Leaving England

The people we’ve come to know as Pilgrims always considered themselves English subjects. They did not want to leave their heritage and country, but as the tumultuous events of the late 16th and early 17th centuries unfolded, leaving became increasingly necessary to protect their lives. The Mayflower story begins in the tiny village of Scrooby, in northern England. It was a small community then and remains a little village today.

According to a Legacies of History article, the village’s population when the Pilgrims were leaving England was between 150 to 200 people. Today it has a population of less than 500. It is located on the River Ryton, near the confluence with the River Idle, in north Nottinghamshire. Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame is not far away. The nearest town with guest accommodations is Doncaster, about twelve miles further north along the Great North Road (today England A1).

Scrooby: Small but Significant

St. James (St. Wilfrid) – Scrooby, England

St. James (later renamed St. Wilfrid) was a congregation of the Established Church of England, formed by King Henry VIII, when the Pope denied him a divorce from his first wife. The church was in the diocese of the Archbishop of York, located a mere 50 miles or so to the north of Scrooby.


Today Scrooby Manor is a private home.

Scrooby Manor was a huge estate during Pilgrim days and also the property of the Archbishop of York. The Old North Road connected London to the south with Edinburgh to the north. Official church and royal messengers frequently traveled the route with important news and documents. Scrooby is about halfway between the two cities, making the Manor a popular rest stop.

Pilgrim Elder William Brewster and his family lived in and managed Scrooby Manor. William spent part of his childhood there when his father became the bailiff and manager of the Manor. Pilgrim Brewster assumed those duties when he returned to Scrooby from his studies at Cambridge University and his father died.

Brewster and All Saints in Babworth

Young Brewster was enthralled with the Separatist ideas discussed at Cambridge University during his brief studies there. Some of his classmates became significant leaders in the English non-conformist movement at the turn of the 17th century. Two groups of non-conformists evolved. Puritans fought to further purify the church from Roman Catholic theology and traditions. Separatists wanted to leave the Established Church to practice their faith more in line with the earliest Christian communities.

Non-conformist clergy served several Scrooby area congregations. Brewster preferred to worship at All Saints, where Separatist sympathizer Pastor Richard Clyfton preached sermons that appealed to him. Starting around 1600, Brewster walked across the lane in Scrooby from the Manor to St. James and kept walking to hear Pastor Clyfton preach seven miles away in Babworth.

All Saints is still a worshipping congregation today. In the early 1900s, their Rector, Frank Wilberforce, encouraged them to claim and celebrate the congregation’s role in the Pilgrim story. Frank Wilberforce’s great grandfather was William Wilberforce, who led the English movement to abolish slavery.

Conform or Leave

Life for non-conformists was relatively calm until Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, and King James became monarch of England in addition to being King of Scotland. The new position included serving as head of the Established Church. He and his bishops took a dim view of both the Puritans and Separatists. The king had absolutely no interest in further reforming the Established Church. In 1604 over a thousand clergy appealed to his majesty to permit a few changes. He refused and instead ordered that any clergy who defied him should be removed from their pulpits. Richard Clyfton was one of those pastors.

All Saints is where Brewster met William Bradford, the future Governor of the Plymouth settlement. At the time, Bradford was a young man, only a few years older than William’s son Jonathan. Tensions mounted year by year as the 16th century wound down. Messengers regularly brought news to Scrooby Manor about non-conformists arrested, tortured, and executed. Some of them were friends William knew from his days at Cambridge. Separatist pastors began to lead their people to emigrate to the more tolerant Lowlands (The Netherlands).

The Separatists at Scrooby

Archbishop of York – Edwin Sandy’s

Elder William Brewster befriended Pastors Richard Clyfton and John Robinson. When Pastor Clyfton lost his position in Babworth for defying the king’s edicts, William invited the All Saints congregation to worship at the Manor. Soon a new, underground congregation formed with Clyfton as pastor, Robinson as teacher, and Brewster as the ruling Elder.

St. James, a few yards away from the Manor, remained part of the Established Church. The underground congregation met in the property owned by the Archbishop of York, one of the most influential men in England. They held secret services only a few yards from a congregation in his diocese. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? It turns out, quite a bit.

Their decision to form an underground congregation at the Manor was as dangerous as it was daring. Scrooby Manor occasionally provided rest to monarchs, bishops, and other high-ranking authorities who would readily arrest, and likely execute, anyone caught at the Scrooby underground worship services.

Leaving England

By 1607 their situation was life-threatening. Reports of heretics caught and executed became more frequent. It was time to prepare to leave England. Brewster resigned his post as bailiff at the manor, making him and his family homeless. About fifty  Separatists, led by Pastors Clyfton and Robinson, and Elder Brewster, made the arrangements to leave. Betrayed in their first attempt to leave, they returned to Scrooby, where they were dependent on the charity of sympathetic friends and neighbors.  They successfully left their beloved homeland in 1608 to live in exile in the Lowlands.

In honor of the second anniversary of the release of Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures, the October blogs focus on various parts of the Pilgrims’ progress from leaving England to eventually settling in the new-to-them new world. Thank you for taking the time to read about some of the history behind the Mayflower voyage. Did you get this from a friend? Sign up for your own free subscription at HowWiseThen.

Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures covers the Pilgrim’s escape from England and their interactions with the Pokanoket people. Available wherever books are sold in paperback, eBook, and audio.
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Autographed copies are available from my website or BlueWillowBookShop.com/book/

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