Plymouth, 350th anniversary of the voyage (1970)


Program of events for Mayflower 70 in Plymouth
Mayflower May 1970 Schoolchildren dressed as pilgrims dance on Plymouth hoe ©:Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
Senator Leverett Saltonstall pictured receiving the Mayflower ceremonial sword form Plymouth's Lord Mayor ©: Keystone Press / Alamy Stock Photo

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The Mayflower 70 celebrations were centred around Plymouth. There was much anticipation of the events in the British media and hopes that the festivities could be a boost to the economy of the South-West. A five-page feature length article in the Illustrated London News on the upcoming celebrations focused on the potential impact on the economy. The unemployment rate of Plymouth was noted to be 3.6% (above the national average of 2.4%) with an even more concerning youth unemployment rate for 20-29 year-olds of 10%. Declining commissions for the Plymouth Dockyard were also mentioned as a point of concern. The festivities, it was hoped, would bring economic improvement to the ‘entire south west’.

The newspaper notes:

'If Mayflower 70 doesn’t put Plymouth on the map then nothing will. The city fathers, concerned with rising unemployment and a possible decline in the tourist industry, are throwing themselves wholeheartedly into a whirlwind of events lasting from May 2 until September 30. 1970 sees the 350th anniversary of the sailing of the Pilgrim Fathers, and presents a heaven-sent opportunity to a public-relations-minded community.'

The event was billed as 'the greatest festival Plymouth and the West Country has ever staged', and a crowd of 50,000 gathered on Plymouth Hoe for the opening celebrations on the 2 May 1970. The proceedings were opened by Senator Leverett Saltonstall (1892 – 1979), who represented the Governor of Massachusetts. Five hundred children, dressed as Pilgrims, took part in these festivities and the events were attended by descendants of the Pilgrims from all around the country, and some residents from Plymouth, MA, too.

The main day of the celebration included a military parade from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force, culminating in a 17-gun salute. A model of the Mayflower was created, and a ceremonial sword forged for the occasion was given to the representatives from Massachusetts. It featured the Plymouth coat of arms and an inscription on the blade which read: ‘Presented by the city of Plymouth, England, to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, USA, May 1970’. The reverse displayed the Massachusetts coat of arms the State motto: ‘By the sword we seek peace but peace only under liberty” was inscribed on that side of the hilt’.

The Mayflower events also coincided with Plymouth’s ‘Come to America Fortnight’ which began on July 4th 1970. The Lord Mayor of Plymouth Eric D. Nuttal hosted a tour of American dignitaries around Plymouth’s civic centre. The video below shows some of the day’s events.

Do you have memories or photos of the celebrations in Plymouth in 1970? If so, we'd love to hear your comments below!


Illustrated London News (2 May 1970), p. 18.