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Clink Museum Outside the Clink Museum in London

The Mayflower’s Medieval Prison Past

Ray Rankin of the Clink Museum explains how London’s notorious ‘Clink’ prison holds the key to some fascinating Mayflower history

Published on June 18, 2020

The Clink Prison played an important part in the Mayflower story - The Clink was England's first prison, and that gave its name to all others.

In commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing, we have added a new display to our museum, telling the remarkable – and hitherto largely untold – story of The Clink's part in the Pilgrim Fathers' history.

In 1586 a group of 'Separatists' – Protestant Christians that wanted to worship outside of the Church of England - were sent to The Clink, the historic prison that operated from 1144 to 1780, for refusing to obey the religious laws of Elizabeth I. Their leaders, John Greenwood, a clergyman, and Henry Barrowe, a lawyer, founded a prison church – so it was within The Clink Prison that the first Separatist English church began, starting a tradition of religious dissent within Southwark and Bankside. When, in 1592, Greenwood and Barrowe gained a temporary reprieve, they began meeting in a house on Deadman's Place in The Borough, founding the Southwark Independent Church.

Greenwood and Barrowe were both executed on 6th of April 1593 in Northampton. William Penry, another leading Southwark Separatist, was hanged next to the Old Kent Road on 29th of May 1593. Francis Johnson, another Separatist who had been held in The Clink, could see that there was no home for Separatism in England, so he looked for a new one; first in Canada, then in Holland, where the law was tolerant of differing beliefs.

But Holland turned out to be too liberal for the strict Puritans and, after twelve years, they decided to sail to America – a land with no sinful temptations – but the voyage would be long, dangerous - and expensive. Money was raised by arrangement with London merchants, who wanted seven years' worth of American produce in return. In July 1620, the ship Mayflower sailed from her home port of Rotherhithe, captained by Christopher Jones. The 65 passengers were venture capitalists that had helped finance the voyage, and Separatists from the Southwark Independent Church. One passenger was William Mullins of Dorking, the only passenger to have served prison time in The Clink. He travelled to America with his family.

But The Clink's part of the story continues after the Mayflower voyage!

Another Separatist emigrant was John Lothropp, the Yorkshireman who served as the pastor of the Independent Church in Southwark – he and many of the congregation, were sent to The Clink. While Lothropp was imprisoned, his wife Hannah became ill and died. After a year, it was agreed that they all might leave England for the New World on a ship named The Griffin.

Lothropp reached America in September 1634, and married Anna Hammond; they established themselves in Barnstable, Massachusetts, and the meeting house they built remains the oldest building in the town. But Lothropp's contribution to American history is rather greater than that, for his descendants are legion, including six US Presidents – Millard Fillmore, James A Garfield, Ulysses S Grant, Franklin D Roosevelt and both Bushes – and, among many others, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the actor Clint Eastwood, and that lawman and gunfighter of the old west, William B 'Wild Bill' Hickok.

Today there remains a Museum on the site - visit our website at www.clink.co.uk.

The Clink Museum is running a CrowdFunding scheme to help keep the family-run historic site open - for details, go to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/savetheclink

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