Nine museums to visit that tell the Mayflower story

Jul 18, 2019

Whether you want to see the cells in Boston where the Pilgrims were held after a failed attempt at fleeing in the country, learn more about where the Mayflower ship was built, or discover how the group spent their last few days before embarking on the pioneering voyage, there is a museum to show you.

Here are 10 which are definitely worth a visit. 

Mayflower Museum, Plymouth

Mayflower Museum

The three-storey Mayflower Museum overlooks Plymouth’s busy Barbican and is near to the spot where the Pilgrims set sail for the New World in 1620.

The ‘Mayflower Pilgrims Remembered Gallery’ tells the story of the Pilgrims and how these early settlers of the New World play a significant role in America’s past but how they also left their mark in Plymouth too. They may have only been in Plymouth for a few days, having sailed in by chance, but evidence of their stay can be found on the streets around the city and Mayflower is a familiar name with the locals.

The museum’s ‘Mayflower Pilgrims, Plymouth and Beyond Gallery’ features a stunning model of the Mayflower Ship built on a 1:11 inch scale by apprentices at Devonport Royal Dockyard for the 350th year anniversary of the Mayflower Pilgrims sailing from Plymouth. It features 360 fathoms of rigging, 332 handmade blocks and six handmade sails totally 64 square feet in area.  

Mayflower Pilgrim Visitor Centre, Retford

Mayflower Pilgrim Visitor Centre

The Mayflower Pilgrim Visitor Centre is located in Retford, Nottinghamshire -  at the heart of an area that was a hotbed of religious thinking in the 16th Century. It was from here that the story of the Mayflower, the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving was borne.

The museum explains how nearly every English-speaking non-conformist religion can trace its roots to here, and what it was like to be one of the many people from the area that were involved, how they lived and how they survived. 

Visitors will be able to see models, displays, children’s activities, dressing up clothes, interactive content and smells. The Mayflower Pilgrim Visitor Centre also has a tourist information, art gallery, working artisan studios, local craft shop, farm shop and cafe so is definitely worth a visit. 

All Saints’ Church, Babworth

Babworth church

Though not strictly a museum, All Saints’ Church in Babworth, Nottinghamshire is one of the key landmarks in the story of the Pilgrim Fathers and is well worth a visit on the Mayflower Trail.

Located in a quiet country lane in Babworth, a small village close to Retford, the church dates back to the 15th Century. It was here that Richard Clifton was curate from 1586 to 1604, and it was his preaching that had a strong influence on the beginnings of the Pilgrim movement.

William Brewster from Scrooby and William Bradford from Austerfield were regular attendees of his services and in 1586 the congregation formed a Separatist movement under the leadership of Clifton. Other Puritan groups kept some links with the Church of England, but the Separatists followed their own style of worship. On a visit to All Saints’ Church, you can see the chancel and sanctuary contain furniture by Robert (Mousey) Thompson who was part of the 1920s Arts and Crafts movement. The items of furniture bear his famous carved mouse trademark. 

Immingham Museum and Heritage Centre, Lincolnshire

Immingham Museum

In 1608 the Pilgrims made a second, this time successful, attempt to flee to Holland from England and it was from Immingham on the coast of North East Lincolnshire, that they left on a Dutch boat. 

They set sail from Immingham Creek with only men onboard - the women and children joined them in Holland later. The Creek is now part of the large port of Immingham. The small museum, opened in 1970 at the town’s Civic Centre, tells the story of the building of Immingham Docks and features a display about the Pilgrim Separatists and their escape in 1608. Many of the displays feature railway memorabilia, photos and documents. As well as docks and railway exhibits, there are room settings for Victorian, Edwardian, Grocers and Chemist shops. The museum has a rolling programme of changing exhibitions each year. 

Droitwich Spa Heritage Centre, Worcestershire

Droitwich Spa Heritage Centre

The Droitwich Spa Heritage Centre is housed on the former Brine Baths site in Worcestershire, and features a fascinating permanent local history exhibition. 

It shows the fascinating story of the town from pre-Roman times to modern day, and excavations have revealed much about the area’s salt industry, including the 16th Century when Edward Winslow’s father owned a salt pit there. Winslow was a leading Separatist and future Colony Leader who lived in Worcestershire and was educated at Worcester Cathedral.

He travelled in Europe, during which time he met the exiled Separatist church in Leiden, Holland in 1617, and became one of the leading members of the group, playing an important role in organising the Pilgrim’s journey to the New World in 1620. As one of the founding fathers of America, he was Governor there for many years.

Boston Guildhall, Lincolnshire


Boston Guildhall

Visitors to Boston Guildhall can see the cells where leading Separatists Brewster, Bradford, Robinson and others were held while being tried for attempting to flee England for Holland in 1607. The group had planned to defy the authority of the English church in favour of religious freedom abroad, but the captain of the ship they had hired, betrayed them and they were arrested. After a month most of the group were sent back ‘from whence they came’ but seven ringleaders were ordered to the higher Assizes court of Lincoln. 

The cells in which they were held are open to visitors and are being enhanced for the Mayflower 400 commemorations. The sights, smells, and sounds of the Guildhall provide a fascinating insight into the history of Boston.

Bassetlaw Museum

A new Pilgrims Gallery at Bassetlaw Museum in Retford has opened ready for the 400th anniversary commemorations. It tells the story of the Pilgrims in North Nottinghamshire and looks at core themes of tolerance, freedom and migration and acts as the focal point for the Pilgrims Trail in the area.  

Harwich Heritage Centre

A new Harwich Heritage Centre will open in 2020 in time for the 400th anniversary celebrations. Harwich is where the Mayflower ship was built and was home to its master and captain Christopher Jones.

The new centre will have a dedicated exhibition exploring the town’s role in the Mayflower’s journey, including a range of artefacts which have never been publicly displayed before.

The Box, Plymouth

The Box

Opening in Spring 2020 as part of the Mayflower 400 commemorations, The Box is a major new cultural and heritage attraction in Plymouth. It will open with an unforgettable programme of events that will be a highlight of the city’s 400th anniversary celebrations.

Its opening exhibition will be called ‘Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy’ and it is being created in partnership with the Wampanoag Native American Advisory Committee. Curators have begun a worldwide search for artefacts that tell the Mayflower’s story and over 100 museums, libraries and archives in the UK, Holland and the US have already donated objects that tell forgotten stories linked to the Mayflower. These include objects the seafarers used and toys the children played with onboard. The exhibition will run from spring 2020 to autumn 2021.

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