Sherwood Oak planted to commemorate Nottinghamshire’s Pilgrims at Babworth church

Recent news from our friends at Sherwood Forest Trust announcing a commemorative tree planting at Babworth church – 17th March 2021:

400 years ago, the Mayflower Pilgrims left England and set out for America.

A number of the most influential and important Pilgrims came from North Nottinghamshire and to mark its seminal place in the Mayflower story, the Sherwood Forest Trust has planted a commemorative oak at Babworth Church  –  where William Brewster and Reverend Richard Clifton delivered their sermons.

Guests at the Mayflower 400 commemorative oak tree planting at Babworth church

Dr Patrick Candler of the Sherwood Forest Trust explains: “We wanted to commemorate the role of Nottinghamshire in the Mayflower story and what better way than to use the most noted of our county’s natural resources. The oak is the  most emblematic English tree, famed for its beauty, strength and longevity.  And the Pilgrim story shows how from ‘little acorns’ as they say, great things can grow. 

The Trust is very grateful for the kind permission of the Church and local landowner, Sir Jack Whitaker, to plant this specimen oak, which was provided by Green Mile Trees of Babworth.

Peter Swinscoe, Babworth Church Warden said:” Babworth Church has an important part to play in the development of the thinking of the Pilgrims who were preached to by the Reverend Richard Clifton in the years before the sailing of the Mayflower in 1620. This superb tree will still be growing in our churchyard one hundred years from now!”

Peter Swinscoe and Patrick Candler planting the commemorative oak tree near All Saints’ Church, Babworth

The ceremony included a selection of Brewster’s sermons read by actor Charles Cromwell and the oak tree was blessed by the Reverend Richard Hanford.

The Trust appreciates the financial support given by Bassetlaw District Council and Nottinghamshire County Council to enable them to organise this project.

Oaks are a special tree in Nottinghamshire. Sherwood Forest and its mighty landmark, the 1200 year old ‘Major Oak’, have fascinated tourists since American writer Washington Irving hymned its glories in the 1830s.

It is well known that Plymouth, in south west England, was the embarkation point for the Mayflower – the merchant ship that in September 1620 set off with its 102 passengers to sail halfway across the known world. 

Less well known is that the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims actually began some 300 miles north in the counties of Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire and, especially Nottinghamshire. This is why we call this ‘Pilgrim Roots’ country.

A community history project in North Notts today, ‘Pilgrim Roots explores the Midlands’ origins of the Mayflower story, and the places and communities affected by it – from the attractive market town of Retford, which today hosts the Pilgrims Gallery museum, to the ‘People of the First Light’ – the native American Wampanoag people encountered by the Pilgrims, some 5000 of whom still reside in New England.

For further details on the Mayflower 400 Legacy Oaks Planting project, please contact Sherwood Forest Trust.

Sir Jack Whittaker planting the commemorative oak tree at Babworth church

Illuminate “One small candle” Thanksgiving success

People from across Bassetlaw (North Nottinghamshire), Lincolnshire, South Yorkshire and beyond took part in the ‘One Small Candle’ event on Thanksgiving evening last week (Thursday 26th November). Many of them photographed their lanterns and shared them with the Pilgrim Roots project and on social media using the hashtag #OneSmallCandle. There were even photographs from Edinburgh, North Wales and Plymouth.

#OneSmallCandle beneath the William Bradford window at St Helena’s Church, Austerfield

Although Thanksgiving is an event celebrated mainly in the United States, organisers of this year’s Pilgrims Festival suggested that people in the UK might use it as an opportunity to give thanks for something in their own lives, whatever that might be.

The Pilgrim Roots areas of Bassetlaw, West Lindsey, Boston and Doncaster are central to the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims. This year, which commemorates the 400th anniversary of the arrival in North America of the Mayflower Pilgrims, was meant to include many parades and events as the ‘grand finale’ following six years of events building up to it. This was not to be.

An Illuminate lantern jar by Stephanie Baines

However, not to be deterred, the teams at Bassetlaw District Council’s Pilgrims Gallery in Retford, and at West Lindsey District Council, assisted by Bassetlaw Christian Heritage, took the Illuminate ‘one small candle’ events out to people through a combination of locally distributed publications and online.

Bassetlaw Christian Heritage also worked with Bassetlaw District Council’s Pilgrims Gallery on putting together the Online Babworth Arts Festival. Prevented by COVID-19 from holding the usual annual exhibition at Babworth Church, it went online and features paintings, photographs, videos, audio, music, and poetry. This proved so popular that the event has been extended through to Christmas 2020.

