Mayor and Councillors of Lambeth
Lambeth Town Hall
18 Brixton Hill
London SW2 1RD
April 5, 2015
Dear Mayor and Lambeth Councillors
Re: Mary Seacole Statue intended for St Thomas’ Hospital and Florence Nightingale Bicentenary 2020
We note that the three years will soon draw to a close of the period for which planning permission was granted, after a hearing on April 24 2012. We understand that if the money is not all in place, that planning permission lapses, so that a new application would be required if and when the money is all raised.
We are aware that your permission process is narrowly focused on technicalities, assuming that the broader merits of the matter would have been dealt with elsewhere. In the case of the Seacole statue, this did not happen. The Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust promised consultation on a statue, then made its decision to approve without any, indeed at a closed-door meeting. As we pointed out to the Trust, the document it used to justify acceptance– claiming that Seacole was a dedicated nurse who gave her life to the early development of nursing in England- -was without foundation. The evidence is clear that she did not nurse a day in her life in England, or elsewhere. (She was a businesswoman; during the Crimean War she kindly gave first aid on several occasions, and was a friend to many, but did nothing to develop the profession.)
We entirely agree that Mrs Seacole’s life deserves celebration. Our concern is simply that she should not be credited with Nightingale’s work, or that Nightingale should be denigrated to make space for her.
To name Seacole “Pioneer Nurse” on a statue at Nightingale’s hospital would be seen by many people to be an outrage. St Thomas’ was the home of the first nurse training school in the world, and the base of Nightingale’s decades-long work in mentoring nurses from many countries, and sending out trained nurses to help found the profession in other countries.
The proposed placing of the statue facing the Houses of Parliament is particularly troublesome. Seacole took no interest in the political process, while Nightingale was an astute political activist all her life. She wrote briefs and reports for Parliamentary committees on health care and lobbied Cabinet ministers and MPs.
Placing the statue somewhere else in Lambeth would make sense. There is already a Seacole statue in Paddington, near where she lived. She never worked or lived in Lambeth, but there is a family connection through relatives of her late (English) husband, Edwin Seacole. His sister, Maria Seacole, married a James Kent in 1832, and their son’s marriage in due course produced a granddaughter, Florence Seacole Kent, born in 1861.
The 1881 Census shows her living in Brixton. On 14 April 1883, she married William Frederick Tilt at St Paul, Brixton. In 1901 she was a widow, still living in Brixton.
In 2020 the world will celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. She is still highly respected in most of the world, especially in India, Japan and China, and many will be coming to London to mark the occasion. Are visitors to discover that someone else has replaced her as the “Pioneer Nurse” at her own hospital?
We draw this complex matter to your attention, with two requests:
1.that Lambeth begin to consider how to celebrate the Nightingale bicentenary and
2.to find a more appropriate place for a Seacole statue than at Nightingale’s hospital.