Growing up in Southampton means that you know about at least two famous historical ships – the Titanic and the Mayflower. And this year is 400 years since the Mayflower sailed from this port town.
The thing that impressed me most about hearing the story of the Mayflower is that it’s about a group of people that fled religious persecution. It’s essentially the story of a group of people who wanted to live and worship differently than the dominant religion at the time and were being persecuted for that. They gathered together, got a ship (the Speedwell), and sailed from Holland to Southampton where they met the Mayflower ship, which had set out from Rotherhithe, London. The Mayflower was carrying 102 passengers who wanted to build a new life, in peace, across the Atlantic Sea. Half of those passengers died within the first year in their new home (mainly from disease having arrived in November 1620). But essentially they were colonisers, settling where other people already lived. That always seems to end in pain for those who lose their land for no other reason than someone else wants to live there! This website gives a great in sight into the full story of the event and it’s position in terms of native Americans and the colonisers: https://www.mayflower400uk.org/education/the-mayflower-story/.
So, these past several months one of my work projects has been conservation work to the Pilgrim Father’s Memorial (aka Mayflower Memorial) here in my hometown, originally constructed 1913. As it is literally a 5 minute walk from my former primary school, I can’t tell you how many times, over 40 years ago, I saw the memorial and heard the story of the Pilgrim Fathers.
The commemoration weekend here is in 2 weeks – 15 August 2020. Despite knowing about the commemoration date for the last, well, hundreds of years, the Culture team were a little slow to get going on the conservation work and had to be rescued (financially) by the Property team. An exemption request submitted to Procurement was eventually approved and a specialist main contractor was appointed in February. However with stone to be sourced and carved, completion of the works for the commemoration weekend was always ambitious. And then, the pandemic was declared!
The first half of the contract took place in the stonemasons yard with lots of photographs being sent showing the stonework progression. I really wanted to go to the mason’s yard so was rather disappointed that the pandemic meant this was too high a risk to take, especially with 5 of us at home, since the yard was in another town.
However, with site works commencing in May, I was finally able to visit site and hold external site meetings, rather than conference calls. And this past week, with copper Mayflower ship back atop facing West, the upper layer of scaffolding came down to reveal the refreshed mosaic dome, renewed stone work and, at night, a beacon light shining out from it’s quirky Art Nouveau/ Arts & Crafts style fire basket metalwork. The memorial isn’t the tallest of columns, about 15 metres or 50 foot. And it’s location means that most people in town probably will never see it, unless they make an effort.
But it is a story, an event that happened, 400 years ago and, like with any real event, it shouldn’t be forgotten.
I am descended from people who, not wilfully, were transported across the Atlantic Sea from the African continent to work and effectively colonise islands of the sea. Many of them died within months of arrival, from disease, from hard labour, from abuse, from broken hearts. Though there is no specific monument with their specific name that I can definitely say they are my descendants, I still feel proud that somewhere in my family history, I am descended from survivors.