Millions of American tourists come to London every year to get in touch with their own history. Take a trip with us around some of the more famous landmarks that have connections with the origins of the United States.
Let's start in the area known as Rotherhithe, on the south bank of the River Thames, just east of Tower Bridge. Undoubtedly, this is the most important, and the most popular, place among American visitors to London. It was here that the voyage of the ship The Mayflower began, a story known to schoolchildren all over the US.
In 1620, a group of religious dissidents and adventurers known as Pilgrims boarded a small ship named The Mayflower, which was more used to sailing to France than all the way to America. They set forth on a perilous journey across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World, in hope of finding religious freedom and fortunes. Land was sighted on the 29th of October, 1620. After exploring the area, the travellers disembarked when a suitable place for settlement was found, near Cape Cod. The Plymouth Colony was the first permanent settlement in New England.
Today it is hard to trace the exact place from which The Mayflower started her historic journey, but it is believed that it was in Rotherhithe, near where the present day Mayflower pub stands.
After a pint of beer in the stylish interior, or on the patio overlooking the Thames, it is time to explore the area. Just across the street from the pub is located the Church of St Mary. Captain Christopher Jones, and many of the crew of The Mayflower, worshipped there. Although the present building was erected in 1715, it contains many memorials to sailors saved from the original church. Captain Jones was buried in the adjoining cemetery, but his grave was lost during rebuilding of the present church. In 1995 a memorial statue of Captain Jones was placed there, paid for by donations from the National Society of Sons & Daughters of the Pilgrims of America.
The Mayflower was one of more than 200 passenger ships that criss-crossed the Atlantic during the 17th century. Some of the settlers who arrived from London played an important part in the early days of American society. One of them was John Harvard, by far the most famous emigrant from the south London district of Southwark. He was born in 1607, and was from a prosperous trading family. In 1637, he left for the New World and arrived in Charlestown, now part of Boston. He brought with him over four hundred books, including ancient classics and theological works. Harvard soon become an important member of the local community and was set for an outstanding career. But he died one year later at the age of 31, making his most significant contribution to his new homeland on his deathbed. In his will he gave, "half of my estate towards the erecting of a college, and my entire library." In gratitude, the authorities decided to name the college after him, so Harvard University was founded. John Harvard is also remembered in London, where the old chapel of St John, in Southwark cathedral, has been renamed the Harvard Memorial Chapel. It was damaged by bombing in WWII and was restored, along with much of the fabric of the chapel, thanks to funding from Harvard graduates.
Another famous emigrant from east London was William Penn, one of the great forward-thinkers of his time. He was born in 1644, close to the Tower of London, although the exact site of his birthplace is unknown. The state of Pennsylvania was, of course, named after him.
While in east London, American tourists usually visit one more place, the well-known Whitechapel Bell Foundry. It was here that the most famous American bell the Liberty Bell was cast. With its inscription: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof", this bell is
a symbol of independence known to every American. It was commissioned by the Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania in 1751, and arrived from London a year later. There are other claims to fame by this foundry. An entry in the Guinness Book of Records has listed it as Britain's oldest manufacturing company, established in 1570 and being in continuous business ever since. It is worth mentioning that Big Ben, the famous bell that rings out from the Palace of Westminster, was also cast here.
Now it is time to head for central London. In a quiet street near Trafalgar Square that Benjamin Franklin, scientist, diplomat, philosopher and author, once stayed. He was born in Boston in 1706. He arrived for the first time in London to complete his training as a printer, and to purchase the equipment needed to start his own printing business back in Philadelphia. In 1757 he returned in an official capacity, to represent the American colonies as a guest of the British Parliament. Of the several lodgings where he lived during his visits, 36 Craven Street is the only one that remains intact today. This terraced house is due to be opened as a museum dedicated to Franklin's life and work in the near future. At the moment there is a plaque, which reminds tourists and Londoners about this famous tenant.