Only surviving English home of a Pilgrim Father to be rescued from neglect

Only surviving English home of a Pilgrim Father to be rescued from neglect

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A dilapidated 16th century Surrey house once owned by Pilgrim Father William Mullins is to undergo urgent repair to prevent its collapse.  The historic house on West Street, Dorking, was built in the mid-1500s and was Mullins’ final home in England before he set sail for America on the Mayflower in 1620.  Despite surviving just 3 months in the New Plymouth colony, he counts 2 US Presidents – John Adams and John Quincy Adams – and Marilyn Monroe among his millions of descendants in the United States.



William Mullins was born in West Street, Dorking, around 1572 and entered the prosperous family business of shoemaking.  He bought the four-gabled house with a mortgage in 1612 and sold it shortly before embarking on the Mayflower in September 1620.  Precisely why he risked his family and wealth on the dangerous voyage to Virginia is a mystery, but he likely sensed an opportunity as a merchant-adventurer; he was not one of the ‘Saints’ – the religious separatists who initiated the voyage –  but one of the ‘Strangers’ who were recruited to fund the crossing.  He took a large quantity of stock with him on the Mayflower and his would have been one of the first businesses in the new colony.  He was also accompanied by his wife Alice, servant Robert Carter, daughter Priscilla, and son Joseph; two of his adult children remained in England.

The departure of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1620
The departure of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1620

Mullins was one of the signatories of the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of the Plymouth Colony which was signed on board the ship just after it landed at Cape Cod in November 1620.  However, by the end of February 1621 he was dead.  Alice, Joseph, and Robert Carter all died shortly after, struck down by the disease, malnutrition and harsh, unfamiliar New England climate which killed half the settlers.

Mullins’ daughter Priscilla was left as the only survivor of the Dorking party.  In 1622 she married John Alden, a cooper from Harwich, Essex, and went on to produce 10 children, from whom an estimated 4 million modern Americans are descended.  Priscilla was immortalised 200 years later in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (himself a descendant of William Mullins) called The Courtship of Miles StandishThe poem has Alden proposing marriage to Priscilla on behalf of his superior, Captain Standish, whereupon she says: “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?

The townsfolk of Dorking are relieved that a major repair programme will now save the Mullins’ former home, which is a place of pilgrimage for American visitors to the UK.  The historic Grade 2 listed building is now split into units and has been occupied by antique shops for the past 15 years, although the first-floor rooms have all been vacant for nearly two years.

Local councillor Caroline Salmon previously tried to buy a couple of the units to live in, but when viewing the property was advised not to go upstairs in case she “fell through the floorboards.”  She said: “I am absolutely thrilled that something is going to be happening because it does impact massively on West Street.  It is one of the most important buildings in the UK.”

Fellow councillor Margaret Cooksey said: “We have all watched in horror as the buildings have deteriorated and it is such a relief to know that something positive is about to happen.”

The front and rear of the property in West Street, Dorking, which belonged to Pilgrim Father William Mullins - images by Richard Slessor and Kevin Shaw
The front and rear of the property in West Street, Dorking, which belonged to Pilgrim Father William Mullins – images by Richard Slessor and Kevin Shaw

Source: The Leatherhead Advertiser

 

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