As far as I’m concerned, the Mayflower story begins in Scrooby, England in the very late 1500s and early 1600s. Come with me to explore this little community far off today’s beaten path. According to a Legacies of History article about Scrooby, the village’s population then was between 150 and 200 people. Today it still a small village, with a population of less than 500, located on the River Ryton, near the confluence with the River Idle, in north Nottinghamshire. Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame is not too far away. The nearest town with guest accommodations is Doncaster, about twelve miles further north along the Great North Road (today England A1).
The Great North Road provided a vital communication link between London and Edinburgh when our Pilgrim story began to germinate at the dawn of the seventeenth Century. Messengers carrying important royal and church official messages between the two cities stopped to rest themselves and their horses at the many coach houses or manors along the 400-mile route. They might switch out horses and keep going, or they might spend the night. One of these manors was in Scrooby. The Scrooby Manor was particularly significant because it was the property of the Archbishop of York, 50 miles further north along the Great North Road.
The Old Manor House in Scrooby,
© Courtesy of Bassetlaw Museum
Brewster the Bailiff
Pilgrim Elder William Brewster lived in and managed Scrooby Manor until he and about thirty others decided leave for safer shores in 1608. He spent part of his childhood there when his father became the bailiff and manager of the Manor. Pilgrim Brewster assumed those duties when his father died. He also became intrigued with the new Separatist movement developing in the various villages in the region. The Separatists didn’t think the Reformation had gone far enough. They believed the Established Church of England (Anglican) needed another reformation. They wanted to completely separate and revert back to what they envisioned the earliest church communities must have been like. Authorities in the Established Church took a dim few of this. The head of the that Church was King James. He had absolutely no interest in reforming his church; nor any patience for those who disagreed. A group of clergy appealed to him to allow for a few changes. The monarch not only adamantly refused, he started ordering pastors who dared challenge him removed from their pulpits.
At first Brewster joined these religious rebels in one of the other nearby towns. That is where he and William Bradford, future Governor of the Plymouth settlement, first met. One of the influential Separatist pastors, John Smythe at Gainsborough, decided to take his people away to the Netherlands in the early 1600s.
The Separatists at Scrooby
By then Elder William Brewster was friends with Pastors Richard Clyfton and John Robinson. With Clyfton serving as pastor, Robinson as teacher and Brewster as ruling Elder, those who did not go with John Smythe began meeting secretly at Scrooby Manor. In Elder Brewster’s time the Established Church parish in Scrooby was named St. James. It was located a few yards away from the Manor and part of the diocese managed by the Archbishop of York. The underground congregation dared to meet in the property belonging to one of the most influences Archbishops of the Established Church they were protesting.
York was one the most important small cities in northern England at that time. The Archbishop of York was one of the most powerful figures in the political/religious hierarchy. Though Scrooby and York were separated by some fifty miles, the Manor’s location and important function along the Great North Road between London and Scotland made these Separatists’ decision to relocated to Scrooby 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.
Their situation became life-threatening within a couple of years. Brewster resigned his post. He and his family were homeless and determined to leave the country. But that is a story for another blog.
This photo of St. Wilfrid (formerly St. James) is from https://britishheritage.com/the-making-of-the-pilgrims.