Samantha Mayling explores the Pilgrim Roots region ahead of the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower

Dig into the past

A tale of betrayal, thwarted escapes and freedom. It sounds like a Hollywood movie – but it’s the story of England’s Mayflower Pilgrims who fled in 1620 to America.

Their first escape attempt was

in 1607 but they were betrayed and arrested. I visited the Guildhall Museum in Boston, Lincolnshire, where they were tried, and held in cramped cells. I then toured the Pilgrims’

churches with guide Richard Brackenbury, founder of Brackenbury’s Britain, who told me the history of the Separatists. At St Wilfrid’s in Scrooby, a sign

tells us that William Brewster – one of the most famous Pilgrims – worshipped there. Brewster was inspired by the radical words of Richard Clyfton of All Saints’ Church, Babworth, our next stop.

Making the Connections

2020 is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage – a significant opportunity to generate visits from those who want to trace the footsteps of their Pilgrim ancestors – and the 12% of the general US population who see the anniversary as a reason to visit England. Eleven English destinations are

part of the international Mayflower Compact that spans England, the US, the Native American people and the Netherlands. Five of those 11 destinations

are in the East Midlands and are working as ‘Pilgrim Roots’ locations.

All Saints’ Church, Babworth I met two Americans following

the Pilgrim trail, and a glance at the visitors’ book revealed the church is visited by many from the US.

Pilgrim exhibits

Next stop – Gainsborough Old Hall, where the Separatists are thought to have worshipped, and there are plans to increase the number of Pilgrim exhibits at the attraction. We also visited Austerfield, home

of William Bradford, who became the second elected governor of the Plymouth Colony. He was baptised in St Helena’s

Church where the original font can be seen, and the north aisle was built in his memory. Again, the visitors’ book shows the church is popular with Americans, including Pilgrim descendants. On the second day I explored more history in Nottinghamshire.

St Wilfrid’s in Scrooby

Near the village of Laxton is the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, founded in 1995 by brothers Stephen and James Smith, and their mother Marina. More than 20,000

schoolchildren visit annually, as well as other visitors, to see its memorial garden and exhibitions about the Holocaust, and Jewish children in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. Another major museum is

Newark’s National Civil War Centre, telling the story of the wars, and life for ordinary folk caught up in the conflict. Sadly, I only had 48 hours in

the ‘Roots’ region – but thanks to the enthusiasm of guides, such as Richard, I feel fully immersed in the Pilgrims’ story and eager to

explore more.

Where to stay St Helena’s Church window, Austerfield 28 TravelGBI | June 2018

I stayed at Ye Olde Bell Inn, a coaching inn, near Retford, on the Great North Road. The four-star hotel made an ideal base from which to explore sites associated with the Pilgrims.


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