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Stunning light show coming to Suffolk and Essex coast for Mayflower's 400th anniversary

PUBLISHED: 19:00 29 November 2019

The Mayflower II, a replica of the 17th-century ship Mayflower, celebrated for transporting the Pilgrims to the New World Picture: PA Wire

The Mayflower II, a replica of the 17th-century ship Mayflower, celebrated for transporting the Pilgrims to the New World Picture: PA Wire

The waters off Felixstowe, Shotley and Harwich will be filled with dazzling lights tonight as the Illuminate festival gets underway.

The Mayflower was registered in Harwich and captained by Christopher Jones, who set sail for the New World in 1620 - 400 years ago Picture: PA WireThe Mayflower was registered in Harwich and captained by Christopher Jones, who set sail for the New World in 1620 - 400 years ago Picture: PA Wire

An annual event for several years in Harwich, this year's festival has been made bigger and bolder, with a torch-lit procession of giant lanterns and puppets made by local schoolchildren, illuminated entertainers and two films about the town projected onto seafront buildings.

The two-day festival, which starts today, November 29, coincides with the 400th anniversary of the voyage of The Mayflower from Harwich to the New World.

A year-long celebration of the journey is now underway in the port town, with one of the star attractions now open to the public - the house where Mayflower captain Christopher Jones once lived is to open as a tourist attraction, reaffirming his connection to the ship and town.

It is believed that Captain Jones was born in Harwich in 1570, and died in 1622.

The plaque on the house where the captain of the Mayflower, Christopher Jones, once lived, in Harwich Picture: Sam Russell/PA WireThe plaque on the house where the captain of the Mayflower, Christopher Jones, once lived, in Harwich Picture: Sam Russell/PA Wire

David Whittle, vice chairman of the Harwich Society local history group, said that "people in America don't know about Harwich" and that visitors are "absolutely astounded" when they discover The Mayflower actually started its journey in Essex.

The Mayflower set sail from Plymouth in the UK to the New World in 1620, carrying the Pilgrim Fathers to North America, but the ship was registered in Harwich in Essex, where its captain, Christopher Jones, was from.

Its landing site was named Plymouth Rock, the settlement was called Plymouth Colony, and it developed into the town of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

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Mr Whittle said it was only by chance that the Mayflower went to Plymouth, after an accompanying ship sprang a leak and they both turned back.

"I don't want to decry Plymouth in any way. They are part of this thing," said Mr Whittle.

"But if this had not happened Plymouth wouldn't have come into the equation.

"If that hadn't happened and the two ships had gone across there, would there be Plymouth Rock?"

He said that Harwich was where the Mayflower was registered, and its captain Christopher Jones once lived in King's Head Street in the town.

Captain Jones, whose first wife died aged 27 in 1603, married twice at St Nicholas Church in the town.

His one son from his first marriage died in 1596. He had eight children with his second wife.

Captain Jones's name appears in Harwich's royal charter of 1604.

More than 30 million people can trace their ancestry back to the 102 passengers and about 30 crew of the ship, according to the Mayflower400 website.

Mike Carran, head of sport and leisure at Tendring District Council, said: "I think the beauty of this is, if Harwich has been lost out of the story to some degree in the US, this is the opportunity to re-cement those links."

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