A small but charming village straggles along a lane off the A36 on the northeastern fringes of the New Forest. This is East Wellow and the church here is dedicated to St Margaret, but it is not the saint herself whose phantom walks here but another lady who many thought was close to being a saint herself. Wellow was the childhood home of Florence Nightingale and it was to the Church of St Margaret that she came with her family to worship.
It was from Wellow that Florence Nightingale left in 1854 to go to the British military hospital in Scutari, Turkey, where British casualties of the Crimean War were being cared for. Or rather, where they weren’t being cared for. As a trained nurse Nightingale was appaled by the lack of hygiene and nursing care being given to the wounded and sick soldiers. Backed up by a team of equally dedicated ladies, Nightingale cleaned out the wards and operating theatres with disinfectant, ensured all bandages and bed linen was thoroughly cleaned and spent long hours caring for the sick. She became famous as “The Lady with the Lamp” as she ended her long days touring the wards with a lamp to check on the soldiers.
When she arrived the death rate at Scutari as 42%. When she left it was 2%.
Returning to England, Nightingale became a national heroine. The soldiers and their families worshipped her for her gentle care, the medical authorities applauded her for her scientific approach and commonsense. She spent the rest of her life dedicated to establishing nursing schools, upgrading hospitals and to the improvement of health in Britain and the Empire. One of her early triumphs was the nursing school attached to St Thomas’s Hospital in London from where thousands of nurses, trained in the Nightingale methods, went out to save lives.
No matter how busy she was, Florence Nightingale always tried to get down to Wellow for a few days rest whenever she could. When she died in 1910, the Nightingale family was offered the chance to bury Florence in Westminster Abbey as befits a national heroine. But Florence had left strict instructions that she was to be interred at Wellow in the grounds of the church where she had worshipped God and found her inspiration. And she lies there still.
Soon after her death, the shade of Florence Nightingale began to be seen sitting quietly in a pew in the church, or walking slowly around the churchyard. And well she might for this is a most beautiful little church dating from the 1240s and full of fascinating paintings and other details. I recommend that when you visit you should drop some money into the box for the Church repair fund. I have rarely found a more deserving cause.
And Florence Nightingale is a most busy ghost, for she is seen not only in Wellow, but also in the corridors of St Thomas’s Hospital. A friend of mine who trained as a nurse there some years ago saw her once. “She was dressed in an old-fashioned grey dress down to the ground,” the nurse later recalled. “She came round the corner from the corridor into the ward and looked about. Then she walked out again. I was only a student nurse at the time and was all alone on night duty. There was not meant to be anyone else about apart from me and the Sister that came to check up from time to time. I wondered who this lady was and followed her out to the corridor, but she had vanished. I was told by older staff that this was the ghost of Florence Nightingale.”
The second ghost of East Wellow has no name and nobody is very certain how often it appears. It is a phantom coach and four which trots down the lanes on occasion. One local chap told me that the coach is seen only at night. Another that it has not been seen for donkey’s years. Neither had actually seen it and I could find nobody who had.
This is an extract from Haunted Hampshire by Rupert Matthews