THE Billericay Twinning Association celebrated its 15th birthday by visiting a project to build a replica of the iconic ship which has made the town famous.Members of the association visited Harwich recently for a tour of the Mayflower Project – a scheme to construct a 109ft long replica of the vessel that carried the Pilgrim Fathers to America nearly 400 years ago.
The modern day Mayflower is being built in a converted train shed in the North Essex port and, once it is completed in two years’ time, it will sail to the US to commemorate the original vessel’s voyage to the New World in 1620.
The iconic ship’s history is closed linked to that of Billericay.
The Pilgrim Fathers, a group of 120 pilgrims, are said to have met in the town.
Furthermore, four people from Billericay were on board the vessel including Christopher Martin, a merchant who travelled as ship’s governor.
He and his wife Marie, along with Solomon Prowe and John Langemore perished shortly after their arrival at Cape Cod, in modern day Massachusetts.
However this did not deter other Billericay residents from setting sail for the New World and the town of Billericay was established in 1655 to commemorate the origins of some of the first settlers.
Many place names and groups in the town reflect the connection of the Mayflower to Billericay, including Mayflower High School, Mayflower Taxis, the Mayflower Morris men and Mayflower Hall.
Sunnymede School’s houses were called Mayflower, Pilgrim, Chantry and Martin, after Christopher Martin.
It is believed that the Mayflower was built around 1590, possibly in Harwich, and, by the time she was chartered by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620, she was already an elderly vessel.
The ship had traded to the Baltic in summer for timber and to France in winter for wine.
The Mayflower was captained by Christopher Jones of Harwich who was her master between 1609 and 1622 and he sailed the pilgrims to America in 1620.
The Harwich Mayflower Project was established in 2009 and it achieved charitable status in 2010.
The project now has 14 full-time staff, eight of whom are apprentices, split between marine engineering, construction and business administration.
Thomas Kemp, 18, of Harwich, is one of the apprentices working on the project.
He works in the neighbouring railway station, next to the train shed where the project is based, in a converted room which was renovated by the apprentices themselves.
He said: “There’s always something new to learn here – when people ask me what I do it’s great to say I build boats.”
The oak for the ship is now being delivered and about half the required volume is on site along with most of the necessary equipment.
The replica will be made up of 45 frames in total and they will form the skeleton of the boat.
When the ship arrives in America it will be docked at either Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, or Plymouth, Massachusetts.
It will cost £150,000 to join the voyage but Tom Daly, chair of the board of trustees of the project, warned that the exciting excursion may have its drawbacks.
“People may find that they are sea sick for the whole journey as the boat will rock back and forth,” he said.
The dentist, who lives in Harwich, added: “It was a huge amount of work just to get the building ready for the construction and now we are training people and getting hold of resources. We are very excited about the project.”
Around 30 members of The Billericay Twinning Association enjoyed the tour of the premises on August 21.
Group member Janet Warren, 73, from Western Road, Billericay, is a part time volunteer at the Cater Museum in High Street.
She said: “I am interested in the Mayflower and Billericay was where they met before leaving on the voyage and it’s great to see this project.”
Meanwhile, Joan Phillips, 84, of Mill Road, Billericay, said: “I didn’t know what to expect – I think it’s great. “We will come back as a group to see it launch. I have been to Billerica, the twin town in the States, and I have an interest in the history.”
The design of the ship was completed in stages by an accredited naval architect with the initial plan published in 2011.
The initial cost of the vessel was estimated at £3.4 million but through using apprenticeship schemes and through charitable donations this cost has dropped to £2.2 million.
As a charity the Harwich Mayflower Project is looking for support either in terms of financial gifts or general assistance building upon local interest and international reputation.
For more information, visit http://www.harwichmayflower.com or call 01255 318023