Pilgrims Gallery Heritage Engagement Officer, Isabelle Richards, said: “It has been great to work together to reach out to people in this 400th anniversary year of the Mayflower Pilgrims. The ‘One Small Candle’ project has gone really well, as has the Online Arts Festival, and has enabled us to connect with one another positively while we are not able to join together in the usual way.”

A lantern outside St Swithun’s Church, Retford

The Illuminate “One Small Candle” activity in Bassetlaw, North Nottinghamshire has been organised by Bassetlaw District Council Pilgrims Gallery at Bassetlaw Museum, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by Bassetlaw Christian Heritage.

Pilgrim Roots is a regional partnership including Bassetlaw District Council, West Lindsey District Council, Bassetlaw Christian Heritage and other organisations in the Lincolnshire, Bassetlaw and South Yorkshire area.

Thanksgiving: 26th November 2020 – Illuminate – “One small candle”

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower Pilgrims in North America. For this year’s Pilgrims Festival, we are inviting people to safely display battery-powered lights in their windows on the evening of 26th November (Thanksgiving), photograph them, and share them on social media with the hashtag #OneSmallCandle, or send by email to

Make your own lantern (Image credit: Electric Egg)

The ‘One Small Candle’ initiative has been inspired by a quote from William Bradford, a Mayflower Pilgrim from Austerfield, who was a long-term friend of local Separatists, William Brewster from Scrooby, Richard Clifton from Babworth, and John Robinson from Sturton-le-Steeple. He became the longest serving Governor of Plymouth Colony, and wrote: ‘As one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many.’

Templates for creating lanterns at home have been circulated in the November editions of Retford, Worksop and Gainsborough Life magazines and are available here.

Heritage Engagement Officer for the Pilgrim Roots Heritage Project Isabelle Richards said: ‘I am delighted that we are working together to ensure the momentum of previous Illuminate events is not lost in this 400th anniversary year. The One Small Candle project is a great opportunity for people to share hope and solidarity safely, and personally give thanks for whatever reason, while we are not able to join together in the usual way.’

To Take Part:

Simply shine a light or place a battery operated candle in your window on the evening of 26th November.

Or, if you are feeling creative, craft your own lantern safely using the templates in the Life Magazines or here.

Spread the light further by using #OneSmallCandle to share a photo of your window/lantern with us on social media on Twitter or Facebook!

Babworth Arts Festival opens online!

The annual Pilgrim inspired art event at Babworth Church near Retford is brought to you online for 2020.

Babworth Church Warden Peter Swinscoe at the 2017 arts festival

This popular event usually takes place in All Saints’ Church, showcasing pilgrim inspired art by local people. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, the exhibition is being hosted on the Pilgrim Roots website, where it can be enjoyed from the safety of your own home.

There’s a fantastic collection of entries related to our local Pilgrims’ stories and their wider context. Entries feature the Pilgrim Churches, the Pilgrims themselves, and include photography, paintings, illustrations, and embroidery.

Scroll through the exhibition and perhaps listen to a talk as well.

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Pilgrims’ arrival in North America and the exhibition can be viewed until Saturday 28th November 2020. If the number of visits is high enough, it may be extended – so why not visit today?

All work on display in the exhibition was inspired, in some way, by the Separatist and Mayflower Pilgrims stories. There is a range of paintings, music and other art forms many of which have not been displayed before – certainly not in this format.

The Pilgrim Embroideries are included, as is a link to a video of Jenny King, the lead embroiderer, explaining about their work. Thanks to everyone who contributed a stitch over the years and to those who bought cards or who donated to the framing.

There are videos about the role of Babworth church from “Where it all Began”; on the Carlton Prophetess by local historian and author Adrian Gray; a music performance from the Doncaster Waites; and from international musician, Leah Stuttard, singing an early 17th century hymn, followed by a 13th century harp instrumental.

This exhibition has been kindly hosted by Babworth Church for the past four years, and has been an important part of the Pilgrims Festival which has commemorated the Mayflower Pilgrim Families’ journey to North America in 1620. Anyone wishing to support Babworth Church can get in touch via the Pilgrim Roots website ‘Get in Touch’ form at the end of the Art exhibition.

