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Page last updated at 08:22 GMT, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 09:22 UK
Florence Nightingale's home at Embley Park near Romsey
Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale spent her formative years in Hampshire

A century after her death, Florence Nightingale remains one of Hampshire's most famous women.

The 'mother of modern nursing' was brought up on the Hampshire country estate of Embley Park near Romsey.

The site is now home to a private school, but reminders of Florence's formative years are all around the house and estate.

She grew up in the splendid surroundings of the 4,000 acre estate, bought by the family in the 1820s.

Hampshire Collegiate's head of history Russ Foster is an expert on Florence and the Nightingale family.

Embley Park
Embley Park is now a private school

Russ Foster explained: "Her upbringing was one of great wealth and luxury, brought up by governesses, but by age of 10 she was being taught by her father in classical languages, mathematics and philosophy - fairly unusual for a young lady."

Spending hours in the drawing room was "something which she came to loathe" as Florence's parents were determined to make Embley Park a social centre for the intellectual elite of the time.

However her family's social connections with leading figures of the establishment such as Lord Palmerston were to help her in later life as a social reformer.

Life in nursing

Florence's journey into nursing is said to have begun under a giant cedar tree in the grounds of Embley Park. The local legend is that Florence was seated beneath this tree on 7 February 1837 when she heard a calling from God.

Cedar tree
Florence is said to have received a calling from God under a cedar tree

Russ Foster admits to being sceptical about the location. He said: "February is not a great time to sit under the trees, so it is quite possible it took place in the warmth of the house."

Although a religious calling was not a surprise given Florence's family background background.

Russ continued: "She was absolutely driven by faith, non-denominational - a good Christian women."

Despite being from non-conformist backgrounds, the Nightingale family attended Romsey Abbey and the local Church of England church at East Wellow.

Russ Foster explained: "Her father had a reputation as a religious free-thinker and encouraged Florence to be inquisitive in religion. There is no doubt she was driven by commitment to God, to find out what God wanted from her and to do his bidding."

Her faith and humanitarian nature is seen when the young Florence dished out food for the poor in the nearby village of East Wellow and she also taught local children under the same cedar tree.

That calling eventually led her to train at Salisbury Infirmary - a move which her parents felt was unsuitable for a young woman of social standing.

National heroine

It was the Crimean war in the 1850s during which Florence emerged as a national figure. By that stage she was building her nursing experience acting as a superintendant in Harley Street in London.

Russ Foster
Historian Russ Foster has studied Florence's life and career

She had seen newspaper reports of dreadful conditions endured by British servicemen and volunteered her services. Her fame as the 'lady with the lamp' and her celebrity status remained throughout the Victorian age and ever since.

Ross Foster said: "What people remember today is the legend of Florence and the Crimea, but a lot of the effective work was done after the war."

Her work researching sanitary conditions for the army, especially in India and other domestic social reform causes, meant Florence spent more time living in London. However she returned to Hampshire in the 1860s to look after her own ill mother.

The current school chapel - although built in the 1950s - is named the 'Florence Nightingale Chapel.'

It contains a copy of William Simpson's painting of Florence in Crimea - albeit with a sanitised view of wartime conditions, as well as a photograph commissioned by Queen Victoria.

That fame has endured as around the world, the young woman from the luxury and security of a landed Hampshire estate is still remembered in nursing circles as a "a role model and heroine".

A series of special events is planned to mark the centenary of Florence Nightingale's death. Full details available on the Florence 2010 website.



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