Welcome to PilgrimAGE


An online programme commemorating the Mayflower Pilgrims throughout Summer 2020, 400 years on from their historic transatlantic voyage

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be bringing you short stories about that group of people who many know as the Pilgrims, as part of our summer PilgrimAGE programme to commemorate the Mayflower story in its 400th anniversary year. 

Each week we’ll consider a different theme, either connected to the lives of the Pilgrims, the places they travelled to, or themes which run throughout the history of their lives. We’ll be signposting you to interesting content connected to Pilgrims’ history and heritage, as well as what’s been happening as part of the 400th anniversary commemorations. 

Here in Gainsborough, we’ve been building up to 2020 with annual ‘Illuminate’ events in November to raise awareness of the town’s important connections to the Pilgrims’ story. Today – 10th May – is a historically important date for Gainsborough which hasn’t really been widely recognised in the past. This is the date in 1608 that a group of Separatists (who later became known as the Pilgrims) escaped in a barge called the Francis from the riverside, making their way to Holland where they lived for twelve years before some of them sailed to America. 

The group who got on the boat in Gainsborough was quite small, a few women and their children and a couple of men, but by the time they arrived at Stallingborough near Immingham on the River Humber there were over eighty of them – they’d obviously picked people up on the way.

This wasn’t the first time they’d tried to escape either. Many of them had travelled from the area around Gainsborough and North Nottinghamshire down to Boston on the Lincolnshire coast. Here, they had arranged to escape only to find the ship’s captain had betrayed them to the authorities. They were held for some time before being released and sent to attend the court in Lincoln. 

The next set of evidence for what happened to them seems to indicate that instead they travelled back to this area to sail from Gainsborough for a rendezvous with a Dutch ship near Immingham to take them to Holland. 

The Francis, captained by Henry Spensour of Hull, arrived in Gainsborough on the 9th May before taking her passengers aboard the following day. Another group of Separatists made their way on foot to Immingham, stopping overnight in Caistor and Stallingborough once they arrived at the coast. Their accommodation was less than glamorous, being described as a sheepcote. 

To find out more about Gainsborough’s flight of the Separatists, check out Nick Bunker’s book Making Haste from Babylon and the evidence he uncovered in the Grimsby Depositions (Document 1 and Document 2) from the National Archives. 

Next week, we’ll fill you in on what a Separatist actually was!