Mayflower 400 celebrations: Harwich to be promoted as an historic cruise destination

PUBLISHED: 10:40 07 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:54 07 August 2018

Mayflower 400 Programme

Mayflower 400 Programme


Harwich is the UK’s second busiest passenger ferry port, but it is a special voyage nearly 400 years ago that continues to put it on the map, as Petra Hornsby explains

Harwich, situated in the north of Essex on the North Sea coastline, is a busy port handling both general and bulk cargo. Container ships are a familiar part of the scenery for those visiting the town and its award-winning beaches.

The port itself, formerly known as Parkeston Quay, lies on the banks of the River Stour and faces one of the other Haven Ports – the Port of Felixstowe. Harwich International is also home to regular Stena Line ferry services to the Hook of Holland and, although the last sailing of DFDS Seaways services to Esbjerg, Cuxhaven and Gothenburg was in 2005, it remains the UK’s second busiest passenger ferry port.

Harwich’s maritime history, however, is something that has fundamentally shaped the town, not only in local and national terms, but in a way that has significant international importance too.

Harwich was home to Captain Christopher Jones. Born in the town, he went on to captain the Mayflower, the ship that set sail with the Pilgrim Fathers to settle in New England.

Mayflower 400 ProgrammeMayflower 400 Programme

Although the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth, the journey that took place before the actual voyage across the Atlantic included stops at many locations along our coast and Harwich was a key one.

It is understood that the ship itself was built in Harwich, although this claim can’t be substantiated. It wasn’t built especially for the voyage across the Atlantic, but had been a working merchant ship for several years.

In two years’ time, Harwich – along with 12 other towns including Dartmouth, Boston, Southampton, Southwark (London) and Leiden in Holland – will be holding events and celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the voyage.

It was in these locations that the Pilgrim movement took shape, defined by their conflict with the established Church in England. Emigration to Holland came before their exodus to the New World. The journey they undertook in 1620 and the colony they established began the history of the USA that we know today; it is hard not to be captivated by this knowledge, whether you are a student of American history or not.

Mayflower 400 ProgrammeMayflower 400 Programme

The Mayflower 400 is an international body incorporating the towns and locations involved, working in partnership to inspire local communities and businesses to get involved and attract visitors and tourists from overseas to explore the fascinating history of Harwich.

Following a recent meeting, Zoe Fairley, cabinet member for Regeneration and Inward Investment at Tendring District Council, stated: “Mayflower 400 is a fantastic opportunity. As many commentators have said, this comes once in a generation – a chance to regenerate Harwich and provide a welcome economic boost to the town.

“This applies not just in 2020, the anniversary year, but also as a lasting legacy of tourism, art, culture and sport for many years to come.”

Through the Mayflower 400 programme, Harwich will be promoted as an historic destination, so cruise operators will be specifically encouraged to visit the town.

Mayflower 400 ProgrammeMayflower 400 Programme

Visiting cruise ships can be a huge boost to the local economy and many businesses are looking at ways to meet the challenge and offer a great experience to tourists. A varied schedule of events is being drawn up in the countdown to 2020 and during the year itself.

It is reported that the Mayflower 400 has already been given £1million of funding from the government to support its work across the destinations in the UK.

Those visiting Harwich might be keen to visit the Maritime Museum and then follow the Heritage Trail which incorporates the wooden treadwheel crane which was used in the Naval Yard from 1667 to 1927 and is the only one still in existence today.

The walk also visits Christopher Jones’ house, the Customs House and the Electric Palace Cinema, as well as taking in major landmarks such as the Low and High Lighthouses. The visitor centre on Ha’Penny Pier reveals more about the Mayflower and Captain Jones with a permanent exhibition and the Redoubt Fort, built in 1808, is a reminder of the threat of impending Napoleonic invasion.

One vital tool that will certainly aid those searching for information on Harwich – as well as help local businesses promote themselves – is the town’s new website,

Paul Milsom, chairman of the Harwich and Dovercourt Tourism Group, explains how having a modern website is vital for any area and can expedite the preparations for events, increase tourism and ensure that a lasting legacy will be left beyond 2020.

Mayflower 400 ProgrammeMayflower 400 Programme

“I think we all understand the importance of a good website these days and I know that our new Historic Harwich site will be the envy of many towns and cities,” Paul says. “It will prove a valuable tool in encouraging tourists to visit the area by providing them with a whole range of information, from things to see and do and where to stay, to the weather and tide times.”

One event that will be taking advantage of the new site is the Harwich Festival of the Arts, which takes place from June 21 to July 1, 2018. The festival combines visual arts, music, dance and the spoken word.

Michael Offord is the festival’s general manager. He says: “This year we are lucky to have Arts Council funding and we are looking at an exciting, full and varied programme with something for everyone. Once again, we have our 20x20 art exhibition with artworks from professionals and novices, some as young as five.

We also have Fishy Business, a public art project that has created a colourful fabric shoal of fish that will be displayed along the waterfront. A permanent mosaic sculpture by Anne Schwegmann-Fielding will also be unveiled during the festival.”

There are musical highlights too, although it is clear the programme has so much going on it is hard for Michael to highlight everything.

“We cover jazz, classical and world music and this year we welcome Dinosaur, who were nominated for a Mercury music award, and Addictive TV who perform using audio visual and sound by fusing together music samples from 200 musicians from across the world to create new music. For lovers of classical music we have Anna Huntley and Emma Abbate and, for the final night, a concert from Saxology.”

Mayflower 400 ProgrammeMayflower 400 Programme

There will also be exhibitions, poetry, performance art, a concert by choirs from primary schools and Harwich Shorts where short films (no longer than 10 minutes) about any subject, submitted by local people of all ages, will be shown during the festival.

Having the new Harwich website will be invaluable for the festival this year, and for future events, and Michael feels that the Harwich and Dovercourt Tourism Group is helping to garner support and create a buzz for the forthcoming 2020 celebrations.

Any tourists arriving during the festival this year and over the next two years will have a very clear idea of just how much Harwich values its past and its plans to continue to celebrate its considerable historical and cultural vibrancy for many years to come.

For more details about the Mayflower 400 project, visit or to learn more about the Harwich Festival, visit


Follow Essex Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Latest from the Essex Life