This week’s mystery object from the museum’s collection store is Florence Nightingale’s foot warmer.
Upon her return from the Crimea, Nightingale suffered from brucellosis, commonly known as ‘Crimean fever’.
Brucellosis is a highly contagious disease caused by ingestion of unsterilized milk or meat from infected animals. Symptoms include muscular pain and sweating; and if untreated brucellosis can lead to chronic conditions such as spondylodiscitis of the lumbar spine (inflammation of one or more vertebrae and the intervertebral disc space), and sacroiliitis (inflammation of the sacroiliac joint).
Nightingale certainly suffered from ill health for the much of her life, following her time in the Crimea. It seems plausible that she could have suffered from one or both of these chronic conditions, as a complication of her brucellosis.
Nightingale would have used her foot warmer during carriage journeys. Travelling by carriage may seem romantic and appealing to us in the twenty-first century, but in reality they would be draughty and often rather uncomfortable for long journeys. This foot warmer would bring Nightingale some much needed relief when travelling.
The foot warmer is made of tin, with two wooden footrests on the top. It has a hinged lid, and a well where the charcoal or hot stone would be placed to provide the heat.