Bassetlaw Christian Heritage (BCH) is delighted to have received support from Bassetlaw District Council which, in turn has been supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Pilgrim Roots. Extra special thanks to the team at the Pilgrims Gallery at Bassetlaw Museum for their hard work and inspiration and to all of the local artists for their brilliant work.

To find out more about the story, please take a look around our website, or Pilgrim Roots for the Pilgrims Gallery in Bassetlaw Museum, Retford, the Mayflower Pilgrims Visitor Centre at The Hub in Churchgate, Retford, and the Mayflower Room at the United Reformed Church in Gainsborough (Government restrictions allowing – please check before travelling).

New films about the Pilgrim Churches

A series of short films have been made by the Pilgrim Roots Heritage Project, exploring stories of where the Mayflower Pilgrims’ story began. Separatism and non-conformity are the backdrop for the Mayflower journey, connecting the people and places of South Yorkshire, North Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. 

Where it all began… Discover the stories from Babworth Church, where Richard Clifton preached religious rebellion at the end of the 16th century.
Where it all began… St Swithun’s Church, Retford is linked to the Separatists, many of whom went on to board the Mayflower in 1620.
Discover where it all began at Worksop Priory, a victim of the English Reformation and home of non-conformists.
St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Sturton-le-Steeple, was the home of John Robinson – Pastor to the Pilgrims! Discover more about the influential people from this quiet Nottinghamshire village.
The United Reformed Church’s John Robinson Memorial Church, Gainsborough, stands as a testament to the town’s links to key non-conformists of the 17th century. Discover stories that connect the town to America and tales of adventure and escape.
Join us in St Wilfrid’s, Scrooby, home church of William Brewster and his family in the 17th century. How did this peaceful village become famous for non-conformity and adventure?

Make your own ‘One Small Candle’ lantern for Illuminate 2020 online

Instead of the usual parades for Illuminate this year, we’re doing things a bit differently so you can still take part from home.

This November, Bassetlaw’s annual Illuminate events commemorating local links to the Mayflower Pilgrims’ story will be a bit different, like so many other things that have changed recently. For the past few years, fantastic parades of lanterns have taken place in Retford and Worksop, but that’s sadly not going to be possible this year. Instead, we’re inviting you to get creative at home using our specially designed toolkit full of templates, ideas and inspiration for making your own lantern.

Display your lit lantern in a window at home on the evening of Thursday 26th November (the date of Thanksgiving), and share a photo on social media tagging in #OneSmallCandle to be part of the commemorations and to join others across our region connected by the shared Pilgrims’ heritage.

Bassetlaw Christian Heritage is joining with Pilgrim Roots partners in North Nottinghamshire, Gainsborough and Boston to mark the commemoration on the same evening, by asking people to light up their communities with lanterns displayed in windows to give thanks in our own special way for the things that are important to us – what will you give thanks for?

The 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage from England to America, which took some of the Pilgrims from our region on a historic journey, was in September. North Nottinghamshire is part of the national Mayflower 400 programme, connecting places across the UK linked to the story, and the regional Pilgrim Roots partnership of places where many Pilgrims came from.

Residents in North Nottinghamshire living in areas where Retford Life, Worksop Life and Gainsborough Life magazines are distributed will receive free templates and instructions for how to make your own lantern at home. You can also download a toolkit and find more inspiration below.

BCH are grateful for the support of Bassetlaw District Council and the National Lottery Heritage Funded ‘Pilgrim Roots Heritage Project’ for this year’s online event.

The annual commemoration is inspired by a quote from Pilgrim leader William Bradford, who wrote:

“as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many”

William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation

How to take part:

1. Make your lantern! 

Take a look at some of our inspiring lantern creations, made using things you have at home below. You can download instructions and a toolkit here:

Follow the instructions to decorate a clear jar or container, pop in an LED tealight and put it in a window. Check out all of our templates and instruction leaflets using the link above.

Need some inspiration? Check out our ‘how to’ video below:

2. Send us a photo! 

We’d love to see your creations – post a video or photo of your lantern on social media on 26th November. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

3. Be part of something bigger!

Include the hashtag #OneSmallCandle with your post – and see what others have made too! How many lanterns will we be able to count on the night – 102 (the number of Mayflower passengers)? 400 (the anniversary)? 1,620 (the voyage date)? Or even… 2,020?!

