Historic Harwich was lit up across the weekend as the town began a year of commemorations for Mayflower 400. The Illuminate Festival took place on Friday and Saturday evenings (29-30 November), bringing a lantern parade, Tunnel of Light and projections right along the old town seafront.

Similar festivals have been held at destinations across the UK, Netherlands and USA as places with links to The Mayflower and its Pilgrim voyage mark the historic anniversary. Next year sees the 400th anniversary of the Transatlantic crossing and a year of events will commemorate the landmark, with Illuminate held around Thanksgiving.

Harwich was not only home to the ship, which was registered at the port, but several of the crew were residents of the town. These include the ship’s master and co-owner Christopher Jones – whose house still stands in Kings Head Street and will open in February as a tourist attraction. Other notable Harwich residents on the voyage include the cooper John Alden – the first on-board to set foot on American soil, and whose descendants include Marilyn Monroe and Dick Van Dyke. In total 30 million people worldwide can trace their roots back to the 132 pilgrims and crew on-board.

An estimated 6,000 people attended Harwich Illuminate Festival across the two days, to enjoy the stunning projections along buildings on The Quay and onto Christopher Jones’ House. Friday saw a lantern parade led by Spark! drummers and containing children from around the town who helped make giant puppets and lanterns, as well as a performance by 90-strong choir Harwich Sings Tendring Voices which was projected live onto The Pier Hotel. Saturday began with a fireworks flight display by Fireflies, and had a carnival feel with stilt walkers, jugglers, face painting, puppets and more. Both days were hosted by BBC Essex presenters Steve Scruton and Ian Wyatt, and saw two films charting the town’s community and the Mayflower story.


Mike Carran, Head of Sport and Leisure at Tendring District Council, said he was bowled over by the atmosphere at the festival.

“There was an incredible buzz throughout the two days, and I had some lovely conversations with both Harwich residents and visitors who said the event gave them a connection to this important piece of history,” Mr Carran said.

“People of all ages had fun, and I also saw some people getting emotional at the We are Harwich film which highlights what a community of heroes we have in this town. This is only the start of our commemorations, and I’d urge people to come back and visit Harwich; when the Welcome Centre and Christopher Jones’ House is open, and for next year’s Illuminate Festival which will be even bigger and better. A huge thank you must go to all of our partners, without whom this event would not have been the success it was – too many to name them all, but most notably The Pier, Harwich Haven Authority, Motion Mapping and the Harwich Festival, as well as all of the performers and our hosts.”