The early years
Florence’s father William Edward Shore changed his surname to Nightingale in 1815 upon inheriting property at Lea in Derbyshire. William and his wife Fanny had two daughters Parthe (1819) and Florence, named after her place of birth in Italy, on 12 May 1820. She was always known as Flo.
Embley Park near Romsey
Hampshire Record Office reference 94M72/F613/1
The family moved from Italy to Derbyshire in 1821 and in 1825 purchased Embley Park near Romsey in the Test Valley as a winter retreat. Embley Park is now home to Hampshire Collegiate School. Embley Park was described as
“a good-sized plain square house of the late Georgian period, the situation warm and sheltered, the gardens very large and exceptionally fine. The shooting was good, London was reasonably near, and Fanny’s two married sisters, Mrs Nicholson at Waverley Abbey near Farnham and Mrs Bonham-Carter at Fair Oak, near Winchester, were within easy reach.”
By the time Florence was five the pattern of the Nightingales’ life was set. The summers were passed at Lea Hurst in Derbyshire, the remainder of the year at Embley Park, and twice a year during the spring and autumn seasons visits were made to London.
Three or four times the Nightingale, Nicholson, and Bonham-Carter families holidayed together at Seaview on the Isle of Wight, where the children bathed and sailed. Christmas was generally spent with the Nicholsons at Waverley Abbey near Farnham, where the children held a ball of their own and put on a play.
Florence was not always a happy child. She did not like strangers, especially children. She was convinced at an early age that she was different to everyone else, and it is said that Florence heard the voice of God calling her to do his work. As a child Florence wrote many letters to her grandmother, aunts, parents and sister. Her unhappiness at being confined to Embley is clear from early letters and notes.
Florence and her sister Parthe did not always get on well together as they were very different in temperament and ability
“Flo led and Parthe followed, but Parthe followed resentfully. She was possessive towards Flo, she adored Flo, wanted Flo’s entire devotion, could not bear Flo to have another friend, but she was bitterly envious of Flo”.
Mrs Nightingale made a practice of sending the children to stay separately with their relatives. The final division, however, was brought about by their father’s plan for their education. A governess taught the girls music and drama, whilst they learned Greek, Latin, German, French, Italian, History and Philosophy from their father.
They were expected to work long hours, and eventually Parthe rebelled, seeking her mother’s company with her guests or in the garden. Florence struggled on alone with her father. Parthe resented the companionship between her father and sister and, in later years, supported her mother against Florence’s plan to become a nurse.
Mrs Frances Nightingale with her daughters Parthe and Florence
Hampshire Record Office ref 94M72/F697/11
Florence and her sister as young children
Hampshire Record Office ref 94M72/F614/10