William Mullins' House. Photograph: Kathy Atherton

William Mullins’ House
Photograph: Kathy Atherton

The house now known as Nos 58-61 West Street, Dorking, was built c.1550, and dominated the commercial heart of the town. It is believed to be the only home of a Pilgrim Father to have survived intact. In 1612 it was bought by William Mullins, a prosperous shoemaker who was born in West Street and followed his fathers trade. There is no evidence that the family were Dissenters or in any way disaffected. Williams reasons for risking his family and his capital on a dangerous voyage to Virginia are a complete mystery.

Most of the Mayflower passengers were Saints (English Separatists) seeking religious freedom. The rest were the strangers who provided capital. Among these were the Dorking party consisting of William, his daughter Priscilla, his second wife Alice, her son Joseph (b.1614) and their servant Robert Carter. By 1620 his married son William was living locally and his married daughter Sarah probably in London.

William Mullins' House. Photograph: Kathy Atherton

William Mullins’ House
Photograph: Kathy Atherton

The Mayflower sailed from Rotherhithe in July. At Plymouth her sister ship, the Speedwell, was judged unfit for the Atlantic crossing and the Mayflower sailed on alone. The voyage was beset with difficulties and it was December before they selected a site in the Cape Cod area, much farther north than intended. The hardships and malnutrition caused many deaths. William died in February 1621, Alice and Joseph in April and Robert Carter in May. Priscilla was the sole survivor of the Dorking party, and a marriageable heiress. Williams fair and business-like will was brought back to England in the Mayflower and administered by Sarah.

Priscilla married John Alden in 1622 and had 10 children. Their farmhouse in Duxbury survived and is open to the public.

A fuller account can be found in the booklet William Mullins Pilgrim Father by Pam Hunter, on sale in Dorking Museum, West Street.

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