The importance of the Merchant Adventurers from the City of London is often overlooked. They supplied the finance and the organisation for the expedition, chose the Mayflower ship and its crew, and recruited the strangers. Without the finance from the City the Mayflower could not have sailed to America, and we would have no Mayflower story to celebrate. Charles Edward Banks the world renowned Mayflower specialist claims that one of the sites in the City of London is more worthy of remembrance than the quays at Southampton and Plymouth.
The Dutch Church, 7 Austin Friars
The Dutch Church was granted a royal charter in 1550 by Edward VI for 'strangers', foreign refugees. It is the oldest foundation of any foreign denomination in England, and the oldest foundation of any protestant denomination. In practice it became the church for Dutch refugees as there was a church in Threadneedle Street for the Huguenot refugees from France.
The present building was built in 1954 after the church was destroyed in 1940 but a fragment of the original church, from the time of the Mayflower, has been preserved and can be seen outside. There is also an old altar stone that would have been present in 1620, and an original chalice and paten dating back to the 17th century. The names of the ministers have been engraved on the wall next to the entrance, including the name of the liberal Simon Ruytinck, who was minister between, 1610 and 1621. He was a friend of the Leiden theologians, including John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrims and would have welcomed people from Leiden.
The noted professor of history and specialist in English Puritanism, Keith Sprunger says the Leiden Pilgrims chose to worship at Austin Friars. John Carver, Robert Cushman, and perhaps William Bradford, would certainly have visited the church in 1619 and 1620.
Bevis Marks Synagogue, Heneage Lane
Heneage House, in Heneage Lane, was the organising hub of the Mayflower expedition. Noted Mayflower historian, Charles Edward Banks says that the site "may well be designated as the only Pilgrim shrine in London. It is more worthy of remembrance than the quays at Southampton and Plymouth, England, where brief stops were made, the last named port being an unintentional anchorage in the stress of navigating difficulties. The site of Heneage House calls for equal commemorative notice." This is a very bold claim, but made by a world renowed Mayflower specialist.
The Pilgrims' chief negotiators, John Carver and Robert Cushman, along with the Southworth family and, at one stage, William Bradford, all lived in or near Heneage House. There is even a letter from Robert Cushman to Heneage House.
Banks however, sadly added that "not a vestige now remains of that ‘great house large of rooms’ where once these Pilgrim leaders - Bradford, Cushman, Mitchell and Southworth - lived and planned with Weston and Shirley (probably in Ironmongers’ Hall) the details and prospects of their epochal venture". Nevertheless, this is the site of where the Pilgrims and the Merchant Adventurers of the City made the key Mayflower decisions.
A synagogue is now built on the site of Heneage House. Bevis Marks is the most splendid synagogue in Britain, built by the Quaker, Joseph Aris, and modelled in many respects, such as music, on the Great Synagogue of Amsterdam. In 1290 Jews had been expelled from England but in the 1640s a campaign was started by Henry Jessey of the Pilgrim Church in Southwark, along with John Dury, to reverse the law and secure Jewish readmission. In 1655 Cromwell had a meeting in the Strand with Rabbi Mannaseh ben Israel of Amsterdam and in 1656 the campaign was won when the law of 1290 was overturned.
All Hallows Barking, Byward Street
All Hallows Barking was founded in 675 and is the one of the oldest churches in London. An arch from the 7th centuary Saxon church can still be seen today, and is the oldest surviving piece of church fabric in the City of London. In the crypt is a second century Roman pavement, discovered in 1926, evidence of city life on this site for nearly two thousand years.
William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was baptised in the church and was educated in the old schoolroom, his baptism records are still held at the church. John Quincy Adams, the sixth US president, was married in All Hallows in 1797 and the Marriage Register entry is on display in the Undercroft Museum. On stained glass windows there are coats of arms of both shipping companies and of Pennsylvania to show the everlasting connection between the church and America.
There is a brass plate to Margaret Bassano, wife of Arthur Bassano, a Jewish Italian musician who moved from Venice to England and served in the household of Henry VIII. There is also a memorial to Baldwin Hamey (1568-1640) of the Muscovy Company, a student at Leiden University who became physician to the Tsar of Russia, and was a member of the liberal Dutch humanist circle of Simon Ruytinck at Austin Friars.
