Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s famous voyage

Celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower's famous voyage
Artwork of The Mayflower sailing into sunset
Mayflower 400 – remembering a seacrossing which changed the world

Southampton’s heritage as a maritime gateway to the world will come alive during the 400th anniversary of The Mayflower’s transatlantic voyage

The Mayflower memorial
The Mayflower memorial, the restored version is set to be revealed during the summer of 2020 Photo: James Newell

Today it’s the country’s cruise capital, but for centuries Southampton has harboured a rich heritage of journeys of exploration, hope and discovery.

And none was greater than the voyage four centuries ago of the Mayflower, carrying the Pilgrim Fathers to the New World. This world-changing event has been celebrated locally in the naming of a theatre, university hall of residence, park and, most recently, a regeneration project, but this year deservedly gains renewed recognition.

The Mayflower’s story begins in July 1620, when 65 passengers, some of whom were puritan separatists fleeing religious persecution by King James 1 boarded at Rotherhithe, London, bound for Southampton. A modest vessel – she weighed-in at 180 tons and just 100ft long – previous cargoes included wool, wine, salt, and hops transported across the English Channel and occasionally into the North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea.

Fellow migrants journeyed from Leiden in Holland aboard Mayflower’s sister ship Speedwell, before also disembarking in the thriving Hampshire port. While Speedwell underwent running repairs at West Quay, the travellers found vital provisions as well as seamen with transatlantic experience. But despite both ships setting sail again on 15 August, Speedwell proved unseaworthy forcing another stop-over in Devon. Eventually abandoning the Speedwell in Plymouth, the Mayflower, under Captain Christopher Jones and now crammed with 102 passengers and around 30 crew, tried again on 6 September, battling weeks of storms. With Cape Cod spotted on 9 November 1620 they made landfall. A month later, at New Plymouth, the so-called Mayflower Compact created the foundation for American democracy and an estimated 35 million descendants.

Southampton's Mayflower Theatre
Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre

Mayflower 400 anniversary director Caterina Loriggio says: “Our programme of events seeks to explore and celebrate the stories of all the people of the world, including the Mayflower passengers, who have come to, or through, Southampton in search of a new life.

“Southampton has a long, but little-known, history as a place of sanctuary and as a centre for migration and transmigration, we hope 2020 will help us bring these stories to the fore.”

Calling all landlubbers

Exterior of Southampton's SeaCity Museum
Southampton’s SeaCity Museum Photo: James Newell

Following in the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers, the Town Quay’s newly restored memorial to the crossing, erected in 1913, promises to be one of the Mayflower Heritage Guides’ must-sees; meanwhile, the next walk to coincide with the Queen Mary 2’s arrival in port is on 18 April. And the streets of Old Southampton ring to the stories of maidens, matrons and minors who sailed on the Mayflower in a new tour from SeeSouthampton guide Sandra Lochhead.

Alternatively, there’s a Mayflower self-guided tours app for trail-seekers to download.

Hoist those mainsails

Facade of Southampton's John Hansard Gallery
Toxic Utopias are the focus of exhibitions at Southampton’s John Hansard Gallery Photo: Southampton City Council

Nailing its colours to the mast, the Mayflower Theatre stages two new musicals and a dance show featuring both professional and local casts. Hourglass combines historical fact with fantastical fiction in a story of courage and hope; young performers in Compass tell an uplifting coming-of-age tale; and Drift fuses aerial artistry and dynamic contemporary dance based on the Mayflower’s passenger legend. Performances take place in August. Before then, Southampton: a Musical Odyssey is presented by Southampton Music Hub in partnership with the Mayflower Theatre. Bringing together community bands and orchestras from the city’s schools, colleges and Solent University alongside professional musicians. The programme includes the premiers of Big Sing: The Journey, and Symphony 400: The Voyage. Catch these on Thursday 5 and Saturday 6 March.

Also happening: A series of five workshops that invite participants to Come and Sing with the Conchord Singers, culminates in a performance on Saturday 4 July.

Words of wisdom

Exhibition in Southampton City Art Gallery
Southampton City Art Gallery hosts a study day and its biennial open exhibition Photo: James Newell

Having previously commissioned local poetry collective Ghost River to promenade around the city performing new work inspired by water, more creativity is under the spotlight when Southampton Nuffield Theatres’ Youth Theatre Showcase takes to the stage on Wednesday 1 July. The evening features excerpts from classic and contemporary scripts in response to the themes of journey, New World, protest and discovery.

Old Southampton’s Holyrood Church is the authentic backdrop to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the New World, from the Sarah Siddons Theatre Company between Wednesday 5 and

Friday 7 August. Audiences (who are welcome to dress-up) return to the 1620s to meet Essay Whittiffe builder of the Speedwell, the colourful fishwives of St Michael’s Square, and Southampton cooper John Alden who joined the pilgrims, in this riveting street theatre.

Also happening: The atmospheric 15th century Tudor House and Garden features The Mayflower Story from Saturday 20 June until the end of the year. While voyages and pilgrimages are the focus of four Talking Through History events, at St Mary’s Church and God’s House Tower between Sunday 9 and Wednesday 12 August.

Exterior of The Tudor House and Garden in Southampton
The Tudor House and Garden, Southampton Photo: James Newall

Ahoy there!

The Mayflower Maritime Festival on Southampton’s historic waterfront promises a cultural, heritage and sporting extravaganza on the weekend of 14. 15 and 16 August. Highlights include the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s tall ship Tenacious, which offers mixed abilities the freedom of seafaring adventures. And the magnificent Parade of Sails sees local craft of all shapes and sizes take to the water. Fittingly, the Queen Mary 2 cruise liner leaves Southampton for America, just as the pilgrims did 400 years earlier.

Also happening: From May onwards SS Shieldhall cruises, get up ahead of steam on Southampton Water in the footsteps of the Mayflower.

All present and correct

As well as celebrating previous Mayflower commemorations, SeaCity Museum welcomes a major touring exhibition from Saturday 11 July to Thursday 23 August. Wampum: Stories and Shells from Native America celebrates our cultural connection to the Wampanoag people who met the Mayflower and ensured the survival of the settlers; admission prices apply.

Weather warning

“Water, water everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink; Water, water every where,

Nor any drop to drink.”

The Rime of The Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of most influential poems in the English language, inspires a powerful new exhibition: Mariner: a painted ship upon a painted ocean at John Hansard Gallery. Representing a year-long programme of events under the banner of Toxic Utopias 21st century issues of marine pollution, migration, and human vulnerability and isolation are among those flagged-up.

Meanwhile, Southampton City Art Gallery hosts a Southampton Archaeology Society, Mayflower Study Day on Saturday 27 June, closely followed by its biennial open exhibition In Search of a New World which showcases local artists’ work, from Saturday 18 July. And the Solent Showcase invites disabled artist Rachel Gadsden to explore the theme of displacement.

Entry to galleries is free.

Extending the hand of friendship

Last, but not least, from June different city communities come together for a Giving Thanks Festival to celebrate their diversity through food.

And an unmissable open-air event: Hands of Love Four – The Journey, in Guildhall Square, on Saturday August 22 continues the spirit of understanding and friendship.

With many more events still to be announced, first port of call for all the latest news of what’s on and where is, visitsouthampton.co.uk/mayflower-400

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