by Gail Adams
On December 10, 2002 Warwick Charlton, 84, died. He should be forever remembered by all Mayflower descendants as the man who had the vision of building a replica of the Mayflower.
Charlton conceived the idea while serving with the Eighth Army in the North African desert during World War II. He had been inspired after reading William Bradford’s journal Of Plimoth Plantation. The evening that the Mayflower II landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts he told Governor General and Mrs. Waldo Morgan Allen the story:
“There were only a few books in the library of the ship. Most of these were novels and light reading. I was looking for a serious book, one that would be difficult to read. In digging about I ran across Governor Bradford’s book. It was just what I wanted – voluminous and written in difficult script. I read it through. I was deeply impressed with the character of the Pilgrims and what they did in America. The thought came to me “what a wonderful thing it would be if a new Mayflower could be built by the people of England and be sailed over to be given to the people of America. The thought stuck with me and after returning to England I talked to others about it. The idea was well accepted and steps were taken to raise the necessary funds. The going was difficult, but here she is.”
Warwick Charlton believed this was the perfect way to cement and build a lasting relationship with America.
On return to civilian life, Warwick worked as a journalist for the Daily Express. He mentioned to his friends and colleagues at the Wig and Pen Club in the Strand his intention to set up a non-profit organization to raise funds to build the ship. He approached his employers, Express Newspapers, but they refused. This did not deter Warwick and he sought help from whomever would listen. His first backer was industrialist Sir Patrick Hannon, followed by the Duke of Argyll, General Sir Francis Guingand and Sir Alfred Bossom, who was a member of Parliament.
Warwick Charlton wanted everything to be as authentic as possible. He wanted to use 17th century type tools and methods. Carefully selected English oak timbers, hand-sewn linen canvas sails, true hemp cordage, hand-forged nails and Stockholm tar of the sort used in 17th century ships were all used to maintain authenticity. Colors were chosen based on observation of Dutch and English paintings of English merchant ships. The hawthorne, or English mayflower, was carved into the stern.
Stuart Upham, shipbuilder, was selected to build the ship. To insure seaworthiness, Warwick made the condition that Upham must agree to sail with the crew on the transatlantic voyage.
Meanwhile on the other side of the ocean, Plimoth Plantation had also had the thought of building a replica of the Mayflower. Ship architect William A. Baker had already done extensive research on 17th century ships and already had a plan drawn. The two got together, Mr. Baker’s plans were used and it was agreed that the ship would be given to Plimoth Plantation.
As with most building projects, the initial estimate of £280,000 was soon doubled. Warwick begged rope-builders, sail makers and timber merchants for materials. In return, there were able to associate their name with the project. In the end Warwick persuaded more than 200 industrial, commercial and individual sponsors to help finance the project. He even flew to America and obtained funding from the Mayflower Trucking Company!
Another fundraising plan was to allow visitors, for an entrance fee of two shillings, to “look around the hull of the Mayflower.” By the time the ship set sail over 250,000 people paid to watch the work in progress.
Australian Captain and maritime author Alan Villiers was chosen to be master of the Mayflower II. He had been a wartime naval commander and was a master mariner. He served more than six years in the Royal Navy, was a Trustee of the National Maritime Museum and Chairman of the Photographic Records Committee of the Society for Nautical Research.
The Mayflower II and her crew of 33 set sail from Brixham, England on April 20, 1957. It took 54 days and 5,500 nautical miles to reach “New England.” The original Mayflower sailed 3,500 nautical miles and took 66 days. Captain Villers explains why in his article in National Geographic:
“I walked the reeling, tiny poop, or tried to walk it, grabbing for support at bulwarks or rails at every turbulent toss or wild roll. She was deep in the water, deeper than she was designed to be, and she was dragging badly and setting up a wild eddying wake like a twin-screw steamer’s though she had no screw. I wondered how wise I was to persist in trying to sail the northern route, in high latitudes.
The weather forecasts spoke of gales – heavy gales, westerly gales – right in my path. If a bad gale blew up, I could be in trouble.
Those weather forecasts were a modern improvement that had never bothered Captain Jones. Well, I knew what I was heading into if I stayed in the north. If I allowed that ship to be dismasted, how could she be rigged again? I had not enough spare spars aboard for that.
What would be the alternative – go back? The original had done that twice. But I was determined not to do anything of the kind. No, we were at sea. The eyes of the world were upon us, more even than we realized then. I would go on.”
Still, the crew encountered violent storms and severe depletion of supplies.
Warwick wanted everything as authentic as possible, with one exception: this Mayflower carried mail! There were 40,000 commemorative envelopes for stamp collectors that had been stamped, addressed and “mailed” before departure. These had to be cancelled aboard the ship. There were another 100,000 blank envelopes and sheets of stamps. The hot, sweating “postal clerks” had to tear up the sheets, paste them on the envelope and cancel them! These unaddressed envelopes could be bought from stamp dealers so you could write your own name and address thereby receiving an “authentic” piece of Mayflower mail.
