Essex

Illuminate Harwich festival shines light on hidden Mayflower town

Illuminate Harwich Image copyright Tendring District Council
Image caption Illuminate Harwich celebrated its role in the Mayflower sailing

Historic buildings have been lit up to highlight a town's hidden role in the sailing of the Mayflower.

Illuminate Harwich celebrated the town as the home of Christopher Jones, who sailed the Pilgrim Fathers to North America in 1620.

The captain's former house is to open next year as a tourist attraction during 400th anniversary celebrations.

The festival was one of a series being held at prominent Mayflower sites around the UK.

Illuminate Harwich Image copyright Tendring District Council
Image caption A lantern parade was part of the festival

The Mayflower was registered in Harwich, though it sailed from Plymouth.

Its landing site was named Plymouth Rock and the settlement called Plymouth Colony later became the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

But the first man to step ashore was Harwich barrel-maker John Alden, whose descendants are said to include Marilyn Monroe and Dick Van Dyke, according to David Whittle of the Harwich Society local history group.

He said it was only by chance that the Mayflower went to Plymouth, after an accompanying ship sprang a leak and both turned back.

"If that hadn't happened and the two ships had gone across there, would there be Plymouth Rock?" he asked.

Captain Jones' former house in King's Head Street will be opened, with historical information displayed inside, and a new visitor centre will be opened.

Illuminate Harwich Image copyright Tendring District Council
Image caption The Mayflower was registered in Harwich
Illuminate Harwich Image copyright Tendring District Council
Image caption A lantern parade was part of the festival

It is believed Captain Jones was born in Harwich in 1570 and married twice at St Nicholas Church, which along with the guildhall will form part of Mayflower guided tours in 2020.

The Pilgrim Fathers were a group of puritan separatists, seeking greater religious freedom than they felt existed within the Church of England.

More than 30 million people can trace their ancestry back to the 102 passengers and 30 crew of the ship, and many UK towns have worked with the US travel trade to devise Mayflower tours.

It is estimated about 6,000 people took part in the two-day festival on Friday and Saturday.

Illuminate Harwich Image copyright Tendring District Council
Image caption About 6,000 people took part in the two day festival

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