St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside
St Mary-le-Bow was founded in or around 1080 as the London headquarters of the archbishops of Canterbury, the medieval church of St Mary-le-Bow survived three devastating collapses before being completely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, it was destroyed once more in 1941 and was again rebuilt and re-consecrated in 1964.
There is a statue of John Smith, leader of the Virginia colony in the churchyard. It was at St Mary-le-Bow that Smith delivered a sermon to promote settlement in the New World. He mapped the New England coast and his map of 1614, naming 'Plymouth' in Massachusetts, may have been used by Christopher Jones. Between 1616 and 1617 Pocahontas, the Indian woman who Smith claimed had saved his life, was in this vicinity and would have visited him.
Incorporated in Mary-le-Bow is the church of All Hallows Bread Street, the church of John Pocock, a prominent Merchant Adventurer who invested in the Mayflower. It is thought that Pocock recruited Miles Standish as military leader of the expedition, which suggests Standish’s presence in the area. The church also has a plaque commemorating the poet, John Milton, baptised in All Hallows Bread Street. In addition, St Pancras Soper Lane was incorporated into Mary-le-Bow and John Carver, Pilgrim leader, is said to have been a deacon there in 1609.
The term 'cockney' has long been associated with Londoners and since the 17th century has been used to describe those born within the sound of Bow Bells, that is the bells of St Mary-le-Bow church in Cheapside. Legend has it that the bells persuaded Dick Whittington to turn back to London, becoming Lord Mayor.
Ironmongers Hall, Aldersgate Street
Negotiations for the Mayflower expedition probably took place in Weston’s Ironmongers Hall. It was Thomas Weston who in the end was decisive in mobilising the Merchant Adventurers and organising the expedition. But the current Hall is not on the original site. In Weston’s day the Ironmongers Hall was in Fenchurch Street, but his was destroyed by bombing in 1917, during Word War I. The current Hall does however have ship connections. There is a plaque that commemorates the Shipwrights' Guild and some interesting models of ships. It may well have been through the shipwrights that Weston selected Jones and the Mayflower.
St Bride's Church, Fleet Street
Virginia Dare was the first child born in America to English parents, in North Carolina, and her parents were married at St Bride’s in 1584. There is a bust to of a little girl in the church, in her honour. There is also a great canopied oak reredos which enshrines a church altar in honour of Edward Winslow, who was and a leader of the Mayflower expedition and elected Governor of Plymouth Massachusetts. Winslow’s parents were married at St Bride’s, and he served an apprenticeship in Fleet Street.
In 1619, 100 boys and girls were sent to Virginia from the Bridewell Hospital orphanage, which is just to the south of the church. This may nowadays be considerd as cheap labour, however at the time Edwin Sandys, Treasurer of the Virginia Company and a backer of the Mayflower expedition, felt that emigration to America gave the poor a chance to escape poverty. Boys who survived received grants of land on coming of age. Next to the bust of Virginia Dare are two charity figures representing exported children.
Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard
There will be an exhibition of original documents mounted by the London Metropolitan Archive in the document room of the gallery in the summer of 2020. It is also hoped that there will be an exhibition of paintings in the gallery next door. This depends, however, on fund-raising or on obtaining a sponsor. The exhibition would include the portraits available of those in London connected with the Mayflower expedition: John Coke, Fulke Greville, Robert Naunton, Pocahontas, Lord Rich, Edwin Sandys, Shakespeare, Captain John Smith, Thomas Smythe, James I, the Duke of Buckingham, John Wolstenholme, and the Earl of Southampton, as well as including prints and paintings of the Mayflower. Although the famous ones are in America, there are local versions of sufficient quality to be included.
14 New Bridge Street
This street runs alongside Blackfriars Station from Ludgate Hill to Blackfriars Bridge. Number 14 New Bridge Street retains a gatehouse of Bridewell Prison and Hospital, formerly part of Bridewell Palace on the banks of the River Fleet. From there orphan or street children were sent to New England. There is a plaque. The prison held some Brownist prisoners. Indeed, some trace the founding of the Brownist movement to Bridewell: in 1571 radical Puritans, led by their minister, Richard Fitz, held services inside the prison.
This article is based upon a report by Graham Taylor, local historian, to Southwark Council and the City of London, July 2018.