London, as one of the world’s great cities, is home to some fabulous restaurants. Try as many as you can according to your tastes and budget. But if you only have time and money for one restaurant, make it The Mayflower Pub.
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The History of London’s Mayflower Pub
The Mayflower Pub is located in London’s Southwark Burough in the Rotherhithe neighborhood, a lovely residential area of well-tended English cottages with lots of gardens and cobblestone streets. It was built in 1550 so that olde world atmosphere here is original. The Mayflower Pub is considered the oldest pub on the River Thames.
When it first opened in the 16th century, the pub was called the Spread Eagle. It was a favorite watering hole of Christopher Jones, the captain of a little cargo ship called The Mayflower. The little ship simply ferried items back and forth among communities along the river’s 215 mile path through southern England to the Port of Plymouth. But Captain Jones always came home and moored the Mayflower right outside of the Spread Eagle. He lived just a few doors away.
Then, in 1620, Captain Jones and the Mayflower got a gig that would change the course of world history and make the Mayflower a household name. He and his crew of 30 men, plus 102 paying guests, sailed from Plymouth to the New World.
After that first horrible winter in what became Plymouth, Massachusetts, Captain Jones and what remained of his crew sailed back to Plymouth, up the mouth of the Thames and docked again outside the Spread Eagle in London. Captain Jones died a year later and is buried nearby at St. Mary’s Church in Rotherithe.
Sometime in the next few centuries, the owners of the Spread Eagle, recognizing its tiny roll in the bigger picture of the Mayflower, the Pilgrims and the New World, changed its name to the Mayflower Pub.
Eating and Drinking at The Mayflower Pub
We visited the Mayflower Pub on a Saturday night and it was hopping! As we waited for our table, a couple of slightly inebriated customers overheard our American accents and toasted our presence with another pint. While tourists do find their way here, the Mayflower is an honest-to-goodness neighborhood pub. Every dark nook and cranny of the oddly-shaped building was jam-packed with locals enjoying a pint. The outdoor deck, overlooking the River Thames, was filled to the brim with happy people.
We worked our way up a tiny, narrow little staircase to the second floor to find a table for dinner. Over in the corner, an extended family was celebrating an 80th birthday.
Bruce and I both ordered variations of meat pies that were so flavorful. It was perfect comfort food. With a glass of wine and a slice of cheesecake for dessert, we were quite happy at a reasonable price. For those who say British food is boring, I say “pshaw.”
Mayflower Descendants Celebrated at the Mayflower Pub
Because I’m nosy and ask a lot of questions – that’s my job – our waiter allowed us a special treat. The Mayflower Pub keeps a guest register of those who are descendants of the Mayflower Pilgrims. Our waiter allowed us to look through the book, read comments and lineage. It was fascinating, like holding a piece of history in our hands. We recognized the names of towns and cities throughout North America, places where descendants of the Mayflower call home 400 years after that incredible journey.
The names we read are just ordinary people today, but what pride they must have in their ancestry. But I learned that some well-known names are Mayflower descendants. George Eastman of the Eastman-Kodak Company was a descendant of William Bradford. Julia Child was related to William and Mary Brewster. Humphrey Bogart was related to an indentured servant on the ship. At least three U.S. presidents had ancestors sail on the Mayflower.
Overall, it was the most authentic meal and dining experience we had during this trip to the U.K. In our opinion, the best place to eat in London is the historic Mayflower Pub.
All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.
– William Bradford, 1630