On this page, you can find videos produced by the team through our partnerships with the British Library, Alden House (MA, USA), and groups in Southampton.
The Mayflower & Britain: a tour of Pilgrim memory in the 19th & 20th centuries
Explore how the Mayflower story has been commemorated in Britain in this illustrated talk by Dr. Tom Hulme, sponsored by the Alden House Historic Site. Often seen as the “bad guy” in the story of the Mayflower, Britain has a long and varied history of commemorating the voyage. This illustrated virtual talk will journey across the British landscape to highlight the places of Pilgrim memory, from monuments and memorials, churches and paintings, to the strange and curious like lumps of Plymouth Rock.
Novelists poets and pilgrims: the Mayflower in British literature
In this talk Dr Ed Downey takes you through some of the poems and novels that established the popular understanding of the Mayflower on both sides of the Atlantic. Until the 18th century, the emigration of a group of Brownist separatists was a minor historical footnote in the settlement of North America, and one without much significance in popular culture in Britain. But, by the early decades of the 19th century, this now famous voyage began to be celebrated and mythologised by poets, musicians and novelists. Literature played a central role in the development of the Mayflower myth, especially after the wild success of Felicia Hemans’ celebrated 1825 poem The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England. Set to music soon after by her composer sister Harriet Browne, the settlement of New Plymouth became a venerated symbol of national and religious freedom. Later, Chartists, abolitionists, and even Irish revolutionaries all published their own literary interpretations of the story.
Performing the Pilgrim Fathers: Re-living the past through popular theatre
Discover how enormously popular historical pageants shaped British understandings of the Mayflower myth in Britain in the 20th century. Bursting onto the social stage in 1905, ‘historical pageants’ were an amazingly popular form of amateur engagement with the past. Amateur casts of up to 10,000 people were brought together by ingenious ‘pageant-masters’ to perform their local history, and audiences of up to 100,000 packed themselves into outdoor arenas and fields to watch. These romantic re-enactments told a story of local and national progress: the setting of historical foundations for great power in the present. At the same time the pageant movement was gathering steam, so too was popular interest in the story of the Mayflower. Already, ten years before the 300th commemoration of the voyage in 1920, there were episodes about the Pilgrims in great events like the Pageant of London. When the auspicious anniversary finally arrived, ‘Mayflower Pageants’ were staged across Britain – from small villages to great cities. In this talk Dr Tom Hulme starts with the earliest depictions of the Mayflower in historical pageants, and trace their rise and fall across the 20th century.
What became of the Mayflower: Searching for a lost ship in 1920s Britain
For Britons and Americans in the early twentieth century, the Mayflower voyage was a powerful symbol, not least of the shared past of the two nations. The myth of the heroic Pilgrims and their efforts to ‘civilise’ the wilderness of North America continued to be a potent symbol following victory in the First World War. But for some people in Britain, the Mayflower was not just a symbol, a myth, or an abstract idea: it was a little wooden ship. In this talk, Dr Martha Vandrei introduces the eccentric antiquarian and indefatigable hunter after manuscripts and artefacts, James Rendel Harris (1852-1941). Rendel was one of the period’s most unusual scholars and one the Mayflower’s most enthusiastic British supporters. In the years leading up to the 1920 tercentenary, Rendel undertook the task of tracking down the ‘real’ Mayflower. Delving into obscure evidence and drawing on a wealth of speculation, he left no stone unturned in his quest for the ship. For Rendel, finding the real Mayflower would be the key to cementing the Anglo-American alliance and thus ensuring peace in Europe and the world.
Mayflower Memories in Southampton
Many villages, towns and cities in England are proud of their connection to the Mayflower whether because they were the original home of a Pilgrim, or a port of departure for the ship. Southampton, from where the Mayflower first attempted to reach the Colony of Virginia, is one such place. In this video, Dr Tom Hulme traces the romantic afterlife of the voyage in the city all the way from the mid-19th century to the present day. In Victorian paintings, Edwardian monuments, post-World War One re-enactments, and 1970s commemorations, the story of the Mayflower captured the imagination of both Sotonians and many visitors too. Tied up in this cultural memory was not just a rumination on historical events of long ago, however, but understandings of the very identity of contemporary Southampton itself.
John Alden’s Choice: A Historical Re-enactment of Love, War & Anglo-American Friendship
Take a journey back to 1920 and the 300th anniversary of the Mayflower to explore England’s grand historical pageant “John Alden’s Choice.” Performed on the quays of Southampton with several hundred actors, this re-enactment told the story of not just Alden and his romance with Priscilla but the history of America and its bond with Great Britain, in the shadow of the Great War.