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. The Mayflower is not the only voyage the city is well known for. The Titanic set sail from White Start dock in 1912. The Sea City museum tells the story of this tragic journey that impacted on the lives of so many in Southampton.

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.

The novelist Jane Austen lived in the city from 1806-1809 and you can follow the city's Jane Austen walking trail featuring places that she visited. 

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

Southampton’s Mayflower 400 programme, led by Southampton Cultural Development Trust in consultation with the people of Southampton, will match a series of major cultural projects with capital investment and grass-roots activity to showcase the city’s talent, creativity and heritage. Alongside the Mayflower Maritime Festival, key activities will include:

  • Significant investment in the ‘Walk the Walls’ heritage trail, which takes visitors along Southampton’s exceptionally preserved medieval town walls. This new investment
    will feature new Mayflower related content, weaving Southampton’s pivotal role in the Mayflower’s journey into the city’s wider history
  • A diverse cultural programme, including productions from the Mayflower and Nuffield Southampton Theatres commissioned specifically for Mayflower 400 as well as new festivals of light to launch and close the commemoration. This will align with the region’s existing events programme, which already includes a great range of activity such as SeaCity Museum and Winchester Hat Fair
  • The Southampton ABP Marathon, which will take on a Mayflower theme for 2020 with runners from across the partnership encouraged to participate. This will crown a broad range of sports activity developed specifically for Mayflower 400
  • The Giving Thanks Festival, running through October and November 202, which will provide communities with the opportunity to show how they give thanks through food and bring people together to celebrate the city’s diversity
  • The initiation of the programme’s grass-roots engagement activity on the week beginning the 21st of January 2019. This activity aspires to collect the stories of Southampton’s communities and tell them to the world, providing a rich back- drop to Mayflower 400 and ensuring everyone in the city has the opportunity to contribute to the commemoration

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

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