and the Malvern Water Cure
By Cora Weaver
Members of the Society learned about some little-known aspects of the life of one of England’s most famous women in the course of a talk given by Cora Weaver.
Florence Nightingale was born in Florence in 1820 during a very extended Italian "honeymoon" on the part of her parents (how extended may be judged from the fact that her sister Parthenope had been born in Naples the year before). The family was extremely wealthy. Florence’s father had originally had the surname Shore, but adopted the name Nightingale on inheriting his fortune (whether as a condition of receiving the inheritance is unknown).
Cora’s talk focussed on Florence’s health problems and her history of attendance at Malvern under the care of Dr Gully and then Dr Johnson (for wealthy Victorians, spa treatments, sea-bathing and all sorts of water cures were extremely fashionable). She first visited a spa at the age of 8, when she accompanied her father to Cheltenham. Her first trip to Malvern was with the family in 1848 – the train took them to Spetchley and they proceeded from there by carriage and stayed at the Foley Arms. Over the period between 1848 and 1868 (which the reader will realise covers the time of the Crimean War, 1854-1856), she spent no less than 44 weeks at Malvern, undergoing treatments which can seem modern, including as they did lots of fresh air, exercise and a healthy diet, and uncomfortable – the water cure involved things like cold showers to improve the circulation and wrapping in cold damp sheets for up to hours at a time.
There has been much controversy about the state of Florence’s health on her return from the Crimea. Some authorities have claimed that she was a malingerer, spending as she did incredible amounts of time in bed or on the sofa. But Cora identified her problems as brucellosis contracted during her time in the Crimea – the symptoms include fever, joint pain and fatigue – and post-traumatic stress disorder.
This was a talk by turns humorous and harrowing which provoked a lot of interest from the audience as was shown in many questions and much discussion afterwards.