Mayflower 400 Commemoration August 2020
August 1620 saw the Pilgrim Fathers, in their two ships, The Mayflower and The Speedwell depart from Bayards Cove here in Dartmouth for the New World America. Unfortunately, the Speedwell started sinking 200 miles off Lands End and they all returned to Plymouth. the Mayflower continued the journey alone to America and created history.
Building the Mayflower
Now nearly 400 years later, The Mayflower project, based in Harwich (the birth place of the ship’s captain, Christopher Jones and the place the Mayflower was arguably originally built) is building a life size replica of the Mayflower, to be ready before 2020 to set sail once again for the New World.
Dartmouth's Destination Story
There was no settlement of Dartmouth of any significance until the 12th century. It boasts probably what may be described as the most spectacular and beautiful deep water harbour in the West Country, being accessible at any state of tide, weather and time of day. With its beauty and breathtaking views, it is not surprising then that Sir Francis Drake regularly sailed here for pleasure.
Lying close to the mouth of the River Dart, Dartmouth is one of the great historic towns of England and was an important trading port for nearly 900 years, sailors departing to sail the world.
In 1620 after leaving Southampton the Mayflower and its sister ship, the Speedwell had to return to Dartmouth as the Speedwell was taking on water, some thoughts suggesting that its crew were deliberately sabotaging her to get out of their lengthy contracts, to undergo repairs.
While repairs were undertaken, the ships sheltered in Bayards Cove, Dartmouth's only harbour at that time. Its sea walls and riverfront, probably looking much the same as today, and some of the houses, dating from the 17th century may have been standing then. The Cove with its cobbled quay and its own fort, then has changed little since the reign of Henry V111, but does go back as far as 1147, when it was the Northern European gathering point for the 2nd Crusade.
A local story purports that the Pilgrims being a somewhat difficult group as well as separatists, were not warmly welcomed by the Town, and consequently according to the story moved a mile or two up river to wait out the completion of the repairs. The supposed field is pointed out today to tourists as 'Pilgrim's Hill', where they held their last service of Thanks Giving before leaving on their historic voyage. This second attempt to depart from England also failed, the ships this time having to return to Plymouth.
This story of the passengers leaving the ships while in port, is perhaps discounted by a passenger, Robert Cushman who wrote a letter during the enforced visit to port in Dartmouth, to his friend Edward Southworth, giving an account of the behaviour of the agent of the merchant adventurers and treasurer of the whole project - 'Christopher Martin'.-
"Our victualls will be halfe eaten up, I thinke, before we goe from the coaste of England, and if our viage last longe, we shall not have a months victualls when we come in ye countrie. Near 700li hath been bestowed at Hampton, upon what I know not. Mr. Martin saith he neither can nor will give any accounte of it, and if he be called upon for accounts he crieth out of unthankfullnes for his pains and care, that we are susspitious of him, and flings away, & will end nothing. Also he so insulte(t)h over our poore people, with such scorne and contempte, as if they were not good enough to wipe his shoes. It would break your hart to see his dealing, and ye mourning of our people. They complaine to me, & alass! I can doe nothing for them; if I speaks to him, he flies in my face, as mutinous, and saith no complaints shall be heard or received by him selfe, and saith they are forwarde, & waspish, discontented people, & I doe ill to hear them. Ther are others yt would lose all they have put in or make satisfaction for what they have had, that they may departe; but he will not hear them, nor suffer them to goe ashore least they should rune away. The sailors also are so offended at his ignorante bouldnes, in meddling and controuling in things he knows not what belongs too, as yt some threaten to mischeefe him, others saying they will leave ye shipe and goe their way. But at ye best this come the of it, yt he makes him selfe a scorne & laughing stock unto them. As for Mr. Weston (financial backer), excepte grace doe greatly swaye with hime, he will hate us ten times more than ever he loved us, for not confirming ye conditions. But now since some pinches have taken them, they begin to reveile ye truth, and say Mr. Robinson was in ye faulte who charged them never to consente to these conditions, nor chuse me into office, but indeede apointed them to chose them they did chose. .......I tould him of ye alteration long agoe, & he was contente; but now he dominires, & said I had betrayed them into ye hands of slaves; he is not beholden to them, he can set 2 ships him selfe to a viage. when, good man? We hath but 500li in, & if he should give up his accounts he would not have a penie left him as I am persuaded ...........Freind if ever we make a plantation, God works a mirakle....."
Clearly then there was great unhappiness within the different interests represented in the voyage and perhaps even between the Leyden Pilgrims themselves.
As in Bayards Cove, Dartmouth has buildings that date from the time of the Mayflower's arrival. Its earliest street being recorded by name was in the 13th century as Smith Street. Several of its houses are originally late 16th century and early 17th century and are probably built on the sites of earlier medieval dwellings. The street name derives from the smiths and shipwrights who built and repaired ships here, when the tidal waters reached this point. It was also the site of the Town's pillory in medieval times.
Close by Smith Street lies Dartmouth's main church St. Saviours, which built in 1335 was consecrated in 1372. Its ironwork main door is decorated with two leopards of the Plantagenets and probably is the original. Its date of 1631 is thought to be of a subsequent refurbishment coinciding with the 17th century renovation of the church. The church's gallery is decorated with the heraldic crests of prominent local families and is reputed to have been built with timber from captured ships during the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
As with Smith Street, the Town contains many medieval and Elizabethan streetscapes being a patchwork of narrow lanes and stone stairways. Amongst the oldest buildings is the Butterwalk, built in 1635-1640, its carved wooden fascia supported on granite columns. It houses the Town's Museum, where Charles 11 held court in one of its rooms, whilst sheltering from storms in 1671, much of its interior surviving from that time.
The oldest buildings still clearly visible in the Town, being those of the Cherub public house in Higher Street, built about 1380, and Agincourt House, near the Lower Ferry, again in the 14th century. Bayards Fort, on Bayards Cove was built in the 16th century, and the Royal Castle Hotel built in 1639, around the time of the Butterwalk, on the then new quay, with its original frontage being hidden behind what is itself a listed fascia.
Dartmouth's Plans for 2020
The Mayflower 400 project in Dartmouth has the potential to be one of the biggest events in the Town's 900 year history. We are working our event framework around the visit of the Harwich Mayflower and an accompanying ship to act as the Speedwell to produce an extravaganza of memorable events. We hope to greet them as they enter our harbour with a flotilla of Tall Ships, the ringing out of church bells, and the lighting of our beacons either side of the river, and that is just the beginning. The Town will be dressed up as of the time of the original visit, as will we hope our residents, with if possible a replica Plantation Village in our Royal Avenue Gardens. Plays, music and all sorts of entertainment around the Town will fill the duration of their visit, before they depart for Plymouth, Devon. Dartmouth's annual calendar of festivals, show its track record of expertise in producing large events - its Regatta, Music, Food, Comedy festivals as well as its Art Weekend, all bear testimony to its capability of meeting the challenge of hosting part of the commemoration.