The Mayflower and Mayflower 400

The Mayflower story and Southwark’s role in that historic voyage are deeply intertwined.

Rotherhithe, part of modern day Southwark, has a long seafaring and ship building history and was the place where Christopher Jones, the captain and part owner of the ship, and many of the crew of the ship “Mayflower” lived. 

By 1620 the Mayflower was already a well travelled vessel, having been a merchant ship for many years. She was procured and berthed in Rotherhithe, her home port, for provisioning and preparations before her long journey. She sailed from Rotherhithe in July 1620, with the English contingent of passengers on board, to join the Speedwell, coming from Holland with the Leiden contingent, at Southampton. The Speedwell and Mayflower set off together but had to turn back when Speedwell sprang a serious leak and the ships were forced to put in at Plymouth to regroup. Passengers and provisions were crowded onto Mayflower and the ship, now carrying around 150 passengers and crew, including the Pilgrim Fathers, set off again on 6 September 1620.

Mayflower carried not only those escaping religious persecution (the “Saints”) but also other people who are perhaps less familiar in the popular imagination. The majority of passengers were going for non-religious reasons and were making the journey because they were servants of the others or because they were merchant adventurers and traders, known as the “Strangers”. All of them were counted as Pilgrims. In addition there was the crew, a few of whom we know for certain were from Rotherhithe, but it's likely others were too.  

After an arduous journey to America, a terrible winter, sickness and hardship the ship and surviving crew returned to Rotherhithe, empty handed. Jones died, worn out by the hardships, and was buried at St Mary’s church. Mayflower may also have ended her life in Rotherhithe too and was most likely broken up a few years later as Rotherhithe was also a ship breaking port.

Thus Rotherhithe was central to the optimistic start of the journey, home of the captain and the ship which finally made it and the site of their poignant return.

Because of our strong ties, Southwark is now the lead London borough on planning the Mayflower 400 celebrations and we are part of the international Mayflower Compact, a partnership of 13 destinations that have come together to develop a programme of activities to mark 2020.The national Mayflower 400 programme will be a platform for an international commemoration of the remarkable relationship between our nations; a series of events linking our people and our communities through our shared heritage, culture, arts, sports, education, science, commerce; and a grand ‘Mayflower Reunion’, welcoming back to the United Kingdom many members of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants drawn from the 28 million Americans living today who can trace their genealogy directly back to one of the 23 families on board the Mayflower. Our vision is to celebrate the anniversary of the Mayflower by increasing tourism to Southwark and Rotherhithe, encouraging cultural activity and ensuring that our young people know about the importance of the Mayflower and its legacy. 

Southwark Council is working with businesses, cultural and community partners to ensure that a programme of events and activities building up to 2020 acts as a catalyst to:

  • build local, national and international partnerships 
  • increase awareness and tourist facilities in Rotherhithe and Southwark
  • promote Southwark’s own Mayflower stories and associated activity
  • educate the young people of Southwark on the global impact and historical significance of the Mayflower
  • encourage cultural activity that celebrates and remembers those that sailed with the Mayflower 
  • ensure this anniversary is as inclusive and accessible as possible for all
  • guarantee the Mayflower's enduring legacy for future years


Over the past year lots of organisations and residents have been coming together to develop a programme that brings our community and friends together to commemorate Mayflower 400.

Partners to date include:

Page last updated: 02 May 2019