Journey to the River by Ngaire Bushell

Trying to imagine a ship, called the Mayflower, setting sail from the Rotherhithe shore of the River Thames was made a little easier at our first workshop; for as a description was read of sails being raised and anchor ropes being pulled in, we were actually stood on the Rotherhithe bank of that mighty river, very close to the actual place where that ship had departed for a ‘new world’ almost 400 years ago.

Although there was no longer any obvious evidence of the days when huge wooden cargo ships moored here to load men and supplies for long, dangerous voyages, the river remains a busy place. As we tried to imagine a group of deeply religious people who had gathered together in 1620 to make that voyage, we passed by many 2018 people who had stopped to gaze down that same river captivated by the sunset and we soon saw why, for it was beautifully spellbinding. For on the hottest day of the year so far the sun was huge and burning a vibrant orange, turning the sky scarlet as it set behind Tower Bridge.

Instead of a great wooden ship with masts and sails teeming with a skilled crew busily preparing their ship to sail, I noticed this evening’s river ‘traffic’ was a speed boat zipping along- so fast that it caused the water to start breaking against the shore below us – and if you closed your eyes it was possible to focus on sounds that could connect back across those many centuries and make 1620 seem a little closer after all.

It was a brief illusion because throughout the rest of the evening we learnt that those people were actually very different from us and that we needed to think more deeply about those differences to understand that the past is a very different country indeed; particularly in what was considered appropriate clothing! We were shown clothes from an era when the more ridiculously huge your trousers the better- so big in fact that they had to be laced into the bottom of your jacket with ribbons because otherwise they would fall down! And if that wasn’t impractical enough that jacket was then done up with over 30 buttons! Of course poorer people had no such luxury of button extravagance – or of the time spent fastening them all. But all the people in this 17th century world would have lived in a very religious time and, beliefs were very strongly held, so strongly that we were told of Separatists who fell out with other Separatists for not being ‘separate enough’ from the official religion of Britain at that time.

Finishing our evening learning from each other about a significant journey each of the group had once taken, was a great way to finish. It reminded me that there are differences amongst all our own lives and experiences, different generations telling of experiencing America for the first time in the 60s, a person moving to Britain immediately seeing differences in landscape from an airplane window, and the different way a child experiences an early morning start to a car journey to the parent who has to do the driving. It was a great way to help us start to connect with the journey of the people who sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 and that we need to sensitively explore those people as individuals in a time different to our own.

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