During the voyage, Mayflower II was greeted by many vessels including the Italian cruisers San Giorgio and San Marco, four U.S. destroyers led by the USS Ault and the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal. All came close by and the crews exchanged cheers. The Ault sent boats with fruit and vegetables. The tanker Belgian Pride sent over chocolates and Belgian cigarettes and even a bottle of Eau de Cologne for the captain’s wife. Radiomen told the captain that many ships of all nationalities were trying to intercept them to get a glimpse of this historic replica, but the Mayflower II’s course was unpredictable and many missed them. It was a real treat for those who did get a glimpse and an officer on board the San Giorgio flung wide his arms and shouted “Magnificent! It is magnificent!”
On June 13, 1957 the Mayflower II landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts with thousands of folks looking on. As the ship neared her destination, she was saluted by hordes of aircraft, blimps and private planes. Freighters, passenger vessels and even the Queen Elizabeth whistled and tooted her horns as the Mayflower II sailed by.
Warwick Charlton was born March 9, 1918 at Chelsea, London, England, the son of a journalist. He attended Epsom College and worked briefly as a reporter for the Sunday Dispatch. Just before the outbreak of the war he joined the Royal Fusiliers. Warwick was the founding editor of several Army newspapers, including the Eighth Army News. He believed that during war men felt cut off from the outside world, especially in the desert of Northern Africa. He would travel the front line and distribute papers to the troops to raise morale.
Warwick wrote three plays, became involved in several business adventures, founded the International Award for Valour in Sport and authored a number of publications. Later in life he was proud of his role as town crier in the market town of Ringwood, Hampshire, where he lived.
Warwick Charlton is gone but his dream lives on. May we never forget him and this most precious gift from the English people.
• There were no “so-called” passengers. Warwick Charlton, organizer and originator, signed on as “super-cargo.” Ship builder Stuart Upham was listed in the ships articles as “caulker.” The four news and cameramen were signed on as “mariners and chroniclers.”
• Over 3000 applications were received for the crew of 33.
• Crewman John Winslow of Surrey is a descendant of Mary Chilton, who sailed on the first Mayflower in 1620 and John Winslow, brother of Edward Winslow of the Mayflower, who arrived on the Fortune in 1621.
• The Mayflower II’s main beam was cut from a solid Devon Oak log of 116 cubic feet. After converting, it measured only 55 cubic feet.
• Smallest member: Felix, a little black kitten.
• On the 11th day out Walter Godfrey (the cook) served lime juice – per British Naval regulations – to prevent scurvy. Even the ships cat, Felix drank it.
• There are nearly 350 separate ropes in the rigging proper (excluding ratline and robands). There are many miscellaneous items of rope and cordage bringing the total to over 400.
• On the worst day in terms of distance, they only went 11 miles.
• Dr. John Stevens, Surgeon Seaman, brought three leaches – named Warwick (after the promoter), Apollonius and Fred.
• On Sundays they observed a day of rest. At 10:00a.m. the ships bell would ring — an ancient bronze beauty dating from 1638 and donated by the citizens of Brixham. All hands assembled in Pilgrim costumes for prayers and short talk from the captain. The talks were usually about Pilgrim history of early exploration. The rest of the day was free.
• On June 8 mighty rain squalls caught the ship. The wind howling, the whole bowsprit shuddering, the Mayflower II was soon leaping like a wild demon in the black of night. The squalls died down, the crew’s courage tested, the ship was safe even though it was driven 70 miles off course.
• Much of the timber for the masts and spars came from Canada. The logs moved by ships, then rail at Manchester, England, then floated from Torquay across Torbay to the shipyard. The longest, 80 feet, of Oregon pine is Mayflower’s main mast.
• Before the Mayflower II, Capt. Allan Villiers had gone on a pioneering whaling expedition to the South Pole. In the 1930’s he sailed the full-rigged ship Joseph Conrad more then 60,000 miles around the world. This ship is now at the Maritime Museum at Mystic, Connecticut.
• Later in 1957 the Mayflower II was in New York. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were visiting and when the Mayflower II sailed into the bay, greeted them with a 17th century salute.
Obituary of Warwick Charlton, The Daily Telegraph, December 23, 2002
Life Magazine, June 17, 1957, pages 19-37
Mayflower II Official Souvenir Book, National Publishing Company, New York, 1957
Mayflower Quarterly, Volume 67, Number 1, March 2001
National Geographic, November 1957, “How We Sailed the New Mayflower to America” by Alan Villiers, pages 627-672.