Experience 1620s Plymouth at unique Mayflower 400 Virtual Reality event

Jun 21, 2021

Technology teams from both sides of the Atlantic have joined forces to deliver a unique Virtual Reality (VR) experience.

For two days this July, a few lucky people in Plymouth UK will be able to experience the future and explore the sights, sound and now the smells of an era long gone.

The University of Birmingham’s Virtual Mayflower project was first demonstrated on the Barbican during the actual 400th anniversary of the ship's departure from Plymouth in September 2020.

Now, with the easing of lockdown restrictions, the University team behind the VR experience, led by Plymouth born-and-bred Professor Bob Stone, will return to the Barbican for a special one-off event lasting over two days.

The new demo features a 3D reconstruction of Sutton Pool including a number of new features and locations, with the Mayflower moored just outside in the Cattewater, and a unique olfactory display, or “smell” delivery system, designed to work in conjunction with VR headsets.

Collaborating with Plymouth-based Bluestone 360 Immersive and olfactory specialists from the American company OVR Technology Inc., the team is pioneering new technologies in the delivery of smells to immerse VR users even further into computer-generated worlds.

It has to be said that the living conditions of 16th and 17th Britain were unsanitary, to put it mildly, and Plymouth, at the time of the Mayflower’s departure, was only four years away from another plague outbreak.

Yet, poor living conditions are not obvious from paintings of the time, especially those depicting the departure of the colonists in 1620.

Standing on hard harbour stonework and clothed in quite splendid costumes whilst looking out to the ship that would be their home for the next 66 days, it is likely that the reality was a far cry from such splendour.

From the stench of the drainage channels, conveying human excrement into Sutton Pool, to the more acceptable baking smells of Jacka Bakery, still in situ on Southside Street in the Barbican, those lucky enough to try this technology for the first time will be able to experience the 1620s like never before.

Prof Stone said: "The Virtual Mayflower and 1620s Barbican project has been over six years in the making and has involved contributions from a diverse a range of groups and individuals, including the bosun's mate of one of the Jubilee Sailing Trust's tall ships, a talented 3D modeller in Canada, an animation specialist in Warwickshire and a 17th century historian in Plymouth.

"And, of course, we'd like to express a sincere thank you to our American colleagues – Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower II crew in Massachusetts and OVR Technology in Vermont – without whose contributions, this latest immersive tech demo would not have been possible.

"We're really excited to be able to offer this world-first 'smell the 1620s' experience to a few lucky people in Plymouth."

About the 'Smell the 1620s' VR demonstration

The demonstration will take place on 10 and 11 July in the Mayflower Museum (Tourist Information Centre) on Plymouth’s famous Barbican, close to the present-day Mayflower Steps Memorial.

Due to a limited number of the new smell technology units, and to ensure that hygiene conditions are strictly observed, this experience will only be offered to a limited number of people on each of the days.

As a result, applications are only being accepted via e-mail, to be entered into a draw to be held immediately after the closing date on 27 June. A maximum of two people from the same family 'bubble' per e-mail, please.

If you, or someone you know, wold like to experience this unique demonstration, and can attend at any time on either of the demo days, please send an e-mail as soon as possible to profbobstone@gmail.com

For health and safety reasons the minimum age limit for this demo is 10 (no maximum age limit) and applicants must be fit and well to wear and use a VR headset on the day. Current COVID-19 social distance and hygiene rules will apply.

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