The Speedwell arrived in Southampton 400 years ago today.

On this day 400 years ago a small sailing ship called the Speedwell sailed into Southampton Water and anchored off the Westquay close by another ship the Mayflower that had arrived in the port a week earlier.

The Speedwell had left Delft Haven in Holland several days before with a group of about 45 men, women and children aboard.

These people were religious separatists who had originally left England to live in Leiden in Holland to escape religious persecution. Now they were fleeing again to escape the risk of the Spanish Inquisition and to draw their community together free of Dutch influence.

They were unable to return to England to live as they would not comply with James I’s strict rules on religious worship and so planned to settle in America.

By contrast the people on the Mayflower were ordinary settlers seeking a better life and the two groups planned to sail together across the Atlantic and build a settlement near the estuary of the Hudson River.

The plan was to take on supplies in Southampton and to get under way as quickly as possible but the Speedwell had developed a leak and needed repairing.

The shipwrights in Southampton who undertook the work may have been familiar with the Speedwell as a ship of the same name and size had been built in the town a few years previously.

Daily Echo: The Mayflower and the Speedwell

In order to undertake the work it is most probable that the Speedwell was drawn up on the beach near where Queen’s Park is today and careened so that new caulking - a sealant made of hemp and tar - could be fitted.

The Speedwell had been purchased in Holland where she had been refitted under the supervision of a pilot by the name of Reynolds who was also then employed as her master. He and his crew were to remain in North America with the Speedwell to be used for cod fishing and trading.

The cod was to be salted down and shipped to England to help repay the money put up by investors for the crossing.

While the work on the Speedwell went ahead the two groups of passengers were divided between the two ships and assigned a leader from amongst them for each vessel.

One man in particular, John Carver, coordinated things. He had been in Southampton buying the supplies before the ships arrived and he was later to be their first Governor in America.

Daily Echo: John Carver

The two masters, Reynolds of the Speedwell and Jones of the Mayflower having met for the first time set about planning their journey using the rudimentary maps and charts of the day. They were pleased the passengers had agreed a leader for each ship as they could now focus totally on managing their ships and supervising the crews.

The Speedwell needed to be repaired twice in Southampton before she was considered seaworthy which delayed their departure and incurred costs that had not been expected.

The people who were funding the sailing were known as Merchant Adventurers and they sent their representative to meet with the Settlers and Separatists in Southampton. His name was Thomas Weston and he had brought with him extra funds and a new contract for the repayment of the Merchant Adventurer’s investment.

The new contract had worse conditions than those previously agreed and not surprisingly no-one would sign it. He promptly left refusing to give them any more money.

Daily Echo: The departure from Delft Haven

With no money to spare the only way the repairs could be paid for was by selling some of their sparse supplies. It was at this time that tension started to mount and people angrily turned on the Separatist Robert Cushman who had been sent ahead to negotiate the agreement.

When things calmed down a letter was drafted and agreed by all explaining why they felt they could not agree to the new contract and suggesting an extension to the repayment period to ensure that the Merchant Adventurers recovered their investment.

Once the Speedwell was seaworthy the remainder of the supplies purchased in Southampton were stowed on board and the ships prepared for sailing.

The details of their historic departure will be described next week.

Godfrey Collyer is a tour guide with .