Discover the Mayflower roots of America in Nottinghamshire
03 April 2019
Four centuries ago, on 6th September 1620, a group of pilgrims boarded a ship bound for the New World, to build a better society.
From these humble beginnings has grown the world’s greatest superpower – the USA – a society which connects hundreds of countries and cultures across the globe. Around 35 million Americans can trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower.
The men, women and children that boarded the Mayflower and sailed from UK shores westwards, did so seeking religious freedom away from what they saw as a corrupt church and power system.
Most of these puritan religious Separatists came from ‘Pilgrim Country’ - a region spanning the counties of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire where independent thinking had blossomed in an environment of passion and tolerance.
They followed the Great North Road southwards, many passing Ye Olde Bell, some to embark for Holland, others for Southampton and eventually Plymouth, from where the Mayflower sailed.
Next year, to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, there will be special events and tours at key locations all across the UK.
Here, we take a look at what will be happening in our area of Nottinghamshire and why the county has such strong links to the Separatist movement.
Ye Olde Bell sits at the heart of ‘Pilgrim Country’ - the Bassetlaw area of Nottinghamshire where the beliefs of some of the most influential Separatists were shaped – ideas upon which modern America was founded.
The beautiful villages of Babworth, Scrooby and Austerfield, all within a ten-minute drive up and down the Great North Road from Ye Olde Bell, played significant roles in the history of the separatist movement.
Leading pilgrim William Brewster, who is thought to have been instrumental in drafting the Mayflower Compact and became the first Senior Elder of the Plymouth Colony, grew up in Scrooby. Brewster was probably baptised and married at St Wilfrid’s Church, where he was later fined for non-attendance before he fled to Holland.
William Brewster’s former home, where the Separatist congregation met in secret, the Manor House in Scrooby is now a private residence but can still be viewed from the road.
Nearby Austerfield is the birthplace of William Bradford, the second Governor of the Colony who was baptised in St Helena’s Church. Visitors can learn more at the Austerfield Study Centre adjacent to the church.
Another passenger on the Mayflower, William Butten, who was an indentured servant of ship’s doctor Samuel Fuller, was also from Austerfield. Button died on the voyage before ever reaching America and ‘Butten Meadow’ is named in his honour while a Delft tiled mural commemorates him.
Nearby All Saints’ Church in Babworth, also on the Great North Road, is where Separatist minister Richard Clifton was a parson until 1605 and houses items including a silver chalice and Geneva bible with annotations from 1603. His preaching in the ‘new manner’ had a profound influence on the religious ideas of Brewster and Bradford who were both regular attendees of his services. Clifton emigrated to Holland in 1608 where he remained until his death in 1616.
The Separatists travelled up and down the Great North Road spreading and sharing their ideas, until finally heading southward to set sail once and for all, initially for Holland and later for America.
Mayflower 400 tours and events
As part of the Mayflower 400 commemorations, a partnership of local councils, tourism bodies and heritage sites, Pilgrims Roots has put together a series of tour itineraries for anyone interested in tracing the history of the Mayflower pilgrims, much of which centres on our region of Nottinghamshire.
Visitors can choose between the following:
Starting in Droitwich and Worcester, the tour then crosses north east to Scrooby, Babworth, Austerfield and Gainsborough before moving on to Immingham, now an industrial port, but once a quiet creek from where the pilgrims secretly set sail for Holland. The route then takes you south to Lincoln, home of the Magna Carta, and Boston.
Starting in nearby Retford, this tour takes visitors through Babworth, Scrooby, Austerfield to Gainsborough from where it is an easy trip to Epworth – home of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism – Lincoln, Boston or Immingham.
This starts at the National Civil War Centre in Newark before moving on to Nottingham, birthplace of Salvation Army founder William Booth and starting point for the English civil war. From there, the route passes through Babworth, Scrooby and Austerfield to Gainsborough and Immingham. It finishes with visits to Lincoln and Boston, from where the Separatists first tried unsuccessfully to escape to Holland.
This focuses on the food and drink that kept the pilgrims alive on their 66-day sea voyage to the New World and once there, while setting up the Plymouth Colony. The School of Artisan Food in the heart of Sherwood Forest in Welbeck teaches visitors how to transform basic 17th century ingredients into great food. You can learn to make butter, cheese and bread New World style as well as butchering and cooking venison, a New World staple.
Travel from Babworth, whose 15th century church is the spiritual home of the Mayflower Pilgrims to Retford and the Bassetlaw Museum’s new pilgrim gallery. The next stop is Scrooby then Hodsock Priory, an impressive stately home which gives an insight into the grandeur of the English aristocracy that the Separatists were rebelling against.
Those wishing to delve further into the history of the Mayflower pilgrims and understand cultural context in which their ideas where formed, can also seek out guided tours from experts based in ‘Pilgrim Country’.
Pilgrims & Prophets Christian Heritage Tours offer a range of tours linked to the Mayflower pilgrim leaders but also looking at the birth of baptism in England, John Wesley’s life and a history of the congregational church. They will also offer bespoke tours individually designed to suit your interests and timings if arranged in advance.
Mayflower Maid tours are run by historian and author of the popular New World Trilogy, Sue Allen. She offers tailored Mayflower Pilgrim tours of the Bassetlaw area of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire and has exclusive rights to access to the grounds of Scrooby Manor, William Brewster’s home.
Sitting at the heart of all this religious and cultural melting pot, combining history with every modern luxury Ye Olde Bell Hotel and Spa is the perfect launchpad from which to follow your very own pilgrims’ trail and learn more about the religious and cultural foundations of the United States.