Rotherhithe and the Pilgrim Fathers

Rotherhithe and the Pilgrims

The years following the Reformation were a period of religious fervour when many were willing to face persecution, exile or even martyrdom for the sake of their beliefs. The Pilgrim Fathers were an expression of both these aspects of their times. The desire for liberty of conscience drove them first to voluntary exile in Holland.

By 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers had the accounts of earlier explorers and settlers to inspire and guide them. Captain Christopher Jones could rely on the map made by the famous Captain John Smith who had published A Description of New England in 1616. This map, made after a detailed exploration of the coast, was the first to use the name 'New England', and it was on this map that the site of the Pilgrim Fathers' later settlement was named Plymouth.

Some of those who joined the Mayflower at Rotherhithe were motivated by no higher ends than earlier settlers: the hope of better prospects than they had in England. The 'venturers' who financed the voyage certainly did so for material gain. The Pilgrims from Leyden, and others of like mind, 'laboured to have the right worship of God and discipline of Christ established in the church according to the implicity of the Gospel' and were prepared to venture across 'the vast and furious ocean', confident that though they should lose their lives in this action yet might have comfort in the same'.

On the 5th August 1620, the Mayflower set sail from Southampton together with its sister ship the Speedwell. Some 300 miles from home they had to turn back because the Speedwell was leaking. They wasted six weeks at Plymouth before giving up on the second vessel completely. They finally departed on 6th September 1620 from Plymouth, England. The nucleus of the group were the persecuted Separatists who had gone to Holland in 1608 from 'sundry towns and villages, some in Nottinghamshire, some of Lincolnshire and some of Yorkshire, where they border nearest together'. While in England, they met in the manor house at Scrooby, home of William Brewster, who from 1609-43, was to be ruling elder of the pilgrims. Among them was William Bradford of Austerfield, Yorkshire, destined to become for many years governor of Plymouth Plantation, as well as its historian, and John Carver of Doncaster, the first governor. Another leading member of the group was Edward Winslow from Droitwich. Isaac Allerton, tailor, had come originally form London and so had Degory Priest Hatter. The beloved pastor of the Leyden Church, John Robinson of Sturton-le-Steeple, stayed to care for those left behind in Holland. Not forgetting Captain Christopher Jones and John Clarke the first mate, of Rotherhithe.

The voyage was a testing time for Captain Christopher Jones, first officer John Clarke and all the officers and crew of the Mayflower. Even after they had sighted land at Cape Cod, the ship might well have been wrecked had it not been for the Captain's skill in navigation. It was at first decided to sail south for the Hudson River, but they fell amongst dangerous shoals and roaring breakers- 'in great danger and the wind shrieking upon them withal, they resolved to bear up again for the Cape.' This was how the Pilgrims came to land at Plymouth, New England.

The Mayflower Tablet

Christopher Jones, Master of the Ship, lived in Rotherhithe; his children were baptised at St Mary's and his body buried in the churchyard. The exact site of Captain Jones' burial is unknown. This tablet is placed inside the church, at the East end.

A print was commissioned in 1995 to commemorate the 275th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Rotherhithe, to pick up those who were later to be called 'The Pilgrim Fathers'. Jen Parker, the artist, has used her inspired imagination to depict the mediaeval parish church, with the Mayflower and other ships riding at anchor on the Thames. America lies to the West and England to the East. The Christian Faith of the crew and pilgrims is symbolised by the Church and the anchor of Faith and Hope. Trust in the providence of God was the pilgrims immovable anchor; this faith led them to weigh anchor as they set sail on pilgrimage

Unveiling of the 'Blue Plaque', to mark the sailing of the 'Mayflower' from Rotherhithe in 1620.

On Thanksgiving Day 25th November 2004 a new 'Blue Plaque' was unveilled on the outside of St. Mary's church tower. Blue Plaques are found on many buildings in London, officially identifying them to passers by as places of special historic interest

The Blue Plaque  The late Rector, the Rev. Nick Richards, welcomed the gathering of parishioners and friends, and Mrs Grace Beesley, one of the Churchwardens, read a passage from St Paul's Letter to the Hebrews. The Hon. David T Johnson, Charge d'Affaires at the US Embassy London, read an extract from Bunyan's 'The Pilgrims Progress' and gave a thoughtful address. After a prayer of thanksgiving for the faith of the Pilgrims by the Rev. Dr Stephen Rettenmayer, Senior Minister of the American Church in London, the plaque was unveiled by a descendant of the Pilgrim Fathers, David L. Citron of the US Embassy. The Rt. Rev. John Broadhurst, Bishop of Fulham, spoke prayers of dedication and of blessing on the assembly. The National Anthems of the US and UK were played, and an organ recital was given in the church by Alan Phillips, the Organist of St. Mary's. The Church was open for all to view at the close of the ceremony, and refreshments were served in the church hall. The occasion was one to be lastingly remembered for its atmosphere of good will and happiness.

'America and Rotherhithe', the 275th anniversary print:

Key to The 275th Anniversary Print



The memorial to Captain Anthony Wood, saved from the old church.

The carved ship is thought to be a faithfull image of a merchant ship of the 1600's, for it is diifficult to imagine that anything less would have passed the expert scrutiny of his family, friends, and sea-going colleagues!


Captain Thomas Stone's memorial.
(set into the outer wall of the North side of the church).

This stone tablet, in memory of a ship's Captain, was saved from the mediaeval church and set in the South wall of the tower. The text cut into the stone uses the unstandardised spelling of the time, but is difficult to reproduce; it addresses passers by, his widow, and others of his circle, in that order:

'Here lieth Interred in this vault the body of Cap. Thomas Stone junior of this parish. He departed this life the Ninth of August 1666 Had to Wife Agnes Wch serviveth

To you yt Live Possest Great Troubles do be fall Where we yt Sleepe by Death doe feele no harm at all An honnest Life doth bring a Joyful Death at Last An Life a gaine begins when Death is over past Death is the path to Life & way to Endless wealth The dore where by we pass to Everlastin Health These Fortie yeares & two were passed here my life And Eighteen yeares theref thou Agnes wert my wife My loving Wife Farewell God guide the with his grace Prepare thy selfe to come & I will give the place Acqintance all Farewell & be assured of this You shall be brought to dust as Toms Stone here is'

Captain Stone's life spanned an eventful period, the reign and eventual execution of Charles I, the Civil War, the rise of Cromwell and his death in 1658. London was hit by the Great Plague in 1665, and the Great Fire destroyed most of it in 1666. Great troubles indeed, and all in a life of 42 years!

The letters cut into the stone use the forms of Cancellaresca (Italian Chancery hand) increasingly favoured by the Court and by Humanist scholars in the 16th - 17th centuries.