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).
In other blogs we have written about how the Pilgrims became the muse of Romantic artists and authors in the early nineteenth century, such as the poets Felicia Hemans and William Wordsworth. Yet many of the details of the actual history of the former lives of the Separatists – their homes and places of worship in the Old England – remained vague or unknown to the early Victorians. In this post, we investigate how some of the gaps in knowledge were filled in, and the vital role played by a now mostly forgotten English antiquarian: Joseph Hunter.
John Edmondson Manning, History of Upper Chapel, Sheffield (Sheffield, 1900).
Men they were who could not bend
Blest Pilgrims, surely, as they took for guide
A will by sovereign Conscience sanctified
Detail from Portrait of William Wordsworth by Benjamin Robert Haydon (1842).
*Guest post by Professor Erik Goldstein, Boston University*
One of the earliest commemorations of the Pilgrims in Britain, and of the voyage of the Mayflower, was the Pilgrim Fathers’ Memorial Church in Southwark. Planning for the church building commenced in 1850, a cornerstone was laid in 1856, and completion came in 1864, only to be destroyed by aerial bombardment in 1941, followed by a short postwar existence in a new home.
*Guest post by Adrian Gray, historical adviser to Bassetlaw Christian Heritage and director of Pilgrims & Prophets Christian Heritage Tours*
Growing up in Lincolnshire and now living just on the Nottinghamshire side of the border, I’ve long been aware of the ‘Mayflower’ story but have also noticed that its local impact has been small. In the Scrooby/Gainsborough area there has never been any statue and all the memorial plaques were, until recently, mainly the work of American Congregationalists. On the coast, 45 miles away, are two memorials also funded by Congregationalists and neither in the correct place. ‘Locals’ seem to have seen it as a story about someone else.
With Mayflower 400, there was some growing local interest – partly because many of us have been active in re-shaping the story so that it has clear local relevance. The focus on William Brewster and William Bradford, people who were not that important while they were here, has been at the expense of understanding local context; nor has there been much awareness of what happened here after ‘they’ left.
Memorial to the Pilgrim Fathers, erected at Fishtoft, Lincolnshire, in 1957 – photo reproduced by permission of Heather Wilkinson Rojo