Exploring Rotherhithe and the Mayflower

The Mayflower Pub, Site of the Pilgrim's Launch
Every American school-age child knows about the Mayflower,  and that it transported the Pilgrims to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. But just how many of us know that the Mayflower ship launched right here in London, just a 10 minute bus or tube ride from London Bridge? 

We set out on a sunny day to explore the charming village of Rotherhithe. From our flat near the Tower Bridge, we usually take the bus, but Rotherhithe is also easily accessible from the Jubilee Line, getting off at Bermondsey Station, by the train to Rotherhithe Station, or by the Thames Clipper to Greenlands Dock Pier.

I think of Rotherhithe as a hidden gem. Originally home to shipyards which are no longer, the area has retained its character and has somehow stayed tucked away from the throngs of tourists who visit London. To me, it feels like we have stepped back in time. 

Starting out at Brunel Road, at the circle, we cross the road near the Brunel tunnel to our first stop, St. Olavs Norwegian Church and the Finish Church next door. This area had strong shipping ties to Scandanavia, and many settled in Rotherhithe.

                                                                 St Olav's Norwegian Church, Rotherhithe

Continuing on Albion Street, we  take our first left at Swan Road, which leads us directly to the Brunel Museum. Engineer Insanbard Kingdom Brunel completed the Thames Tunnel from Rotherhithe to Wapping in 1843, as the world's very first underwater foot tunnel (and world's most popular tourist attraction).  The tunnel is now used for the Overground, and is only occasionally open for a walking tour (when the Overground is closed for service), but you can visit the museum for a small fee.

(I know, it seems quite odd that the Overground is underground, but this happens a lot here; many, many times the Underground is overground! )

The fascinating Brunel Museum tells the history of the famed tunnel, and you can visit the Engine Rooms and Grand staircase. The museum is also home to a bookstore, cafe and also hosts indie movies and events. You can even picnic outside at a very unusual table that reminds me of King Arthur.


But my favorite is the Midnight Apothecary, which is situated on the roof of the Brunel Tunnel. My Alaskan sister Helen, who is into making horticultural beverages, told me about this place and it just happened to be open when we went by. 





What's fun about this rooftop bar, is that it is surrounded by the various herbs and plants that The Cocktail Gardener uses to make her very yummy drinks. (Like the Woodland Martini--made of Douglas Fir Infused Vodka and sage).  Plus, Bonus! you can roast marshmallows around the fire pits while you drink! (this bar is continually rated one of London's top Bars, and has even been featured in Vogue magazine!)








After a couple marshmallows and some amazing beverages, we continue to the end of the road, to the Pilgrim's Pocket Statue, with its juxtaposed stories of the Pilgrim's voyage with those of modern day America.




We take in a beautiful view of the River Thames from here-- the Shard to the west, and Canary Wharf to the east.

                                               


Next, we travel back up Rotherhithe Street to the Mayflower Pub, which is the reason I come to Rotherhithe so often! 


 Like I mentioned, the Pilgrims set sail from this very spot, and had their last ale at "The Ship" as the pub on this spot was called then. The Mayflower Pub claims to be the oldest pub on the Thames, and it may well be, by the looks of it. It is a delightful pub, frequented by locals, and if you looking for a wonderful place to relax, you can do no better. We like the outdoor beer garden in summer. But watch out, with a high tide and a wave, you could end up running for cover indoors! 



In the colder months, we like coming for Sunday Roast. WIth its cosy setting and with candles lit, it feels right out of Dickens. In fact, there could be no better place than a Christmas or Thanksgiving Dinner. 





                      

Another interesting thing to see while here is the poster on the wall that shows which of the Pilgrims made it and which didn't make it to the first Thanksgiving in the New World.










After leaving the pub, let's walk across the street and check out the windows of Sands Film Studios. Since the 1970's, Sands Studios has dedicated itself to the making of both period movies and period costumes. The building has its own soundstage, cinema, costume department and set design. You may, if you are lucky, find someone to let you in and look around, but most likely, your window view will be your only peek into this unique company.


Oh, by the way, Rotherhithe has been home to a few famous people over the years.... Michael Caine was born here, the photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones lived here before marrying Princess Margaret, and Alfred Hitchcock filmed his first film in Rotherhithe.




We continue on Rotherhithe Street, until we come to the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin Church. Let's walk through the gate into the cemetery where Mayflower Captain Christopher Jones was buried in 1621, and view the old headstones.





  



While we were exploring the churchyard last summer, our daughter, Hailey came upon what we now know is found-art. It's kind of like geo-caching. Around the world, artists leave their work, and when someone finds a piece, they go online and note where they found it. This is the piece Hailey found:







Onward, Let's cross the street and take a look up at the beautiful statues gracing the old St. Mary of Rotherhithe School.

 



Then venture into the charming Watchhouse Cafe for a coffee or snack. You can eat in the park, on one of the benches. Sitting with the locals, you will really get a taste of a time gone by. 












Rotherhithe has many hidden gems, but I particularly like stopping at the community garden at various times of the year, and seeing what is growing! Sometimes it seems so overgrown it's inaccessible, sometimes there are scarecrows guarding the garden. Or cats:)







But now we are back in the residential area, and we head back out to the main road and take a right.  This is where I generally get back on the bus and head home, but I've just discovered the Kings Stairs Park, which I have never explored before!





Apparently the community has been in uproar over a proposed sewer, and has come up with the slogan, " Nature Preserve, not Sewer Reserve". British humor, gotta love it. 




With that, our day in charming days-gone-by Rotherhithe comes to an end. 
Now back into the 21st century chaos!





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