Pilgrims Festival 2020: Online Babworth Arts Exhibition, 21-28 November

Our vision is to successfully deliver an exhibition of arts and craft works and performances inspired by the Separatists/Mayflower Pilgrims stories in Bassetlaw, North Nottinghamshire, as part of the Pilgrims Festival activities in November each year.

In 2016, the first event took place at Babworth Church and there has been an event each year since, with increasing numbers of exhibits from a wider range of artists and larger numbers of visitors.

In 2020, Covid 19 has set us significant challenges. However, technology comes to the rescue – this year we are asking artists to record their work and give some background information to it. The exhibit may be the photograph of the work and/or the work within an environment – artist’s choice!

There is no selection process or fee to enter. Artists may offer their work for sale or not as they wish – if they are selling, they will need their own means of doing so. No commission will be charged for work sold. There are no age limits.

All work should be inspired by the Separatist/Mayflower Pilgrims Stories – this does not mean they have to be pictures of Mayflower ships – they should be inspired by the stories, however they are interpreted. After the time of the exhibition, images and recordings may be retained for ongoing reference and communications.

Any medium may be used with due regard to its suitability in the environments and locations exhibiting the work and the health and safety of the public. The organiser reserves the right to take down any unsuitable materials.

Work should be sent to by Friday 13th November; with each piece should be the artist’s name and contact details, a title/short description (200 words max.) of how the work relates to the Separatist/Mayflower Pilgrims stories, the medium used, and a price (if offered for sale). All work supplied (photographs, films etc) will become the property of the organiser and will be used entirely at the organiser’s discretion for publicity and communications purposes in line with the theme of the exhibition. The organiser of this virtual event is Bassetlaw Christian Heritage CIC.

Programmes will be created from the information supplied and these will be made available.

In 2020, we are inviting talks and performance recordings with some relevance to the story of the Separatists, however connected, and these may be included in the exhibition.

North Nottinghamshire’s Pilgrim Embroideries & a new book

Five new Pilgrim-themed Embroideries have been produced for the Mayflower 400 commemorations featuring churches associated with the Pilgrim story in North Nottinghamshire.

The Pilgrim Embroiderers at work

The five embroideries depict the local village people near each of the main Pilgrim churches, with hand-stitched text about their inspirational preachers. The featured churches are All Saints at Babworth, St Helena’s in Austerfield, St Wilfrid’s in Scrooby, St Swithun’s in East Retford and St Peter & St Paul’s in Sturton le Steeple – these can all be found along the Pilgrims Trail.

Babworth Church Pilgrim embroidery

The embroideries were created by a local group of talented embroiderers, who met most Friday mornings to stitch for two years, in a small but very supportive group. They also took their work out to local community functions to raise awareness of the heritage of the area and encourage participation by asking people to add a stitch.

Pilgrim Embroiderers at Misterton Show

The works have been embroidered on specially woven fabric using woollen threads. They have been carefully framed in oak for protection, as they will eventually be donated to the respective churches along with a map of the trail and the locations of the other embroideries. 

Prior to this they can be viewed at Bassetlaw Museum in their exhibition called ‘Where It Began’ from Saturday 17 October 2020 – Saturday 9 January 2021 (when open – please check opening times given changes in opening hours due to lockdown and/or local restrictions).

Rick Brand (BCH Chair), Cllr Hellen Richards and the Pilgrim Embroiderers at Babworth Church

Jenny King, one of the Pilgrim Embroiderers, has written a book charting the making of the Pilgrim Embroideries to commemorate the Mayflower 400 anniversary.

The book explains the processes undertaken and the embroidery stitches used, and it especially highlights the development of community involvement and friendships made during the two years of construction from idea to completion. It can be ordered via the publisher Bookworm of Retford.

Order Jenny King’s Pilgrim Embroideries book from Bookworm of Retford

Retford’s fifth annual Freedom & Tolerance Forum – a great success

On Saturday 7th March 2020, at The Well in Retford, Bassetlaw Christian Heritage (BCH) presented a group of nationally-recognised speakers to an audience from in and around Bassetlaw, including Bassetlaw MP Brendan Clarke-Smith, and Bassetlaw District Council Chairman, Debbie Merryweather.

Freedom and Tolerance is as important today as it was 400 years ago when local Separatist, Thomas Helwys, first advocated tolerance between people of all faiths and those of none. In the anniversary year of the Mayflower Pilgrims, our heritage can still teach us much about journeys, rebellion, and the freedoms we take for granted.

