Tercentenary Celebrations (Plymouth, 1920)


Plymouth - as the final port of departure for the Mayflower in 1620 - was one of the key sites for the 300th anniversary celebrations, with a full programme of events.

Some events were very much aimed at the civic elite - there was a whole load of receptions, banquets, garden parties, and excursions through Devon for visiting Americans. On one day, for example, the English-Speaking Union hosted a luncheon at the Plymouth Guildhall (which had a Mayflower stained glass window) for the Mayor, town council and other distinguished guests; on another, Lady Nancy Astor held a garden party (by invitation only) at the magisterial 18th century Saltram House. In the main, these events were about solidifying connections between the civic elite of Plymouth, Britain and further afield. At one civic banquet at the Royal Hotel, for example, messages from the King, Prime Minister, and municipal officials in Provincetown, MA and Leyden, Holland were read out.

One of the more important ceremonies was the presentation of a silver Mayflower model (later exhibited in London) and certificate of freedom to Dr W.H. Page, the late American Ambassador. The American Charge d'Affaires, J Butler Wright, received it on Page's behalf, and the widowed Mrs Page gave a special copy of a speech her husband had given in Plymouth shortly before the entry of the USA into the First World War.

As a part of these 'elite' civic events, however, there were also lots of ways for the local population to get involved. The whole town was bedecked in the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes, and schools and businesses closed on certain days to give an opportuntiy for people to enjoy the festiviites. Up to 30,000 spectators gathered on the Plymouth Hoe on the main day of the celebrations to see the civic procession that came from the Guildhall (with tens of thousands more lining the route). Musical concerts and choirs accompanied the many speeches, and a huge historical pageant was the main attraction.

There was a range of other events too. Plenty of rumination about history and religion took place - such as at the literary and historical conference at the George-Street Picture House, chaired by James Rendel Harris, or the united religious celebrations in the Guildhall (at which both the Bishop of Exeter, and Rev Dr Scott Lidgett  honorary secretary of the Free Church Council spoke). Many services and ceremonies took place too, from Rev EP Powell preaching at the Mayflower Stone on the Barbican to a men's mass meeting at Peverell Park Wesleyan Church.

One of the more interesting and religious-inspired versions of commemoration came from the Salvation Army, who decided to build a ‘Mayflower Hall’ to replace the old corrugated iron building on Exeter Street they were currently using. They were happy to continue on that site, because it was ‘within a stone’s throw of the place where the Pilgrim Fathers set sail’.

In September, a special ceremony was held to signal the start of the building. Five granite stones had been brought over from ‘New Plymouth’ in Massachusetts, and were now ceremonially laid by J. Butler Wright (the American Charge d’Affaires, representing the American Ambassador), the Earl of Reading (Lord Chief Justice), Lady Nancy Astor (MP), Francis Powell (president of the American Club, London), and Commissioner E.J. Higgins (Salvation Army). The front of the present temporary structure was adorned with a banner that said ‘Who shall separate us?’, American and British flags, and ‘bannerettes’ inscribed ‘1620 Farewell’ and ‘1920 Welcome’. ‘O God, our help in ages past’ was sang by the large crowd, with the Salvation Army band accompanying. Bishop Brewster, a descendant visiting from the USA, led the prayer – telling the crowd that the Salvation Army ‘might be described as the New Pilgrims… broad in their views’ and believing ‘that every man, should have freedom of thought and conscience’.

Speeches by Wright and Higgins waxed lyrical about the importance of the Salvation Army’s work and the Anglo-American relationship, as did Astor – adding a plea for members of the public to contribute toward the projected £25,000 cost for the Hall. Finally, a message from General Bramwell Booth, the current head of the Army, was read out: ‘the spirit of which the Pilgrim Fathers was the embodiment in 1620 was marching on. The Salvationists, not only of Old England, whence they came forth, but of the wondrous New England, which the Pilgrim Fathers founded, were in 1920 showing forth that love of liberty, that faith in God and zeal for His cause which wore the marks of a true succession.’ The new hall was indeed built in the early 1920s, and opened in 1926, but the ‘Mayflower’ name seems to not have stuck beyond the year of the 300th anniversary, but interest in the Pilgrim Fathers continued in Plymouth - and was solidified in a new monument in 1934.


See various newspapers in the Western Morning News in 1920 an H. Whitfield, 'Mother Plymouth': A Souvenir of the Mayflower Tercentenary together with the Story of the Pilgrim Fathers, 1620-1920 (Plymouth, 1920).