The rest is history

CONTENTEDLY munching my pie, I was tempted to speculate whether North America would ever have been colonized, had such delicious pork pies been around in Nottinghamshire in the early 17th century. I can imagine someone looking puzzled. Well, let me explain. Some years ago, I was involved with a building project that necessitated regular visits to Retford, a small town in that county. One day, in order to save time, I decided to buy a lunch-time snack and then park somewhere to eat it. A small pork butcher seemed to offer tasty possibilities and a medium-sized pie was duly purchased. Ten minutes or so later, I turned down a narrow lane by a village school and there among the trees discovered America.

``Impossible,'' I can hear someone saying, and I have to admit, strictly speaking, they are correct. I hadn't actually discovered America, only the tiny church where the founders of modern America used to worship.

Parking my car and forgetting my lunch, I knew I was looking at something very special. Just how special I didn't realize until I walked onto the minute porch and read the plaque on the wall.

Amazing! Encircled by trees, the grass of its churchyard sprinkled with primroses, All Saints Church, Babworth, presented as pretty a sight as one could wish to see. Yet here I was learning that its congregation nearly four centuries earlier had left this rustic paradise and sailed away forever. In 1586, feeling so strongly their need to be free to worship God in their own way, they were dubbed Separatist by the established church. Penalized because their dictates of conscience brought them into conflict with the laws of the land, in desperation they left for Amsterdam in 1608.

PUSHING open the old wooden door leading into the church, I was moved by all the spring flowers arranged in readiness for the Easter services. And there on the side wall of the nave, a flower-bedecked model of a three-masted sailing ship, none other than the Mayflower.

A short time later, reflecting that I had never eaten a tastier pie, I knew that I had to find out more of the story.

In 1609, a year after arriving in Holland, they moved to the town of Leyden, with their minister, John Robinson, rejoicing at first in their newfound freedom. Things didn't work out, however. Coming mainly from farming stock and being forced to work for a pittance in unfamiliar and commercial occupations was bad enough. But to have their children drifting away from their parents' faith and growing up as Dutchmen instead of Englishmen was the last straw.

By 1620, they were on the move once more. They set sail for Southampton in a tiny ship called the Speedwell. Here they met another group of Separatists with their own vessel. The two ships set out together for the New World, but the Speedwell, which leaked so badly that it had to turn back twice, was finally abandoned. The 120 Pilgrims now all on board the Mayflower finally sailed from Plymouth, England, on Sept. 6 into the teeth of the autumnal gales. The rest is history, and every American must know it better than I do.

What I do know is that in all the years since I made my discovery, my wife and I have taken an annual trip to Babworth, and we have been grateful to be able to enjoy the fountain at its source.

To us this church is a silent tribute to those brave farming families who, putting their concept of God before all else and braving 3,000 miles of turbulent ocean, set sail for freedom. How good to see their little church with quiet dignity continuing to welcome the faithful, just as it did 400 years and more ago.

What a lot of pleasure to stem from one medium-sized pork pie! A recent trip to New England made me realize that the Pilgrim Fathers did in the end have the best of both worlds ... they took the recipe with them.

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