Suffolk tourism targets US anniversary

SUFFOLK is planning to cash in on America's 400th anniversary celebrations next year by launching a tourist trail dedicated to its “founding grandfather”.

SUFFOLK is planning to cash in on America's 400th anniversary celebrations next year by launching a tourist trail dedicated to its “founding grandfather”.

Suffolk's Captain Bartholomew Gosnold died just a few weeks after arriving on the shores of the New World 1607 to establish the first permanent English-speaking colony at Jamestown.

He is believed to have been the leading light in the expedition, which took place 13 years before the Pilgrim Fathers set sail on the Mayflower. It involved three ships, the second of which was captained by another Suffolk man, John Sicklemore.

Captain Gosnold had previously travelled to America in 1602 and named Martha's Vineyard, an island off Virginia, after his one-year-old daughter. He also named Cape Cod in recognition of the bountiful supplies of fish he found there.

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Archaeological investigations to determine whether a grave found in Jamestown is that of the pioneering sea captain have recently been generating intense interest and debate among historians, both here and in the US, and have highlighted the earlier, and more legitimate, claim to the “founding” title than that of the Mayflower settlers.

Tourism bosses are now hoping the wave of enthusiasm being generated in America for the anniversary celebrations in 2007 will translate into interest in travelling to key sites in Suffolk and Norfolk connected to the Gosnold story, and will boost American visitor numbers by some 15 to 20%.

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One of the sites on the “Gosnold Trail” will be the Great Hall at Otley Hall, the ancestral home of the Gosnold family, where Gosnold met with Sir Thomas Smythe, treasurer of the first Virginia Company, to enlist financial support for his 1606-07 expedition.

Also on the trail will be Helmingham Hall, which had a close connection with the story through Anne Tollemache, who was married to Gosnold's nephew, Robert, and Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich, which houses a collection of Tudor and Stuart portraits, including those of the Gosnold family.

Other important stops will be St Edmundsbury Cathedral, where Gosnold's daughter, Martha, was baptised and buried, aged 19 months, in an unmarked grave, and All Saints Church in Shelley, near Hadleigh, which recently became the focus of a quest to confirm that the grave found in Jamestown was indeed that of Gosnold.

DNA tests of a burial there has proved inconclusive and further tests are due to be carried out in Jamestown.

After securing the necessary funding, Gosnold interviewed and recruited the crew and settlers for the three ships. It was an eventful voyage, involving the ships being becalmed for six weeks off the English coast and, later, a mutinous melee between shipmates.

On landing, things didn't get any easier, and there were violent skirmishes with native Americans and an outbreak of disease in which many of the settlers - including Gosnold - perished. But it wasn't all doom and gloom: a romance was said to have blossomed between one of the expedition members, Captain John Smith, and native American beauty Pocahontas which has become the stuff of legend ever since.

Tourism bosses in Suffolk are now hoping to exploit the strong links - many of the first English settlers were from Suffolk and Norfolk - to encourage Americans to deviate from the traditional “honeypot” areas like Bath, London, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Edinburgh, and reconnect with their roots.

The Suffolk Development Agency's Tourism Partnership has established a Friends of America group, which is working hard to develop and promote links between Suffolk and the US and has created The Gosnold Trail as its first step.

The SDA's destination marketing manager Scott Dolling said: “Suffolk offers many links for the US market and with this 400th anniversary there is a strong focus for us to reach out to Americans both based here in England and overseas. The Gosnold Trail will help bring visitors around the key sites of the county which benefit many areas often missed off the tourist trail.”

Tourism bosses are keen to home in on American tourists, who spend more per head than any other national group of tourists when they are abroad. International tourists staying in this country spend around £250 a day, compared to an average of £150 by UK visitors here.

News of The Gosnold Trail has already reached the US, where Ipswich Tourist Information Centre manager David Stainer was recently promoting Suffolk as part of Sail 06, a series of exhibitions celebrating the 2007 anniversary which is travelling to Alexandria, Baltimore, New York, Newport and Boston.

“All the main Virginian organisers see Suffolk as having the most meaningful ancestral claim, and the key to building up relationships in regard to tourism and associated economic benefits,” he said.

“I feel this is a good opportunity to raise the awareness of Suffolk to a potentially wide audience of Americans looking for their 'nation's roots'.”

There are hopes that a replica of The Discovery, Sicklemore's ship, which is currently touring US ports, will be able to visit Ipswich next year.

“We are emphasising this 'coming home to your roots',” said Robert Gough, chairman of the Suffolk Tourism Partnership. “Whilst we are always working on the American market, this is giving us a headline event.”

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