Florence Nightingale

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.

This is the tale of two London tour guides, Debbie Pearson and Julie Chandler.  It tells how they met and started to work together; how they became acquainted with Florence Nightingale; and how they came to form a business partnership and write their first book.

Debbie and Julie are London tour guides, and had met through their guiding activities. 

Debbie qualified in 1999 as a City of London tour guide – specialising in the financial district of London, also known as the “Square Mile”.  Upon qualification as a City Guide, Debbie became a member of the City of London Guide Lecturers Association.  At that time, Debbie had a full-time job in the City of London, and her guiding usually took place on the weekends.  She also gave evening lectures for the Knowledge of the City lecture series, the brainchild of a former City Guide tutor.  And after a few years, she became involved in organising these lectures herself.

Debbie in the City of London

Julie started her guiding journey by studying to become a City of Westminster tour guide – qualifying in 2008. She followed this up by taking her City Guide examinations in 2009.  In 2010 Julie left financial services, took a part time job at the Museum of London and created her own company, London Town Tours. 

Julie as Chair of the City of Westminster Guide Lecturers Association

When Debbie’s job became part time, she took another guiding course, and qualified as a City of Westminster tour guide in 2011.  That was also the year that Julie was elected as Chair of the City of Westminster Guide Lecturers Association, serving a three year term of office.  Debbie joined the committee in 2012 and worked alongside Julie for two years.

Debbie in the City of Westminster

The guiding courses for the City of London and City of Westminster award qualifications for guides who specialise in a specific area of London – in other words, Local London Guiding. Julie decided to expand her horizons, and took on the significant challenge of studying for the Blue Badge guiding qualification – an internationally recognised qualification that equips tourist guides to guide anywhere in London, and within a day’s journey of the capital.  She completed this training in 2014.

Julie wearing her Blue Badge

Julie is also an accomplished speaker, and amongst many other engagements, gave talks for the Knowledge of the City lectures organised by Debbie.

By this time, Julie and Debbie had been friends for some while, and during the course of their many conversations, they discovered they had both worked for the same bank over a number of years.

In 2017 Julie had received a request to lead a Financial Walk in the City of London.  It was for a large group of students, and two guides were needed.  Julie asked Debbie to become the second guide, and the walk was a great success.  The same university asked Julie to lead the walk the following year, and Julie again asked Debbie to join her.

As a guide, you frequently work on your own.  But as shown above, there are plenty of opportunities to work in teams.