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US tourists boom ahead as Doncaster looks to cash in on Mayflower links

Richard Young
Richard Young

Better get ready - the Americans could be on their way to Doncaster in large numbers.

Tourism bosses believe we could see a major influx of visitors from across the Atlantic in 2020 when the USA marks the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower.

Austerfield Manor

Austerfield Manor

And Doncaster has been placed on an official national programme which is being rolled out to show the tourists the story of the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed on the ship.

The borough has strong connections with the Mayflower. William Bradford was born in Austerfield and baptised in the St Helena Church in the village. He was brought up in the village's manor house.

He went onto be the second governor of the Pilgrims' colony in America. Another of the high profile Pilgrim Fathers, William Brewster, was from nearby Scrooby in North Nottinghamshire.

Now, Doncaster has been placed among a handful of destinations in a scheme called Mayflower 400. All of the towns and cities in the list can trace a link to the Mayflower, and all of them are working together to look at what can be done to attract the transatlantic visitors.

St Helena's Church' Austerfield

St Helena's Church' Austerfield

Events have already been started to set the tone.

Last year, there was a light parade through Austerfield to coincide with American Thanksgiving, a festival which has its origins with the Pilgrim Fathers, after their first successful harvest.

And there was a meeting of mascots when Doncaster Rovers played football against Plymouth Argyle, designed to cement links between two towns with strong Pilgrim connections.

Richard Young, business development officer for the visitor economy at Doncaster Council, said: "We're trying to create some current interest to share the story with people who have not picked it up previously. It is about the run-up to 2020.

"It is also about our connections as a country with the US. We're looking at working with the travel trade, and bringing in some direct descendants from the US.

"There are 27 million people who can trace their ancestry to the Pilgrim Fathers, and 10.2 million of those are from the USA. The travel trade says 3.2 million Americans want to come to this country to trace their ancestry to the Pilgrim Fathers."

He added Mayflower 400 was working with UK tourism organisations towards putting packages together, with American firms working alongside them.

It is not just Austerfield which has links with the Pilgrims. Hatfield, Braithwell and Stainforth have links too, as does Bawtry. William Brewster went to school in a building where Doncaster Market is now.

Mr Young feels Doncaster has advantages over some areas - because it still had original buildings with links to the Pilgrims from 400 years ago.

Austerfield Manor is still standing, as is St Helena's Church. Scrooby's old Manor house, similiarly, still stands.

But there is also work going on to funnel some of the American visitors towards other Doncaster attraction, with packages to potentially take in venues like the Yorkshire Wildlife Park.

"We would look to take visitors round the country to see the story from beginning to end," said Mr Young. "It will probably start in Plymouth."

"These links are important to people. People have been in tears when the see Austerfield Manor and realise they are standing in front of it, near the church where William Bradford was baptised. They are that moved."

Research

Destination Plymouth commissioned research in the United States on behalf of Mayflower 400, to evaluate the commercial and investment potential of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower for the towns and cities that form the national Mayflower Trail.

Of over 25 million descendants worldwide from the 102 passengers and crew on board the Mayflower ship, over 10 million are US citizens. It is estimated the national Mayflower programme will drive growth in the UK visitor economy of over 1.4 million visitors during the commemoration year with an economic impact in excess of £76 million in turn creating around 2,000 jobs.

Amanda Lumley, executive director of Destination Plymouth said: “The research evidences the significant potential the Mayflower 400th anniversary presents to the UKs visitor economy. We encourage the travel trade in the UK, US and Dutch markets to capitalise on this opportunity in order to generate valuable tourism business through driving visitors to follow in the footsteps of the pilgrims and experience the Mayflower 400 compact partner destinations first hand."

The 11 UK Mayflower 400 partner destinations within the Mayflower 400 programme are: Austerfield, Doncaster; Boston, Lincolnshire; Dartmouth, Devon; Gainsborough, Lincolnshire; Harwich, Essex; Immingham, Lincolnshire; Plymouth, Devon; Scrooby & Babworth, Nottinghamshire; Southwark, London; Southampton, Hampshire; Worcester and Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire.

William Bradford

William Bradford of Austerfield, near Doncaster, became the second elected Governor of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1621. He continued to serve the Colony for almost 30 years, according to Mayflower 400.

He was baptized St Helena's church where the original font can be seen today. Heavily influenced by leading Pilgrim William Brewster, he was an orphan when they first met, but grew into a passionate religious radical, escaping to the Netherlands with the Brewster family at the age of 18.

After travelling to America, Bradford was a signatory of the historic Mayflower Compact, and much of our knowledge about their journey and their early years of the Colony was from his writings in 'Of Plimoth Plantation'.

William Brewster

William Brewster was born in Scrooby and a colony leader

He adopted puritan views in the 1590s and tried to set up a church outside the Church of England. In 1606 he is said to have formed the Separatist Church of Scrooby.

In 1620, he joined the first group of Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower on her famous voyage to North America, eventually landing at Plymouth, Massachusetts, to form the first permanent European settlement in New England. He was the oldest passenger on the voyage, aged about 54.

When the Pilgrims left for North America, Brewster, as the only university-educated member of the colony, thus became its senior Elder, serving as its religious leader and as an advisor to Governor William Bradford. His famous descendants include George W Bush, Chevy Chase, and Bing Crosby,

The Pilgrim Fathers

The Pilgrim Fathers fled the UK on The Mayflower over a conflict with the established church.

They were persecuted because their beliefs did not match those of the Church of England. They wanted a more puritan approach.

After briefly fleeing to the Netherlands, the left Europe to settle in the New World in 1620, setting up a colony on the East Coast of America, which they called Plymouth.