Southampton is steeped in the story of the sailing of the Mayflower with many notable events taking place in the old town that were essential for the success of this historically important venture. But why did the Mayflower and the Speedwell come to Southampton in the first place and what was Southampton like in 1620?

Godfrey Collyer, local historian and tour guide with, explores these questions.

The answer to the first question is twofold.

Firstly, in order to survive the journey and the early months in America, substantial food supplies had to be purchased. Tools and building equipment were needed as well as weapons and armour.

Given the hard manual work they faced clearing the land and building their homes, they also needed to take materials to repair and make new clothes, as well as leather to make and repair boots and shoes.

Their purchases had to be carefully planned, for if something essential was forgotten they would have to make do without it.

Southampton was the perfect place to purchase all the supplies that were needed as it was a busy port and a regular stopping point for the supplying of ships.

Secondly, and more importantly, the ships needed somewhere safe to rendezvous.

The Speedwell was sailing from Holland with religious Separatists aboard and if caught they were at risk of imprisonment - and their leaders of execution.

The Mayflower was sailing from Rotherhithe with settlers aboard. By coming to Southampton it was hoped that the supplies could be quickly loaded and the two ships made ready to leave in a few days before their presence was reported to the King.

In the event, essential repairs were needed for the Speedwell thus delaying the ships' departure for two weeks. Fortunately, they remained undiscovered prior to sailing.

Southampton in 1620 was a bustling seaport and an important trading town with goods coming into the town by ship and from local farms.

Craftsmen had to be admitted as freemen before they could practise their trade and all apprentices were registered and served seven years.

Weights and measures were carefully monitored, with the Court Leet issuing fines to miscreants. Punishment for minor offences might entail a period of time in the stocks. the pillory or even being put in the ducking stool.

Among the occupations recorded in Southampton at the time were brewers, inn keepers, shoe and boot makers, glove makers, tanners, felt makers, serge makers, milliners, weavers, dyers, mercers, tailors, drapers, saddlers, basket makers, bakers, butchers, grocers, wine merchants, coopers, barber surgeons, apothecaries, brick makers, blacksmiths, armourers, fletchers, locksmiths, rope makers, carpenters, candle makers, attorneys, goldsmiths, chandlers, shipwrights, ship owners, mariners, ship's masters, and around 150 traders, many from the Channel Islands, of which over 100 were dealing in the cloth trade.

To the right of the Bargate, where West Quay shops are today, were reed beds harvested for roofing material.

The main entrance to the town was across a fixed bridge and through the Bargate where the ground floor was used as a prison.

As well as streets lined with shops and businesses there were several markets including a fish market by St Michaels church and a butter, egg, poultry and cheese market under the Audit House by Holyrood church.

The population of the town was small enough for people to know or, at least, recognise each other.

There were five churches within the town walls and attendance was compulsory. The little chapel of St Julien in Winkle Street was assigned to the French speaking community in the town which included Walloons from Spanish occupied Holland who came to Southampton to escape religious persecution and had established themselves as weavers.

St Mary's church in 1620 was a ruin.

Life was hard and people worked long hours but there were pleasures to be had such as bowling and archery and drinking in the taverns.

Bear baiting took place in a pit next to Holyrood Church and travelling entertainers came regularly to the town.

Written by Godfrey Collyer, tour guide with