Pilgrim Father's Visitors Centre
Pilgrim Father's Visitors Centre

Four hundred years ago in the reign of King James I, a small band of men and women of faith, hope and vision came together at the tiny village of Scrooby. In a Manor house there belonging to the Archbishop of York they forged the spirit and ideals the would later define the future great nation of the USA. At the heart of this group were Richard Clifton of Babworth, John Robinson of Sturton-le-Steeple, William Bradford of Austerfield and William Brewster of Scrooby – all at that time, and still remain small, out of the way rural villages.

For many years intrepid modern-day Pilgrims making their way to the East Midlands of England to pay homage to this courageous group, their own journey’s end has often been met with bitter disappointment. They often find the ancient picturesque churches once used by the Separatists firmly locked against them and virtually little of substance on display to celebrate these local heroes and the shining light that they set to other seeking religious freedom. As if to add to the woe of these visitors, there are not even public washrooms to use and if the local pub is shut, nowhere to get food or refreshments. Unless they happen across a cheery local to help them out, these by then downhearted travellers can be forgiven for feeling as rejected by England as the Separatists themselves had.

Enter The Pilgrim Fathers UK Origins Association which was founded in 2006 as an independent community organisation by just a handful of dedicated Mayflower Pilgrim enthusiasts, including myself, with the prime aim to preserve and to promote the heritage of the Separatists from our local area. On 29th October 2013 the Association was registered at Companies House as The Pilgrim Fathers UK Community Interest Company (CIC) and is currently is undergoing transition into a Registered Charity.

The aims of the Associations are simply this:

  • To bring together and promote the heritage of the local Separatists who became leading Mayflower Pilgrim.
  • To increase awareness of the heritage of the Separatists and the Pilgrim Fathers in our area by education both in local communities, nationally and internationally, particularly to our ‘cousins’ from the United States.
  • To work with others to engage local communities in this heritage.
  • To work with others to serve visitors to the area and ensure that they receive all the information, amenities and support that they require in order to make their stay memorable and enjoyable.

The Management Group of the Association/CIC has met bi- month, or as necessary, to initiate, co-ordinate and organize community activities and improve visitor amenities. Annual General Meetings of the Association are held in May each year. The Chairman's Review for the period to 31st March 2013 shows that significant progress in meeting the objectives has been achieved over the past eight years.

With the number of visitors expected to rise significantly in the run up to 2020 and the 400th Anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, the Association had become very mindful that the current lack of amenities to meet this demand urgently needed to be addressed. It was decided that we should try to get funding for a dedicated Pilgrim Heritage Centre to be made at Scrooby - the spiritual home of the Separatists.

The main problems posed to our Association was firstly that plans for a Heritage Centre had been put forward several times during the past 40 years by various parties but each time had failed to gain financial backing mainly through a widespread indifference to the subject in the local area. Through an intense 8 year period of Association members going out into the community to re-educate people about this important part of our local heritage we are pleased to report a palpable change of hearts and minds towards the subject.

The second hurdle is that the ancient village of Scrooby lies within a conservation area and therefore no ‘new builds’ are permitted. However the Association soon found a perfect candidate   for conversion into a Heritage Centre – a disused 200 year old barn lying beside the Pilgrim Fathers’ public house on the Great North Road. Far from being a ‘pipe-dream’ as suggested by a recent letter from the GSMD Governor General declining support and openly suggesting that individual State Societies do likewise for this reason, I can assure you plans are now well advanced to develop it and so far have been funded entirely by our own meagre funds.

The architect’s sympathetic design for developing the barn features an entrance between the pub and the barn with a lift and stairs to the upper floor which will feature a room for educational activities and meetings. The ground floor will feature a mixture of static and state of the art interactive displays relating the Pilgrim Story and related sites of interest in both the local vicinity in the UK and acting as a ‘hub’ to direct visitors to these and to act as an education focal point for local children and adults alike. There will also be a gift shop to help generate funds to sustain the centre which will be run mainly by volunteers.

In order to finance this project the Association are in the process of bidding for a $1million plus grant from the UK National Lottery Heritage fund who are extremely interested in our proposal. However in return for this grant the Association is expected to raise match funding of $65,000 from elsewhere and to provide evidence that American visitors in particular support such an endeavour and indeed plan to use it in the future should our bid be successful. It is to this end that the Association and I personally are now appealing directly to Mayflower descendants to ask for their invaluable help in making this project come to reality. Pledges of money count as if they were actual cash for the process of match funding and will only be called upon to be honoured if the bid for UK National Lottery Heritage funding is actually successful. However donations towards our other ventures are always greatly welcomed to continue our sterling work, especially into new on the ground research.

If successful, then the Association plan to open the Pilgrim Heritage Centre at Scrooby at Easter 2017, well in time for the 2020 Mayflower celebrations. Interested parties can keep up to date with developments and our progress through the ‘news’ page of the Pilgrim Fathers UK Origins official website.

Please, if you care for your Mayflower Heritage then please help us to help you in preserving that heritage in the homes of the leading Pilgrims and where their story began. If our Association bid fails due to lack of support from the very people it is primarily intended to serve, and after they themselves in the past have pleaded for one, then this hope for a Heritage Centre will be lost forever and with it the loss of any future initiative.

Sue Allan, Official Historian, Scrooby Manor.

A percentage of the proceeds from her latest book, In Search of Scrooby Manor are pledged to the Heritage Centre fund.

Sue Allan talks about Scrooby Manor, the English home of Pilgrim leader William Brewster who traveled to the New World on the Mayflower. Ms. Allan described the research she conducted for her book, In Search of Scrooby Manor, and discusses the home’s rich history, including stories predating Brewster’s ownership.

Click here to watch the lecture on C-SPAN
Click here to watch the lecture on C-SPAN