Mayflower Ship in the Harbour

Painting: Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall (1882)

Plymouth Illuminate Event: 20th November from 6pm

Thousands of people are expected to gather on the Hoe for a special ‘Illuminate’ event on 20 November to mark the start of the official countdown to the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing.

The Pilgrim Fathers set sail from Plymouth to America on the Mayflower, a three-masted ship, on the 16 September 1620, and arrived 66 days later in Cape Cod on the US East Coast on 21 November 1620 before finally landing in the colony of Plimoth in the state of Massachusetts on 21 December 1620. It is estimated that over 16 million Americans today are directly descended from those on the ship.

To commemorate the “special relationship” of the two cities, and their wider UK, Dutch and US connections, the formal countdown to the 400th anniversary, the Illuminate event will be held in Plymouth, England on 20 November and Plymouth, Massachusetts on 21 November.

Dignitaries from the Mayflower linked communities in the UK, Leiden in Holland and the US have been invited to a small civic service to be held at the Mayflower Steps from 6pm. The service will be led by the Lord Mayor with performances from the Plymouth International Choir, which is partnered with a choir in the US.

During the service one candle will be lit followed by a further 1,000 candles to be lit on The Hoe to illustrate the quote by Governor William Bradford in his book Of Plimoth Plantation which states, “As one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled has shown unto many,”. The aim of the event is to ‘share the light’ and inspire a sense of unity between the two Plymouth’s as well as those at the event.

Leader of Plymouth City Council, Councillor Tudor Evans said: “Illuminate marks the first official event to start the countdown to Mayflower 2020, the 400th anniversary of the historic sailing. This is a significant part of our history and this is an exciting moment for our community to come together, not only unite with our sister-city in the US but to celebrate Plymouth’s part in the voyage.”

Following the service at the Mayflower Steps the delegation will join the Step Up for Respect Parade, organised by the Plymouth and Devon Racial Equality Council and sponsored by Citybus, as they walk to The Hoe with an illuminated procession where the additional candles will be lit.

The parade, containing over 400 people, some holding giant illuminated props including a Mayflower Ship, will walk along Madeira Road, turning into Hoe Road and onto the Hoe promenade.

Richard Stevens, Managing Director of Plymouth Citybus, said; “Plymouth Citybus are delighted to be sponsoring the Illuminate Parade working in association with the Race Equality Council; I am confident that we will deliver an experience that Plymouth can be proud of, setting the scene for the Mayflower 400 celebrations in 2020”.

The celebration will continue on the Hoe with performances by the volunteer Military Band and entertainment coordinated by Plymouth Dance and Plymouth Music Zone.

Visitors will be asked to light their candles and take part in a group formation, which from the air will create the number ‘400’.

The evening will end with a bang with a single fire from the Devonport Cannon, announcing the official countdown to 2020.

Illuminate is one of many Ocean City Light events taking place in Plymouth during November.

Ocean City Light events

  • Saturday 1 November, Light 100, Union Street
  • Wednesday 5 November, Bonfire Night, The Hoe
  • Thursday 13 November, Christmas Lights Switch On, City Centre
  • Thursday 20 November, Illuminate (Mayflower 400), The Barbican and Hoe
  • Thursday 27 November, Thanksgiving and Christmas light switch-on, The Barbican and Sutton Harbour
  • Friday 28 and Saturday 29 November, Light Fantastic (Three Towns 100), Devonport, Stonehouse, The Hoe and City Centre.

Source: Plymouth City Council