I’m really conscious about how many times I’ve used the word ‘amazing’ on this trip so far, but today has been, well, amazing.
The position of the Sheriff of Nottingham has real significance in Plymouth. We have been treated like royalty, right down to the fact that our own Sheriff Leon, was curtseyed by some of the staff as we arrived at the Mayflower II in Plymouth – a beautiful town north of Boston and home to our very own Scrooby based ancestors.
We took the train from Boston South Station at 08.56, which to us was still well before 6am after out three hour time change last night. It’s a busy chaotic station and the home to Amtrak and the more commuter based double decker trains. Obviously we sat on the top deck (because it was there) and the trip to Plymouth was cheap and very efficient.
Even whilst we were arriving at the station, we were grabbed by a man called Evert Lanman, who has lived in Plymouth all his life – apart from the four years he served in the US Navy – he could not have been more proud (and surprised) to be meeting the real sheriff of Nottingham.
We were met by Deputy Phil Huang, our driver for the day in his blacked out van, more used to transporting people between court appearances than driving people between tourist attractions I suspect.
The Mayflower II is a 1957 reproduction of the original Mayflower that brought the Original Settlers to the USA.
It’s very much a ‘living’ history visitor attraction. The line that summed this up best came from Shelley Jo, who worked at the attraction, and was one we have to use somewhere in our attraction.
‘We don’t have artefacts, just attitudes’
This was incredibly evident. The exhibition panels were very much of the traditional variety, but when you step onto the boat, the people who work on there are completely in character and try as you might, you cannot break them out of it. They not only dress for a character of their time, they speak, eat and behave as a character of their time. Robert Coppen, the ships mate appeared genuinely shocked that someone would want to shake his hand upon our arrival as it was a custom that had not yet begun.
The waiter at the Cabby Shack, where we went for lunch told us that as kids, it used to be a game they play, where they’d go down on the boat and try and trick them into breaking character and answering in a modern way.
We’ve spent a long time since discussing this. Can we really recruit people who will get in character and stay in an unbreakable character? It’s a level of authenticity that we don’t normally see in the UK but one we have to learn from. These people aren’t just doing a job, they are really living the character whilst they are at work, and clearly researching the history of the characters of the time when they aren’t. And that’s for a salary of around $8 per hour. The British way has been to laugh at this, but if we are going to deliver an authentic experience, we have to learn from this and embrace what they are doing so well.
The Mayflower II gets around 1/2 million visitors per year spread throughout the year. They have many from Britain, but also from as far as Japan, the West Coast, Canada and Australia. Most have some British heritage and want to see where the US adventure began.
It was then off to the Pilgrim Hall Museum, just down the main street. We bumped into British visitors, over here from Warrington and touring New England, who like ourselves are amazed by the quality of the museums and exhibtions that are dotted throughout the region. This is the Longest continually running museum in the US, having originally been built and opened as a museum in 1824. The words ‘continually running’ are important here as there is one in Salem called Peabody Essex Museum, with a shout for the ‘oldest’ in the US having history dating back to 1799, but they can’t claim the ‘continuous’.
It’s a smaller exhibition that sees 30k visitors per year and follows a more traditional, but historically accurate route. It has a curator, a learned board of Directors and could easily be a direct reproduction of how Nottingham castle is run today.
Speaking to Phil Cripps, the Director of Plymouth County Convention and Visitors Bureau, they are in the process of landing a huge new inward investment to the region, which will bring them thousands more visitors each year. They are in the process of delivering the biggest production studio in the world. It’s two years away, but it will bring with it 14 stand alone sound stages, a 300 room 5 star hotel.
It will be called Plymouth Rock Studios and will become the Hollywood of the East Coast. It’s a huge deal ad will no doubt change the face of the region completely. You can see more about it here.
Perhaps most surprising is that in a non binding referendum in the town, the people of Plymouth voted 87% in favour and then in the town meeting to finally approve its arrival, they voted 97% in its favour. I somehow don’t see the people of Nottingham being this much in favour of such a huge change to the face and shape of a region.
After lunch it was off to Plimouth Plantation. The deliberately misspelt and historically accurate of what life would have really been like for the early settlers to the USA. As with the Mayflower, historical accuracy is everything. The people live and breathe their characters. It’s a totally enchanting place that oozes history. It could easily be mistaken for a Romanian Village and its beauty is in its simplicity and relative order.
We were introduced to many people in the village, but the first was Elder Brewster, who talked of the history of the place and referred to his ‘knees’.
At this point in history they were called ‘knees’ but the k was really emphasised so they sound like ‘kinees’. In history it was about this time, when the ‘k’ in your knees got softer and so the older cast members are using the traditional expressions and the younger ones adopting the more modern approach. This level of detail and historical accuracy as we have seen on many of he places during this tour is priceless. It is the reason they are successful. At Getty it was the one in 14 leaves being removed every three weeks and at the Museum of Tolerance it was the chilling walk from room to room.
If we are to build anything world class ourselves, we have to gain from this experience and ensure that we deliver this detail when we come to design and build our own attraction.
Again, volunteers were very much in evidence. These two here are both retired and want to be involved because as they said to us, ‘they simply love the feeling of the place’. If we can create something that brings this emotion to our region, we will have a huge success on our hands.
And then we were away. Back off to the City for our scheduled tour around the USS Constitution.
Boston is a beautiful place. A green and clean city, that maximises its water front. We’re splitting off into groups to see different things, so more to report later.