We all know a little of the story of the Mayflower. Every schoolchild is told something of that famous fleet of ships that sailed to America in the last days of the summer of 1620. And in the US I am sure that many would hope to perhaps trace their roots back to those 102 intrepid travellers who journeyed to
the new world and became part of our human history.
The history books tell us that the fleet of 11 ships left from Plymouth, in Devon, England, and against great adversity crossed the vast, wild Atlantic ocean in a journey that took 66 days. When they reached their new home they named the colony New Plymouth in honour of their point of departure.
But there is a small, insignificant part of that famous story that the history books leave out.
It’s not really important in the grand scheme of things, it really adds nothing to the tale other than connecting my small part of the world to that great adventure.
You see Plymouth may not actually be the final port-of-call from which the Mayflower and the Pilgrims set sail. After her departure from Plymouth she was unexpectedly forced to make one final stop before heading for the Americas. It is thought that she dropped anchor one last time at a tiny port in Cornwall called Newlyn.
Newlyn was and is a small fishing community on the southern side of Mounts Bay not far from Penzance. It is one of the last places in Cornwall to maintain a fishing fleet of any size and many of the crabs, lobsters and fish served in Cornwall’s popular sea food restaurants comes from this little harbour. But Newlyn is hardly a well-known place and, apart from one small plaque high up on the wall of a house, it’s connection to the Mayflower is almost entirely forgotten.
When the Pilgrims left Plymouth as well as stocking up with the necessary dry goods the Mayflower had taken on barrels of fresh water. But their journey had hardly begun before they realised that this water was contaminated. Fearing cholera it became vital that they find a new supply and, according to the research of historian Bill Best Harris, finding themselves just off Mounts Bay, the Mayflower decided to stop at Newlyn.
The Old Quay which still stands at Newlyn is said to be of Medieval construction and there is little doubt this is where the Mayflower would have moored up while they took on the clean water that they desperately needed. I can’t tell you whether any of the Pilgrims came ashore to stretch their legs or how long the Mayflower remained in port. In all likelihood the transaction would have been completed as swiftly as possible so that they could catch up with the rest of the fleet.
But, as the actual departure point at Plymouth was destroyed long ago, when you walk on that rough old quay at Newlyn it is possible that it is the last place that these pioneers touched ‘home’ soil before heading off to become the stuff of history!
Just a little side note, while researching this story I visited the Mayflower steps in Plymouth which are so named in commemoration of the ships departure. While there I took a photograph of this wonderful Health and Safety notice.
And although I realise these are not the original steps it still tickled my childish sense of humour to think of those brave people setting out on an journey filled with so many unknown dangers passing a sign warning them of slippery steps and how to stay safe at sea. Some times the past is another planet!