In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers left England for the new world and their brave journey is still actively commemorated today at the site of their departure from Plymouth centuries ago.
A small, determined group of 120 people, the Pilgrims were unable to settle at home following relentless religious persecution so they embarked on a hazardous crossing to the carve out a new life in the settlements of North America, and became the founding fathers of modern-day America.
The Pilgrims had initially journeyed in two small ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower, but they were forced to stop in Plymouth as the Speedwell was leaking badly. Repairs were not possible so after a short stay in the city, 102 members of the group continued on in the Mayflower.
On September 16th, 1620 the Pilgrims set sail from Sutton Harbour in Plymouth for the New World: 65 days later, they found safe harbour at the fledgling port of Plymouth in Massachussetts. The group endured enormous hardship on route, and more than half died that winter, but those who survived sowed the seeds of the democracy and constitution that the USA embodies today.
Many American citizens can trace descent from the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ as they would later come to be known, and the site of their departure is a location visited by thousands each year.
In 1890, a commemorative stone was laid at West Pier at the entrance to Sutton Harbour, an area which in more recent years has come to be known as the Barbican, and in the 1930s a stone portico was constructed over the area now called the Mayflower Steps.
The Mayflower herself is unlikely to have actually berthed here, as the practice was to anchor a few hundred metres out at sea and passengers came to shore in a small rowing boat. There would certainly have been steps on the harbourside in Sutton Harbour but in 1620, the quayside was much further inland and the true departure spot would have been beneath what is now the Admiral McBride pub.
Find out more about the history of Plymouth and Sutton Harbour by following our Harbour Heritage Trail.
6 The Barbican,