The true story of Greatest Showman character and her time in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 08:02 04 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:24 04 August 2019

Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind. Photo: NNUH

Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind. Photo: NNUH


The Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind helped to fund a hospital in the region.

A ward at the original Jenny Lind Children's Hospital before it became part of NNUH. Photo: NNUHA ward at the original Jenny Lind Children's Hospital before it became part of NNUH. Photo: NNUH

At first she thought someone could stand in the Market Place in Norwich and distribute the money to the poor… and there were plenty of them.

That could have caused problems, so the money - a vast sum in 1849 - was handed over to trustees who would decide what to do with the proceeds from two concerts given by the Swedish Nightingale who had fallen in love with Norwich, Norfolk and its people.

They came up with another idea. How about some public wash-houses? But the cost of converting a large malt house in St Stephen's was too much.

And so the debate between the great and the good - Samuel Bignold, the son of the Norwich Union founder was chairman - went on until 1853, when it was suggested it should go towards an additional ward at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital to treat children.

Christmas 1915 at the Jenny Lind Hospital. Photo: Archant LibraryChristmas 1915 at the Jenny Lind Hospital. Photo: Archant Library

Times were hard and life was cheap. Thousands of people lived in rat-infested slums. Many children did not survive. But there were those who said there was no need for a children's hospital.

It was, at the time, a radical and controversial plan. But it went ahead despite protests - mostly from the well-heeled.

Jenny Lind was already a huge star when she first came to Norwich in 1847. In Copenhagen Hans Christian Anderson asked her to marry him, but she turned him down. Other friends were Chopin and Mendelssohn.

In England she sang for Queen Victoria who was so impressed she threw her bouquet to land at Jenny's feet.

The singer, not in the best of health, was determined to carry on touring to please her fans and it was the wife of Bishop Edward Stanley of Norwich who invited Jenny to stay with them when she visited in 1847.

In fact when Jenny told them she was considering retiring from the stage it was the Stanleys who suggested she could sing for the benefit of others.

What a welcome Jenny received when she first visited Norwich. The bells of St Peter Mancroft Church rang out and huge crowds lined the streets to catch a glimpse of her.

Tickets for her concerts at St Andrew's Hall were like gold dust. People arrived from across East Anglia to hear the Swedish Nightingale. Around 1,700 at the first concert, 2,000 at the second and 2,500 at the third, with many people having to stand.

When people left in their carriages it was said they were: "Leaving the temple of music, for a brief space, to solitude and darkness."

Jenny was paid £500 for each of the first two concerts and £250 for the third. She gave much of the money to local charities and also £5 to the blind organist at Thorpe.

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She continued to delight music lovers across Europe but Jenny had fallen in love with Norwich and wanted to return. Concerts were arranged in January of 1849 in St Andrew's Hall. They were described as being in aid of "charitable purposes".

The Norfolk Chronicle reported that "great care will be taken to have the hall properly warmed".

Once again huge crowds gathered to welcome her at Thorpe Station. They wanted to unhitch the horses and pull the carriages round to the Bishop's Palace themselves but they were told that was not wise, so the horses did their work.


Jenny left, leaving a city with a smile on its face.

Following her 1849 concerts, the talk over what to do with the money came to a head at a meeting four years later when a motion was proposed by J G Johnson and seconded by the Mayor Richard Coaks.

It said: "That an institution for the treatment of the diseases of sick children be established in Norwich and called the Jenny Lind Infirmary for Sick Children."

Properties in Pottergate Street were bought and converged into a hospital in 1854 with 12 beds and Jenny and her husband Otto Goldschmidt visited the infirmary and she later wrote to them saying: "Of all the money God allowed me to give away when my poor throat could call an audience to listen to its production none has borne a nobler or genuine fruit that the Jenny Lind Hospital in Norwich."

During the first year of its operation it admitted 51 children and treated 275 as outpatients.

The hospital outgrew Pottergate. Money for the second one, built on Unthank Road, came from the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Fund and Jeremiah James Colman. It was opened in 1900 by the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Almost 30 years later a new outpatients department was opened by Princess Mary with Mrs Raymond Maude, Jenny's daughter, there to hand over a new carpet.

It continued to treat children from across Norfolk and Suffolk and had strong links with the public who were always willing to raise funds for the hospital.

During the 1970s it moved to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital where the Jenny Lind Children's Department was opened in 1982 and then, when the new hospital opened in 2001, the children's services was one of the first departments to move to the new building.

In the 21st century the Jenny Lind does so much good work both in the hospital and across our region providing such wonderful loving care and support for our children.

Jenny died way back in 1887 but the memory of her is stronger than ever and will live on, hopefully, for all time.

God bless the Swedish Nightingale.

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