Our History and Links to the Mayflower Story

Crossway Church URC is closely linked to the story of the Mayflower journey to the America. Find out more on this page.

The Memorial Church of the Pilgrim Fathers was one home of the Congregationalists in London, and stood in Buckenham Square, New Kent Road in Southwark, from the 1860s to 1941. 

After the mid-19th century, growth of interest in the Mayflower, the Congregationalists – following their American brethren – were one of the first groups in Britain to catch onto the power of the story.

That century was a bloom period for these religious nonconformists; as the cities and suburbs expanded, and the Victorian doctrine of ‘self-help’ was increasingly espoused, there was a ready market for their religiously informed social and political radicalism.

Southwark, for its part, could trace an influential dissenting tradition all the way back to the late 16th century.

As we have already heard, in the 1580s and 1590s, important Separatists like Henry Barrowe and John Greenwood were imprisoned in ‘the Clink’ prison in the neighbourhood and went on to set up the Southwark Independent Church.

John Penry – another Separatist – was hanged, as we saw.

In 1616, Henry Jacob, who had been a member of the Established Church, drew on the beliefs of John Robinson – the Pilgrim Father’s pastor – to form a church in the neighbourhood. In 1620 and over the next few decades, many of these dissenters left for the Plymouth colony.

We’re grateful to Dr. Tom Hulme, Senior Lecturer in Modern British History at Queen’s University Belfast, who kindly allowed us to reproduce this information on our website. You can read the full text here.

So how does the story link to Crossway?

In 1846, the Leeds-born Congregationalist, John Waddington, had become minister at the church – at that time an ‘obscure and secluded chapel’ in Union Street.

Waddington was not just a minister, but an historian, too.

He had a particular interest, naturally, in the history of nonconformity, as well as the local area.

By the late 1840s, he was researching and publishing books on key figures like Penry and Robinson, and their connection to Southwark.

It was around this time, under Waddington’s influence, that the Union Street Chapel began calling itself ‘the Church of the Pilgrim Fathers’.

By 1851, with their lease running out and their congregation growing, the church needed a new home. A site in Buckenham Square was chosen and plans drawn up for a lecture hall, schoolrooms and an impressive church, all costing about £3,500. 

With wider interest in the Mayflower growing, the new name for the church was to be ‘The Memorial Church of the Pilgrim Fathers’ – a fitting reminder for ‘the coming generations’. As member and Chamberlain of London, Benjamin Scott, put it

“of the martyrdom, sufferings, and privations of those who were the fathers of restored freedom of conscience and free worship in the old world, and who became the founders of an empire of free worshippers in the new.”

Money-raising campaigns began in earnest across Britain and in New England too. Waddington undertook much of the heavy lifting, himself and delivered talks on the history of the Pilgrim Fathers.

Much goodwill – and money too – came via this international network of Congregationalists. The lecture hall was completed in the late 1850s, before the church was finally finished in 1864, complete with a memorial tablet to the Fathers. See the image of the stone after bombing damage in the Blitz

 

Waddington retired in 1871, and died in 1880. Over the next few decades, however, the church retained its link to the memory of the Pilgrim Fathers.

In 1920, during the 300th anniversary of the voyage, special services – with borough councillors in full ‘civic state’ – took place in the church, and other Mayflower memorial ceremonies were held throughout the interwar decades.

Unfortunately, as The Sphere put it in 1941, the ‘Mayflower Church’ was ‘destroyed by Nazis’. ‘Aptly enough’, however, ‘their descendants in the USA’ were ‘busy making arms to destroy the Nazi evil’.

It was to rise from the ashes!

In 1956, a new church, costing £17,500, was opened on Great Dover Street not far from the previous Winthrop Aldrich, the American Ambassador in Britain and a Pilgrim descendant, did the honours, and various civic figures gathered for the opening speeches.

On the outside there was a tablet with an image of the ship captioned simply ‘The Mayflower sailed from the Thames, 1620’.

Inside, a memorial stone to the Separatists of Southwark who had been imprisoned for their dissenting views in the late 17th century – such as Henry Barrowe and John Greenwood – was unveiled by the Reverend Sidney Berry.

 

Queen Elizabeth II even sent a message to the church to congratulate its members, saying their work ‘cannot fail to strengthen the bonds between Great Britain and America’.

American President Eisenhower also sent a letter of goodwill

The PILGRIM fathers MEMORIAL CHURCH became incorporated into CROSSWAY in 1971 on the 8th August.

 

At this time, the church received the silver plate linking back to the first Pilgrim Church. Please see the images of this wonderful silver plate that is housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Here it is with the Minister, Elders and church members at Crossway Church in London.