On the school estate itself, the Church School’s Trust has already provided funds to assist the renovation of the remaining grounds, the famous ‘Wild Gardens’ which so appealed to the Nightingale sisters.
For those with a more cerebral bent, there is much to look forward to. Professor Lynn McDonald, editor of the collected works of Florence Nightingale, has accepted an invitation to visit the School in March when she will talk about the Nightingale project. The School is also hosting a conference from 14-16 July under the heading ‘Florence Nightingale. Influence and inspiration 1820-1910.’ This is intended to have broad appeal and will include papers on a variety of themes pertaining to Miss Nightingale’s career, as well as visiting local sites of importance in her life. It is hoped that some of these contributions will find their way into a significant commemorative volume.
As the conference title implies, Florence Nightingale is far more than an historic figure; rather she is one with a continuing relevance and resonance. As such, the accent on all events is on celebration. Wellow parish will hold its annual commemorative service in May, whilst the School is will end its cycle of events with a service in Romsey Abbey, at which it is hoped the address will be delivered by Lord Carey, the current chair of UCST and former Archbishop of Canterbury.
Dr Russ Foster, F.R. Hist. Soc., Head of History, Hampshire Collegiate School, Embley Park