On the 16th of September 1620, the Mayflower sailed from Plymouth with 120 passengers. Their destination was America. Little did they know that their journey would go on to become a seminal moment in the history of that nation.
2020 is the 400th anniversary of this historic journey. To celebrate, Future Inns UK kindly invited me to explore Plymouth’s Mayflower history with them.
Follow me as I retrace my steps around the historic sites of Plymouth associated with the Mayflower voyage.
The Mayflower Steps
Starting in the historic Barbican area of Plymouth, at the waterside I found a small stone monument commemorating the historic voyage. It is flanked by British and American flags, and marks the departure point of the Mayflower Pilgrims.
However the actual steps from which The Mayflower embarked no longer exist. Historians now think the original steps would have been where the nearby Admiral MacBride pub now sits. More specifically, they think they would have been underneath the ladies loos!
The Mayflower Museum
A short walk across the street will bring you to The Mayflower Museum. It explores the story of the Pilgrim’s journey to the New World, as well as some more of Plymouth’s more recent maritime history.
I really enjoyed this small but perfectly formed museum. The top floor is devoted entirely to The Mayflower’s story. There’s lots of interactive exhibits to keep the kids entertained, and some stunning views from the third-floor balcony.
Island House, New Street and Elizabethan House
Island House is literally a few metres along from The Mayflower Museum. It was one of the houses the Pilgrims stayed in before their journey to America. There is a plaque on the side of the building, listing the names of the Pilgrim Fathers.
At the rear of Island House you will find New Street. This historic street still contains many houses the Pilgrims would have seen before their voyage – they may have even stayed in a few!
New Street is also home to Elizabethan House. Unfortunately it was still being restored when I visited but will be open to the public again this summer. Built in the late 16th Century, it would have originally been the home of an Elizabethan merchant or sea captain.
Around the corner from New Street you will find Jacka Bakery – the oldest commercial bakery in Britain. Established in the early 1600s, the bakery claims to have provided the Pilgrims with biscuits for their voyage in 1620 – definitely the tastiest part of exploring Plymouth’s Mayflower history!
I challenge you to walk by and resist their inviting pastries!
Plymouth Gin Distillery
Originally a Dominican Friary building, the world-famous Plymouth Gin Distillery dates from 1431. It is thought that some of the Mayflower Pilgrims dined here the night before their voyage.
I was lucky enough to have a tour of the oldest working gin distillery in Britain, and will be writing a blog post about it soon – so keep your eyes peeled!
Plymouth Minster and Prysten House
I finished off my mini-Mayflower tour of Plymouth by visiting The Minster Church of St Andrew.
Unfortunately, much of the historic church was gutted by fire during WWII. It was refurbished in the 1950s but its still a great place to visit if you like your history. When Katherine of Aragon arrived in Plymouth from Spain its here she came to give thanks for her safe voyage.
My favourite story about the church is when Sir Francis Drake arrived back from one of his voyages, the congregation left halfway through a service to go to the harbour to welcome him back. The vicar must not have been amused!
Next door to the Minster you will find Prysten House – the oldest surviving house in Plymouth, dating from c.1498. The main entrance into Prysten House is known as the Door of Unity, in honour of the many connections between Plymouth and the United States.
What else to look out for in Plymouth
In the spirit of complete honesty, I think I visited Plymouth a bit too early in the year. The many celebrations for Mayflower 400 really kick off in April, so lots of buildings were still being ‘tarted up’. I still had a great time however, and was genuinely surprised by the rich amount of history Plymouth had to offer. I would have no hesitation in recommending Plymouth as a place to visit. A brilliant time was had and I only scratched the surface in terms of places to visit.
If you are planning on visiting Plymouth soon then you WILL need to pay a visit to their new museum – The Box, which opens in May 2020. I’ve seen snippets of what’s to come from various press releases, and it looks like visitors are in for a treat! Expect a life size woolly mammoth, 14 beautifully restored ships figureheads and the oldest pasty recipe in the country!
Where I stayed
I’ve never stayed with Future Inns UK before, but I will definitely consider staying with them again. The hotel had everything you would expect, complimented by amazing staff. They were genuinely lovely people who took the time to have proper conversations with you. I stayed for two nights and they remembered my name at breakfast every morning!
I was also lucky enough to eat in their Fishbone Restaurant. The service was excellent, all the food was really nice and the portions extremely generous. A special shout-out goes to the stupendous sticky toffee pudding!
(Excuse the pics – the food was so tasty I literally devoured it straight away like the rude heathen than I am!)
The other thing I liked about the hotel? How many times have you stayed in a hotel and there has never been enough power sockets, or they’re in the most awkward place? Top marks to Future Inns for putting plenty of sockets in the rooms (yes I know this may seem a trifling thing but the little details are important!)
If you’re looking for an historical trip this year, do consider Plymouth! Its a lovely city by the sea with so much heritage to explore. I feel its been unjustly overlooked, and deserves its chance to shine. I truly enjoyed learning about Plymouth’s Mayflower history. And when better to follow in the footsteps of the Pilgrim fathers than on the 400th anniversary of their historic voyage?