Visiting Southampton

Southampton is steeped in maritime heritage and today is known as the cruise capital of Europe. The city has a vibrant atmosphere with an impressive cultural and retail offering - featuring in the UK's top ten shopping destinations.

Outstanding art galleries in the city include some of the finest collections outside of London and there are many local artists and creatives too, showcasing and selling their work. For evening entertainment the Mayflower theatre regularly shows West End musicals and ballets, Turner Sims offers world class jazz concerts and spoken word and Nuffield Southampton Theatres is a leading producing theatre company.

Southampton’s heritage reaches far beyond the Mayflower. The Bargate in the centre of the High Street was built as the main entrance to the medieval walled town circa 1180 AD.

Much of the medieval city walls also still survive, together with the vaults where the merchants stored their wine. The novelist Jane Austen lived in the city from 1806-1809. Years before the Pilgrims left Southampton through the Westgate Henry V marched his troops through to sail for France and the battle of Agincourt.  The Titanic set sail from White Start dock in 1912. Walking Tours are available exploring each of these stories and The SeaCity museum tells the story of the tragic Titanic journey and maritime history of this great port city.

The New Forest National Park, historic Winchester and naval Portsmouth are also all easily accessible from Southampton. London is also only just over an hour by train.

Southampton's Mayflower programme 

As part of its commitment to being a City of Sanctuary, Southampton will be the first city to mark a Mayflower anniversary through the lens of migration.

The Mayflower is one of many thousands of ships which have come to or left Southampton, carrying people seeking refuge, or people migrating to or from the city.

The Mayflower 400 anniversary programme hopes to remember and reveal those stories through a wide-ranging offer of online and live events.

A £60,000 grant will allow local communities to tell their stories. Migration trails, oral histories and new artistic commissions will allow new voices to be heard, giving ‘hidden histories’ a platform to be explored in Southampton.

Awards, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Southampton City Council, have gone to 19 projects exploring a wide range of heritage stories, including: African Bridal traditions, Chinese culture, stories of Muslim seafarers, as well as supporting events such as Heritage Open Days and Black History Month.

Southampton City Council has also commissioned for the anniversary, with the support of Arts Council England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, a number of art and heritage projects enabling the city’s cultural sector to work with communities to tell stories.

Art Asia are leading one of these, Belonging. This exciting project delivers a series of creative online tutorials in music, storytelling and crafts, which will generate material for a large-scale installation in Westquay later in November.

Resources can now be accessed online here for you to join in at home.

Dahlia Jamil, Chair of Art Asia, said: "Belonging is an interpretation of the Mayflower story, which we believe is an enriching point of discussion for families and communities to introduce the question, 'What does it mean to belong?'

"We will be collecting creative responses to this question to use in an interactive installation which pulls together the many different communities in the city. We hope in doing so to generate a stronger, more connected sense of belonging in Southampton."

Other projects include the collection of 12 new oral histories for the City Archive, capturing the experiences of people who have migrated to the city over the past 70 years, or who have come here seeking refuge.

These stories will inform a film project for young people led by City Eye and a new music commission led by Turner Sims and composer Tunde Jegede.

Working with local historians and the Parkes Institute (University of Southampton) a series of short films will made available online over the course of the year, highlighting the long history of refuge and migration in Southampton and its impact on the cultural, political and economic life of the city. These will be supported early in 2021 by a series of online talks and discussions.

Various other heritage and art projects have also started. You can visit Wampum: Stories from the Shells of Native America at SeaCity Museum until 18 October.

Wampum belts are stories of communities and culture, and this unique display features work and materials from Native American artists and items on loan from Saffron Walden Museum. Book tickets here.

Also, the City Art Gallery’s online Open Exhibition takes the theme of Journeys to a New World.

More projects will be announced throughout the year, and you can keep up to date here.

Cllr Satvir Kaur, Cabinet Member for Homes, Communities and Culture, said: "Southampton is rightly proud of its important maritime and local heritage and its role as a gateway city.

"We’re thrilled to be exploring more of the city’s hidden histories and our communities’ heritage as part of the Mayflower 400 programme, we hope you find something that inspires you to share your story."

Caterina Loriggio, Mayflower 400 Southampton Anniversary Director, added: "Mayflower 400 Southampton aims to tell the story of Southampton, a city and community, built on migration.

"The programme is doing this through a series of inclusive programmes and new opportunities, allowing people from all walks of life to explore and tell their stories, maybe for the first time.

"Education resources, touring exhibitions, digital content and new plaques fitted to the Mayflower Memorial will highlight previously overlooked local histories, as well as mark the impact of the Mayflower sailing on the Wampanoag people."

Southampton and the Mayflower story

The Mayflower arrived in Southampton in late July 1620 and several days later was joined by the Speedwell, carrying the Pilgrims from Leiden. Their intention was to prepare both vessels and sail in company directly to America.

Southampton was a thriving seaport offering all the commercial facilities to provision and equip for the long sea voyage. Many of the buildings and streets familiar to the Pilgrims then still exist.

The town had established trading links with Virginia and Newfoundland, so there was an experienced pool of seamen who had previously made the dangerous Atlantic crossing. John Alden, a cooper, joined the Mayflower and it is thought William Brewster also slipped aboard here, having been in hiding after publishing material that angered King James.

Stephen Hopkins from Hampshire also joined here and is known as the only Mayflower passenger with prior New World experience, having been shipwrecked in Bermuda in 1609.

