*Guest post by Dr Sam Edwards, Manchester Metropolitan University*
As I found out later, the weather was much the same as the day, over 90 years previous, that the monument had been dedicated. The sky was grey, the breeze fresh, and rain threatened. I’d spent the morning cycling around some of the old airfields that still mark the Lincolnshire Wolds, an obsession that’s been with me since I was a teenager. But that day, and largely on a whim, I decided to head home (to family in Grimsby) via a detour to the Humber. I’d been told of a monument in the village of Immingham that might be of interest.
At Immingham I aimed – by instinct – for the church tower, and it was as I neared St. Andrews (fifteenth century in origins) that I saw it: a tall pillar of granite, weathered by decades of coastal storms. Dedicated to the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ who had set sail from ‘this creek’ in 1608, the pillar was clearly the result of some concerted effort. But it was the name of the organisation responsible that drew my attention – the Sulgrave Institution. I’d only recently completed some research at Sulgrave Manor in deepest Northamptonshire and so the question soon arrived: why had those responsible for establishing the Manor as a memorial to George Washington (it was his ancestral home) also erected this pillar near the Humber? What was the connection? Cycling home in the last of the autumn light I decided to resolve the quandary. As I was to learn, the answer lay in a variety of factors which, when combined, ensured that in the post-First World War period Immingham became an attractive location in which – as at Sulgrave – to celebrate the Anglo-American ties of history and memory.
The memorial today (photo by author)
In previous posts, we’ve described how the Victorians began to take serious notice of the lives of the Pilgrims, and how Congregationalists especially found something to celebrate in the story of their 17th century pursuit of religious freedom. One of the most striking ways that local communities – and religious ones especially – memorialised this growing enthusiasm for the Pilgrims was in stained glass.
One of the earliest came in 1874, as part of the new Plymouth Guildhall. Built in a Gothic revival style, it had a series of fourteen windows that told the local history of Plymouth in connection with the national story of Britain. These windows included scenes like the assembly of the fleet under Edward the Black Prince in 1315, the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and the proclamation of William III in the Guildhall in 1688. Over the main entrance of the building was a window depicting the embarkation of the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620. With William Bradford at their head, the Pilgrims were on the boat at the Barbican steps that would take them to the larger Mayflower. Designed by John Shelly and made by Messrs Fouracre and Watson, this window was gifted by the present Mayor (Alfred Rooker – a deacon of Sherwell Congregational Church).
Memories of the Mayflower in Britain have taken many forms – from paintings and novels to poems and plays. One of the rarer but more long-lasting methods of commemoration are statues and monuments. Dotted around the urban landscape, these structures reflect a lot about what British society – both local and national – thought, at a certain time, was important about the past. Today, these can seem like simple curated objects: through their symbolism and accompanying plaques they tell the story of their makers. But, if we dig down a bit deeper into the documents and local press of the period, we can often find a different angle – and, in this case, one that suggests the Pilgrim Fathers could have both positive and negative meanings to local people.
The most impressive of all the Mayflower monuments (pictured below) was put up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1889. Formerly known as the Pilgrim Monument but today the National Monument to the Forefathers, it was fashioned from solid granite and is a massive 25 metres tall. ‘Faith’ stands in the middle, clutching a bible and pointing to the heavens, surrounded by figures representing Morality, Law, Liberty and Education. This built evocation of Mayflower mania, coming at a time when interest in the Pilgrim Fathers was growing on both sides of the Atlantic, seems to have started the trend for monuments. Plymouth had the first in Britain: a simple granite block carved ‘Mayflower 1620’ and set into the ground near the supposed ‘Mayflower Steps’ once trod by the Pilgrims. Continue reading