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Marble pen tray

Derbyshire, 19th century
Black marble

Alongside the Ancient Egyptian artefacts, Asian works of art, and Jacobite memorabilia, the Castle collection includes objects which illustrate the life of Denys Eyre Bower. There is an archive of Denys’ letters, notes, photographs, and handwritten labels, as well as objects that held personal meaning and connection with his family home in Crich, Derbyshire. One of these objects is a pen tray which can be viewed in the Castle’s North entrance hall. It was labelled by Denys as ‘Florence Nightingale’s pen tray in black Derbyshire marble from Lea Hurst, Derbyshire’. Denys proudly collected objects made in Derbyshire, including paintings which can be viewed in his study and a vase made from Derbyshire spar which can also be seen in the entrance hall display.

Painting of scenes of Derbyshire by J. Broadhead, oil on canvas, 19th century, Chiddingstone Castle collection, object number 01.2336

Denys had a particular interest in Florence Nightingale – a copy of her ‘Notes on Nursing’ is included in his Library collection. As with many of Denys’ seemingly unconnected interests, it is likely that Florence Nightingale captured his imagination from a young age. She lived in Lea Hurst, a house in the next town over from Crich where Denys grew up, and it appears that there was a connection between the Bower and Nightingale families.

There is a newspaper clipping from the 12th November 1937 edition of the Derbyshire Times in the archive, which announces the diamond wedding anniversary of Denys’ grandparents, Elizabeth and Samuel Bower. The following quote gives us the biggest clue of the Bower’s relationship with the Nightingales –

Mrs Bower also remembers visits to her old house of Mr Nightingale, the father of Florence Nightingale – a tall thin man in a grey top hat, who used to ride over on horseback from Lea Hurst’

Elizabeth Bower was born in 1854, the year that Florence Nightingale left for Turkey after she had heard about the casualties from the Crimean War and the hospital at Scutari where they were being sent. She returned from Turkey to Lea Hurst in 1856, by which time she had already become recognised and celebrated for her pioneering work to improve hospital conditions and sanitation. Elizabeth appears to have been very proud of the fact that Florence Nightingale’s father used to visit her family home, and it appears that she passed down her admiration to her grandson, Denys. Denys managed to acquire a few items said to have belonged to Florence, either from the sale of Lea Hurst in 1946, or from the sale of his own family home, Woodbank, in 1959 after his mother passed away.

Photograph of William Nightingale (Florence Nightingale’s father) and Parthenope Verney, Sillence & Son, c. 1870, Florence Nightingale Museum, object number 0497

Photograph of Florence Nightingale after she had returned from the Crimean War, c. 1850s, Florence Nightingale Museum, object number 0375

Florence Nightingale achievements, her establishment of a hospital and a training school for nurses, and her work and innovation and statistics, earned her admiration and honour. Poems, songs, and plays were written about her, and many women followed in her example. Denys appears to have been particularly keen to collect items belonging to famous and important figures. He was fascinated by relics, and he amassed a large collection of papers, documents, and personal belongings attributed to members of the Stuart royal family. He carefully noted any significant previous owners of his other objects in handwritten labels and notes.

Two of Denys’ handwritten labels for objects in the Buddhist collection

Two gold buttons or cufflinks, with a label attached attributing them to Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Chiddingstone Castle collection, object number 01.1630

Another object in Denys’ collection which he labelled as belonging to Florence Nightingale is a small gilt-bronze statue of the Buddha seated in a stone shrine (object number 01.1596). The Buddha statue was made in Burma in the 16th century and is currently on loan to the Florence Nightingale Museum along with 200 exhibits celebrating the bicentenary of her birth. Florence was a Christian, but she had an interest in and respect for other religions. The statue can be viewed as part of the ‘Nightingale in 200 Objects, People & Places’ exhibition, and will return to the Castle once it has finished.

This object is just one of the many objects that form part of Denys Eyre Bower’s five impressive collections which include Ancient Egyptian, Japanese, Buddhist, Stuart and Jacobite, and Books. For more information on these objects, review our Object of the Month series, visit the Historic House and Collections or contact our Curator, Naomi Collick by email or by calling 01892 870347.

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