Debbie Pearson

Two Guides started to write about locations in London connected with Florence Nightingale, or as they like to think of them “flocations”. [Thanks very much to Hannah Smith, from the Florence Nightingale Museum, for inventing this word.] They had already amassed a good deal of knowledge from initial work on their walks and talks.  But they now had an opportunity to deepen their research, and to look for flocations in other parts of London.

Since this was in the middle of a lockdown, a desk-based approach was the most obvious starting point.  Having each amassed a small private library of books on their subject, Two Guides set about reading in depth.

Private library

One of the most useful and comprehensive works on the subject was “Florence Nightingale: The Woman and Her Legend” by Mark Bostridge.  This book became a constant companion to Two Guides as they delved into it, looking for places, people, subjects and stories.

Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge

Florence Nightingale herself was also a published author, and reading her own words was inspirational.  Her book “Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not” has never been out of print.

Notes on Nursing

And there were also plenty of resources available online.  Some of these obviously need to be taken with a pinch of salt.  But, there were some authoritative sources which were well worth exploring. Two Guides are completely indebted to the world’s leading expert on Florence Nightingale, Professor Lynn McDonald.  The online resources provided by her team at the University of Guelph, Toronto, Canada are world class.

And not forgetting the online version of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which is accessible to anyone in the UK in possession of a library card.

Having two co-authors for a book brings many benefits, including someone to share the workload, sound out ideas and discuss options.  However, it also brings an increased need for co-ordination.   Initially, Julie concentrated on locations featured on the guided walks, and Debbie focused on Florence’s friends, family and colleagues.

The writing of this book would have been a lot more difficult without the use of modern technology.  The manuscript was drafted using Microsoft Teams, as if it were a shared drive for documents.  That way, there was no need to send each other attachments, there was only one version of the document at any one time, and each could see what the other had written.  On weekly Zoom conference calls, Julie and Debbie would discuss progress and agree priorities for the period ahead.

Two Guides set themselves a target of writing the descriptions for 100 flocations before the end of the year (2020).  A daily routine emerged of researching, writing, checking and editing.  Then each would review the other’s work, and suggest amendments or improvements.  Two Guides did not always see eye to eye, but in the end a compromise was always reached.  Julie and Debbie know exactly which of the flocations they have written, but they hope that this is not obvious to the reader.

Two Guides reached their target of 100 flocations, but they realised they had not finished their research. So what did they do? They carried on writing.

2020 was going to be a big year for the Florence Nightingale Museum.  It is a small museum, based in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital in London, but it had big plans for a special anniversary.

Florence Nightingale had been born in Florence, Italy, on 12th May 1820, so 2020 was the bicentenary of her birth. The museum had a three year project underway, and a whole programme of events lined up.  There was an exhibition: Nightingale in 200 Objects, People & Places; there were plans for a Choral Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral; the Museum was due to take part in the Lord Mayor’s Show through the streets of the City of London; and much more.  The World Health Organization had declared 2020 to be the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

Nightingale in 200 Objects, People & Places

In 2018, the director of the museum, David Green, had asked Julie to see whether a guided walk through Florence Nightingale’s London would be feasible.  After some initial research, Julie confirmed that it would indeed be possible.  She set about planning a route, starting at Florence’s home in Mayfair; wending a way through the upmarket areas of Westminster; passing the statue of Florence at Waterloo Place; and finishing at the museum.  Since the route was ready in early 2019, the museum director decided there was no need to wait until 2020 to launch the walks, and so they were advertised on the museum website.  Julie mentioned to Debbie that she might be needed to lead walks in 2020.

Blue plaque – South Street, Mayfair

Reservations for the walking tours started slowly, and gradually built up.  Then a group booking arrived, for 50 people from Brazil.  That was too big a group for one guide, however proficient, so Julie called on Debbie.  All of a sudden, Debbie needed to get up to speed much earlier than anticipated.  Fortunately, Julie had prepared thoroughly, so Debbie had some excellent research to rely on.  The walk went well, the customers were happy, and the museum was delighted.

Meanwhile, Julie had also started developing some talks about Florence Nightingale’s London.  The advantage of a talk is that you are not limited to a particular area, and can mention locations (flocations?) that do not appear on the walk route.  This enabled Julie to include one of the places Florence had worked as superintendent (matron): The Establishment for Gentlewomen during Illness, in Harley Street. 

Harley Street

Debbie and Julie were also delighted to learn that some of the buildings of the German Hospital in Dalston, East London still existed.  They knew that Florence had first visited in 1846, but did not realise it had survived.

German Hospital, Dalston

As 2020 started, Julie and Debbie were looking forward to a busy year of guiding.  The Florence Nightingale Museum planned a launch event for their exhibition, with a distinguished guest list, including the Secretary of State for Health. The launch party took place, with many illustrious guests.  Unfortunately, the minister was unable to attend.

And then the world changed, as the pandemic took hold.