There were already concerns about the Speedwell, which required repairs after developing a leak. But on 15 August the two ships weighed anchor and set sail.

Southampton was an ideal place to start the voyage for many reasons. The water is one of the world’s largest natural harbours and offers a safe anchorage, plus its unique double tide provides easy access for 16 hours out of every 24.

Southampton was a true Sea Town (now Sea City since 1964) with all requirements for the preparation of a maritime adventure. Extensive quays and wharfs provided easy access to the commercial facilities in what was and still is a very successful trading port.

Although there was much local trade from the surrounding counties; Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Sussex as well as France and the Channel Isles, there were also trading links with Virginia and Newfoundland. This meant that there was an experienced pool of seamen who had previously made the difficult and dangerous Atlantic crossing.

John Alden, a cooper, joined Mayflower here and a George Alden who could well have been his father lived in the high street. The town records show that the Council were ordered to press 100 seamen and mariners for the Royal Navy in July perhaps a good enough reason to sign on to the Mayflower’s crew.

The Speedwell was found to be leaking and it was thought at the time that she may have had too large a mast and sail area. The extensive ship building and repair facilities near West Quay were very useful in expediting repairs.

According to Southampton’s Book of Instruments records, a ship called Speedwell was built locally in 1606 and this may have been the vessel that returned to her home port.

However, the most important benefit to the expedition was the availability of all the supplies required, not only for the voyage but to establish a permanent community in the New World. It is thought that the Pilgrims and settlers shopped during the day and slept back on board both ships. These were supposedly anchored just off West Quay.

In 1620, there were 153 Merchants in the Town of whom 118 were engaged partially or wholly in the wool trade but the balance would have been able to provide all the other items required for self-sufficiency.

When the Mayflower and Speedwell left together on that fateful Saturday 15 August after a fraught and hectic stay they could not have imagined that their persistence would lead to the founding of New England.

Southampton has extensive records pertaining to the Pilgrims which can be found in the city archives.  

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And our Southampton founder partners

Southampton Mayflower Highlights

  • Events
  • Attractions
  • Accommodation

Grand Harbour Hotel

Grand Harbour Hotel

Hotel

The 173 room Grand Harbour Hotel is located close to the shopping centre and cruise terminals.

Dolphin Hotel

Dolphin Hotel

Hotel

The 99 room Mercure Southampton Centre Dolphin Hotel is the oldest hotel in Southampton dating back over 500 years.

Careys Manor Hotel & SenSpa

Careys Manor Hotel & SenSpa

Hotel

The magic of water and its therapeutic benefits with the world class luxury spa facilities.

The Montagu Arms Hotel

The Montagu Arms Hotel

Hotel

The Montagu Arms Hotel dates back to 1742. It has a cosy, homely character and picturesque gardens.

The Holiday Inn

The Holiday Inn

Hotel

A modern Southampton hotel near the city's cruise terminals with an indoor pool and gym.

Southampton Harbour Hotel

Southampton Harbour Hotel

Hotel

Featuring stunning contemporary design with a restaurant and rooftop bar.

The Clock Tower

The Grange Estate

Hotel

The Grange Estate's holiday accommodations in Hampshire provide a perfect base from which to visit the Estate and the surrounding area.

room2

Hotel

The world's first hometel brand, is a unique offering combining the comforts of home with the service of hotels

Jurys Inn

Jurys Inn

Hotel

Located right at the heart of the city overlooking East Park and just a 15 minute walk from the Central Station

Holiday Inn Express

Holiday Inn Express

Hotel

Holiday Inn Express Southampton is a contemporary hotel with free Wi-Fi, Parking and breakfast included next to the Ageas Bowl

DoubleTree by Hilton

DoubleTree by Hilton

Hotel

Located just outside the city centre, minutes from the M3 and M27 motorways, DoubleTree by Hilton Southampton offers easy access to plenty of activities

New Place Hotel

New Place Hotel

Hotel

New Place has something for everyone with a grand manor house, smart business centre and an array of bedrooms, all surrounded by expansive gardens

Highfield House Hotel

Highfield House Hotel

Hotel

Highfield House Hotel extends not just a fantastic hospitality towards you, but also a great accommodating environment

Hilton at the Ageas Bowl

Hilton at the Ageas Bowl

Hotel

The Ageas Bowl in Southampton offers the famous cricket ground, Hilton hotel, eforea spa and an 18 hole golf course

Holiday Inn Winchester

Holiday Inn Winchester

Holiday Inn is the perfect destination for leisure, business and families in Winchester

Novotel Southampton

Novotel Southampton

Hotel

Conveniently located in the heart of Southampton city centre, the 4-star Novotel Southampton hotel is the perfect base for guests looking to explore.

Best Western Chilworth Manor

Best Western Chilworth Manor

Hotel

Edwardian Manor House Hotel with state-of-the-art health club and spa

Elizabeth House Hotel

Elizabeth House Hotel

Hotel

The restored Elizabeth House Hotel made up of three Victorian buildings and is quintessentially British

Claremont Guest House

Claremont Guest House

Guest House

Established in 2001, Claremont Guest House provides comfortable, warm and friendly accommodation right in the heart of Southampton

Mayview B&B

Mayview B&B

Bed & Breakfast

The Mayview B&B is an intimate contemporary bed and breakfast located in a peaceful area in the heart of Southampton

ibis Southampton Centre

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