Florence Nightingale Letters to Thomas Worthington

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 1154
  • Dates of Creation
      25 Jul 1865-7 Nov 1868
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      various sizes. 5 items;
  • Location
      Collection available at John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

Five letters from Florence Nightingale, written from 34 South Street, Park Lane, London W., to the Manchester architect Thomas Worthington. They concern hospital construction and, in particular, Chorlton Union Infirmary and Prestwich Union New Workhouse.

Administrative / Biographical History

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), reformer of army medical services and nursing, was born on 12 May 1820 in Florence. In 1853 she accepted the post of unpaid superintendent to the Establishment for Gentlewomen during Illness in Harley Street, London. Here she impressed all with her skill both as a nurse and as an organizer. In 1854 Nightingale was asked to take a party of nurses, at the government's expense, to Scutari, to nurse troops fighting in the Crimean War, during which time her insistence on uniform, discipline, and orderly procedures in the midst of considerable squalor set a new standard in nursing.

In May 1855 Florence Nightingale crossed to the Crimea to inspect the war hospitals, and while there collapsed and was dangerously ill with Crimean fever, from which she made a slow and painful recovery. She resisted efforts by officials to ship her home and returned to Scutari to continue working. She returned to England in July 1856, at the end of the war, and called for a royal commission on the Army Medical Service, establishing what became known as her reform cabinet, a group of well-placed male advisers. In April 1857 a commission was established and in 1858 she wrote her report Notes on matters affecting the health, efficiency, and hospital administration of the British army, which was printed and privately circulated but never published. Her report was backed by statistical evidence that showed how much of mortality was due to the state of the hospitals. While working on the report she collapsed with cardiac symptoms. She recovered, but this was the beginning of her twenty years of invalidism.

She continued to further reforms in the army, the promotion of sanitary science, the collection of statistics, the design of hospitals, and the reform of nursing and midwifery services. She became involved with the sanitary commission on India, writing her paper How people may live and not die in India, for the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science in 1863. She was the recipient of many honours, including membership of the German Order of the Cross of Merit, the French Secours aux blessés militaires, the British Order of Merit (she was the first woman to be so honoured), and the freedom of the City of London. She died at Park Lane, London, on 13 August 1910 and was buried next to her parents in the churchyard of East Wellow, Hampshire.

Source: Monica E. Baly and H.C.G. Matthew, 'Nightingale, Florence (1820-1910)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - Â http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/35241.

Thomas Worthington (1826-1909), was born in Salford, Lancashire, on 11 April 1826, the son of Thomas Worthington (1779-1842), merchant, and his second wife, Susanna n… Barton. At the age of fourteen he was articled for seven years to Henry Bowman, architect, later working at the office of William Tite. After gaining experience of quantity surveying, in 1849 he opened his own practice in King Street, in the centre of Manchester.

Worthington toured Italy in 1848 and again in 1858, and according to John Archer, a 'pronounced Italian influence is evident in much of Worthington's architecture'; he was 'equally at ease with the Renaissance palazzo mode as with Venetian Gothic', although he also 'had a flair for English Gothic'. Among his most significant commissions were the police and magistrates' courts in Minshull Street, and Manchester College, Oxford.

Worthington was involved in endeavours to improve the living conditions of the poor of Manchester, and was an active member of several reforming societies. Foremost of these was the Manchester Statistical Society, the first of its kind in Britain. Worthington's first paper to the Statistical Society was on 'Homes for the poor' (Transactions, 1860-61), and in 1866 he lectured on housing to the Social Sciences Association. His appointment as architect to a charitable body two years later enabled him to realize his ideas. From 1858 Florence Nightingale's Notes on Hospitals promoted a vigorous campaign to improve hospital design and in Manchester this was strongly supported by the Statistical Society. In 1862 the building of a new hospital was proposed for the Chorlton Union at Withington, and Worthington was entrusted with the design. It contained 480 beds in five three-storey blocks and followed closely Nightingale's new principles. Worthington presented a paper on the project to the Statistical Society (published in its Transactions for 1866-7), and as a pamphlet the design was circulated to all boards of guardians and to centres in Europe and the colonies.

In 1863 Worthington married Elizabeth Ann Scott of Stourbridge, Worcestershire. In 1859 they moved to Broomfield in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, a house that Worthington himself had designed in 1847. Elizabeth died shortly after the birth of their fifth child in 1870. Three years later Worthington married Edith Emma Swanwick, with whom he had a further six children. His eldest son Percy (1864-1939) became a partner in the practice in 1891, and in 1893 the firm became Thomas Worthington & Son.

Thomas Worthington served as president of the Manchester Society of Architects in 1875, as vice-president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) from 1885 to 1889, and as president of the Royal Manchester Institution. He died at Broomfield on 9 November 1909 and was buried in the graveyard of the Unitarian chapel at Dean Row, Wilmslow.

Source: John H.G. Archer, 'Worthington family (per. 1849-1963)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/65160.

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Donated to the John Rylands Library by Lewis H. Orford esq. in July 1950.


Description compiled by Jo Klett, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography articles on Florence Nightingale and Thomas Worthington.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937-1951 (English MS 1154); unpublished detailed catalogue available within the Library.

Custodial History

Formerly owned by Lady Lucy Juliet Worthington (1866-1956).

Related Material

Other material relating to Florence Nightingale has been widely dispersed: see http://www.nra.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra/searches/pidocs.asp?P=P21253.

The UML also holds the Manchester Society of Architects archive (ref.: GB 133 MSA); a commonplace book of Thomas Worthinton (ref.: GB 133 Eng MS 1416); and the papers of Sir Hubert Worthington (1886-1963), son of Thomas Worthington (ref.: GB 133 WOR), which include four travel journals of Thomas Worthington.