This statue of a man and a boy in Rotherhithe is going to be very heavily photographed for it will be a major site of pilgrimage for Americans in 2020.

This is the site of the embarkation of the Mayflower, which carried puritan pilgrims to the Americas in July 1620, so next year marks the 400th anniversary of that famous voyage.

While the pilgrims are often described as fleeing persecution and seeking religious freedom, their idea of what religious freedom meant was rather different from what most people presume. They wanted less freedom for people, and a more austere life that was even more heavily devoted to God and Church. Away with papist ideas, away with fun, begone with Christmas — the pilgrims wanted nothing to do with that decadent lifestyle, so fled England to a new land where they could be repressed to their hearts content.

Although their final departure from England was Southampton, the voyage started here in Rotherhithe, probably on this very spot, which is now known as Cumberland Wharf.

The artwork is a whimsical representation of the ghost of a pilgrim father, William Bradford, the Governor of the New Plymouth Colony, looking in horror at the comic book being held by the child.

His horror is at how the USA has changed from the puritanical vision that he had when he was alive. The comic, the Sunbeam Weekly used to exist back in the 1930s, hence the name of the sculpture, The Sunbeam Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket.

The pocket is hence also significant, and merits closer inspection.

If you look around, you’ll the pocket contains an Indian totem pole, a lobster claw, which are still harvested from the area, and instead of a Bible, the puritan is carrying an A-Z map of the New World as it would have been in 1620.

The sculpture was installed in 1991 and created by local artist, Peter McLean.

You can expect a lot of events to take place next year to mark the Mayflower’s 400th anniversary.

Incidentally, the local pub, the Mayflower, while it sits on a site that had a pub a the time of the Mayflower’s departure, it only gained its current name in 1957. Which is ironic as the puritans would never have drunk in a pub.

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2 comments on “London’s Public Art: The Sunbeam Weekly and the Pilgrim’s Pocket
  1. Chris Daniels says:

    This dreadful portrayal of the Pilgrims is entirely wrong. The Pilgrims believed in freedom of speech, rights for all and learning for all in a time of oppression by the Monarchy ruling through Church and Parliament. They did not dress in black or lead an ‘austere life’, this was the view put forward by the establishment to ridicule the Puritans – but they were Separatists not Puritans.They had forward thinking views, were modernisers and embraced technology. If it had not been for them we would not have the freedoms we have today, the little boy would not be able to read and the publication would have been banned because printing presses were not allowed under state control. You have got the story entirely wrong.

  2. ChrisH says:

    The Plymouth colony was more tolerant that some. Plymouth just whipped and banished Quakers or you might get away with a fine whereas Massachusetts Bay Colony laws allowed for Quakers to be hung as well.

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