Brendan Clarke-Smith MP, Cllr Helen Richards, Cllr Debbie Merryweather (Chairman of Bassetlaw District Council), Lord Beith, Rev’d Dr Stuart Jennings, Adrian Gray, John Pontifex

Bassetlaw MP, Brendan Clarke-Smith, opened the event giving thanks to the organisers and expressing a personal interest in the subjects being discussed.

Lord Beith spoke about Methodist heritage and its significance today. He referred to the heritage of one of the three elements that make up the Methodist church, the United Methodists, who were the most independent-minded and authority-challenging of Methodists, relating this to the significance of religious freedom and toleration.

Rev’d Dr Stuart Jennings who is a specialist in Nottinghamshire history at Warwick University and is an academic advisor to the National Civil War centre at Newark, spoke about faith and fighting in Nottinghamshire during the Civil War. Stuart explained the role of political, religious and human geography in the positioning of Nottinghamshire during the civil war and particularly the contribution of the Thornaugh family from Retford.

John Pontifex, who is Head of Press & Information for Aid to the Church in Need (UK), asked whether religious freedom has become an orphaned right. He gave moving, individual descriptions of the suffering of persecuted communities around the world today. John has travelled widely in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, investigated human rights violations relating to Christians and other faith minorities, and has interviewed survivors.

Local author and historian, Adrian Gray, was interviewed by Retford-based publisher, Angela Meads, of Bookworm. Adrian launched his new book, Restless Souls, Pilgrim Roots, an epic history of the people of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, showing how their peoples interconnected and spread ideas from the early 7th Century until 1660. Adrian went on to give an engaging and informative talk on an unfolding story of intriguing characters during periods of spiritual change, rebellion and death, emphasising the significant impact that local people have made.

Local author Adrian Gray launches new book: ‘Restless Souls, Pilgrim Roots’ at the Freedom & Tolerance Forum

A Thousand Years of Faith, Hope and Rebellion

Date: Saturday 7th March 2020 – 10am-1pm

Venue: The Well, Hospital Road, Retford, DN22 7BD – free event, all welcome

An epic history of the people who laid the foundations of the Christian faith in a Viking-ravaged land, then rebelled against what they saw as corruption of their Faith and Church. Adrian Gray’s latest book covers the two counties of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire showing how their peoples interconnected and spread ideas.

Running from the early 7th Century until 1660, Adrian Gray places great and intriguing figures in the context of their times and in an unfolding story of spiritual change, rebellion and sometimes death. Figures such as Saint Hugh of Lincoln, Thomas Cranmer, the architect of the Church of England, George Fox from Mansfield who formed the Quakers, the Mayflower Pilgrims and the first leaders of the Baptist Church are included. A range of characters stretching from Guthlac, whose supernatural experiences in the Fens became the first English biography, to Elizabeth Hooton, the Nottinghamshire Quaker who travelled the world and escaped death many times are also there.

The story also has its fair share of ‘villains’ including corrupt and venal bishops, despotic leaders who sent those who disagreed with them to the stake or the gallows, on both sides of the Atlantic, and one of Elizabethan England’s most sinister torturers.

ADRIAN GRAY has an MA in History from Cambridge University and is the author of over twenty books. He is well-known as the historical adviser to Pilgrims & Prophets Christian Heritage Tours and Bassetlaw Christian Heritage, which promote interest in the Christian heritage of the two counties of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.

Author Adrian Gray

Freedom and Tolerance is as important today as it was 400 years ago – in the anniversary year of the Mayflower Pilgrims, see what history can teach us about journeys, rebellion, and things we take for granted.

Speakers at the Freedom and Tolerance Forum this year include:

  • Lord Beith – Member of the House of Lords Constitution Committee and the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the size of the House. MP for Berwick upon Tweed, 1973-2015. Subject: Methodist Heritage and its significance today
  • Professor Elizabeth Tingle – Professor of Early Modern European History at De Montfort University, Leicester. She taught at the Universities of Plymouth and Northampton. Subject: Irish Catholic Refugees in Europe in the early 1600s
  • Rev’d Dr Stuart Jennings – Specialist in Nottinghamshire history, Warwick University. Subject: Faith and Fighting in Nottinghamshire during the Civil War
  • Mr John Pontifex – Head of Press & Information for Aid to the Church in Need (UK). Subject: Has Religious Freedom become an Orphaned Right?

This will be the fifth annual Tolerance Forum to be held in Retford. It provides a unique opportunity for the subject to be discussed in an open forum.