We’ve already explored the history of the Mayflower in Bankside and Bermondsey, and now we’ve come to Rotherhithe, which has more visible monuments to the story than anywhere in London. This is where master mariner Christopher Jones lived and worked and where the ship was finally broken up for timbers.
Christopher Jones, the ‘Captain / Master’ of the Mayflower lived and worked in Deptford, yet his children were baptised at the parish church of St Mary, Rotherhithe. These two apparently contradictory facts help us to pinpoint the location of his home. We can tell from a map of Rotherhithe, drawn in the 1620s that the whole peninsula fell within the parish of St Mary, right down to the Deptford border, and that the eastern shoreline was uninhabited except for the site now occupied by Greenland Dock. A community flourished there, presumably because the natural inlet or creek could be used by ships. Thus the map shows fairly conclusively that this site was the only place that Jones could have been living. It is also very likely that this is where the Mayflower was berthed since the northern shore had no inlets, only a tidal beach.
However, the Mayflower could not have embarked with its cargoes and passengers from Rotherhithe. The Port of London tightly controlled all loading and unloading of cargoes. Furthermore, transporting passengers to the ship with all their possessions and cargo across the Rotherhithe Peninsula would have been very difficult. The only access from London Bridge even by 1696 was along the Redriffe Wall (which was only 10 feet wide) or along West Lane (only 9 feet wide). Historians have always been clear that the Mayflower began its famous transatlantic voyage from either Blackwall or Wapping. As Greenland Dock is nearer to Blackwall, this reinforces the majority opinion.
Christopher Jones Square, Lower Road
On the way from Greenland Dock to St Mary’s Church you might pass this garden, named after the master of the Mayflower. Lower Road contained an abundance of Nonconformist chapels, at least one of which had a connection with the Pilgrim Church.
St Mary’s Church, St Marychurch Street
The church that stood here in 1620, when Christopher Jones and his crew worshipped inside was built in the 14th century. The building we see today replaced it in the early 18th century.
Jones is buried in the churchyard here, as are some other crew of the Mayflower. A plaque was installed inside the church in his memory in 1965 and a statue was unveiled in the churchyard in 1995.
In 2004 a blue plaque was installed on an outside wall recording the connections between the church and the Mayflower expedition, which are not limited to Jones and the crew. The Rector from 1611 to 1654 was the Puritan, Thomas Gataker. He had many Dutch contacts, including the Pastor of the Dutch church in London and visited the Netherlands in July 1620.
The Mayflower Pub, Rotherhithe Street
This pub, which stands just a few yards from St Mary’s Church very enthusiastically celebrates the Mayflower story. On the wall of the restaurant upstairs you can find a list of the Mayflower passengers. Unfortunately, it has no real connections with the Mayflower but an inn (originally known as The Shippe) has stood in the vicinity since Jones’s time.
Sunbeam Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket
This is a modern statue of a Puritan and a young boy surveying, ironically, the history of the USA since the Mayflower. Created by local artist Peter McLean and erected in 1991, it is a fascinating and amusing take on the Pilgrim story.
Surrey Lock, Rotherhithe Street
Rotherhithe was famous for its shipbuilding, ship-repair and ship-breaking businesses and the Mayflower was probably broken up along this stretch of the river. There was a large dry dock here by 1739-46 at the King and Queen Stairs and near what is now the Salt Quay pub was the John Beatson yard – Rotherhithe’s best known shipbreaker. In 1838 the HMS Temeraire was broken up here, and immortalised in a painting by JMW Turner. Surrey Lock, which now occupies this site, was built by the mathematical genius and engineer George Bidder.
Next week: Old Kent Road