This September marks 400 years since the Mayflower’s pioneering voyage from Plymouth to the ‘New World’, and events are being held across England to commemorate the journey. Visitors to Britain can experience an incredible range of festivals, exhibitions, self-guided tours and art installations, organised by Mayflower 400. These events will reveal the fascinating history and cultural impact of the journey, while celebrating the values of freedom, democracy, integration and tolerance in the modern world. So, why wait? Read on to discover more about the Mayflower celebrations or find out how to explore Britain’s rich maritime heritage, for a truly epic voyage into history.
The opening event
Commencing in November 2019, there will be a rich 12-month programme of cultural events focusing on the Native American people and the connection between the UK, Netherlands and America. Organised in conjunction with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee, this collection of events and exhibitions aims to highlight Britain’s link to the founding of the United States in a culturally sensitive way.
The commemorative programme of events will open with a set of illuminations at multiple locations including Plymouth, Rotherhithe and Dartmouth. Local and international artists will create spectacular light installations to mark the first Thanksgiving that happened between the pilgrims and the Native Americans in 1621.
When? 28 November – 1 December 2019, entry is free.
‘Mayflower Self-Guided Tours’, a free app aiming to tell the stories of the original pilgrims via trail guides, has been released as part of Mayflower 400. Allowing visitors to follow Mayflower trails, the app uses GPS to guide users along routes in British cities, towns and villages associated with the Mayflower. Free guided walks and driving tours encourage visitors to retrace the steps of the pilgrims in connected locations such as Rotherhithe in London, Southampton, Dartmouth and Plymouth. With exciting new additions such as artworks, way-markers and new installations along the trails, key spots such as Gainsborough Old Hall and the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth can be explored in an immersive and insightful way.
Mayflower 400: Legends and Legacy
The commemorative festival will also include ‘Mayflower 400: Legends and Legacy’, a major artistic programme due to show at The Box, Plymouth. This will include a series of community projects, events and art focusing on the pilgrims and Native Americans touched by the Mayflower voyage. It will bring objects from the National Museum of the American Indian, the Harvard Peabody Museum and Pilgrim Hall to Plymouth for the first time, showcasing Native American culture to a new audience in Britain.
When? Running from spring 2020 – autumn 2021
The Elizabethan House
An Elizabethan House in Plymouth is being restored as part of the Mayflower 400 commemorations, taking visitors back to the late 16th century. Experience the feel of a traditional British house from the time of the pilgrims, set out in the style of a sea captain’s home and complete with restored wooden panelling. Set to reopen in 2020, the house will feature expertly restored rooms over two floors, including a kitchen, dining room, bedrooms and a parlour.
See a complete overview of the Mayflower 400 programme in this guide.
Mayflower Heritage Tours
From 102 passengers, there are currently an estimated 30 million Americans alone whose linage can be traced back to the pilgrims and crew from this voyage, making the Mayflower 400 a new and interactive way to trace ancestry. Curious travellers can now book a range of ‘Mayflower Tours’, guiding them around historic cobbled streets and traditional pubs, as well as stopping for educational Mayflower 400 events or talks. Prices vary.
South-east England’s historical ships
For visitors wishing to experience more of Britain’s nautical history and continue on their own journey of discovery, south-east England has a number of fascinating ships to explore.
HMS Warrior, Portsmouth
Once the highlight of Queen Victoria’s fleet, the HMS Warrior was the world’s first armour-plated warship. A fantastic example of a Victorian combat vessel, the ship is now a museum where visitors can explore the decks and learn about life on the ocean. This is one of the most interactive historic ships to visit, with characters from its heyday walking the decks, alongside opportunities for visitors to learn sword fighting skills, master signal flag waving and to peek inside the captain’s cabin.
Tickets to a single attraction at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard cost £18 for adults and £13 for children and students, but there are a range of ticket types available depending on the number of attractions included.
A discount of 20% is available when buying a Full Navy Ticket online – this includes access to HMS Warrior, HMS Victory, the National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth, harbour tours and more.
The Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth
Once serving the Tudor Navy under King Henry VIII, the Mary Rose made her first voyage in 1510, and was a successful war ship for almost all of the monarch’s reign. This vessel was raised from the seabed in 1982, after underwater research uncovered the shipwreck. Visitors can see what was saved of the ship at the Mary Rose Museum, along with thousands of Tudor artefacts that were also recovered from the wreckage.
A Portsmouth Pass allows visitors 12 months to visit the Mary Rose, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Emirates Spinnaker Tower and The D-Day story. A VIP experience can be booked online, which includes a private tour with behind-the-scenes access, a boat ride to the Mary Rose wreck site, a private audience and retelling of the Mary Rose story by a King Henry VIII impersonator, and a goody bag. This costs £75 per person. General admission to this attraction is £18 on the day for adults and £8.50 for a child. A discount of 20% is available when bought online.
HMS Victory, Portsmouth
Famous for being Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, HMS Victory embarked on numerous voyages after first setting sail in 1765. Docked at Portsmouth since 1922, it is now a museum, where visitors can discover what life would have been like on board such a vessel. Walk through the Great Cabin where the Admiral would have planned his battle strategy, the lower gun deck where 460 members of the crew slept and ate, and the Poop Deck, only recently open to the public. This is the highest point of the ship, giving an additional historical perspective as well as great views of the surrounding dockyard.
This is also part of the Full Navy Ticket scheme, otherwise a ticket to two attractions costs £18, and for a single attraction, £13.
The Cutty Sark, London
Visitors can get a taste of Victorian life on the sea as they explore the decks of the Cutty Sark. There are both above and below decks, a chance to manoeuvre the ship’s wheel and to listen to the stories of people who lived and breathed the Cutty Sark in daily dramatic retellings.
Built in 1869 and restored in 2007, this impressive example of a British sailing ship is an award-winning London attraction.
Visitors can save when buying a Day Explorer ticket, which includes multiple London sites, or by purchasing online. Walk-up prices are £15 for adults and £7.50 for children.