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The Pilgrims - Official History

The Pilgrims of Great Britain and its sister society, the Pilgrims of the United States, are the two oldest and most prestigious Anglo-American organisations on both sides of the Atlantic.

Over more than a century the Pilgrims have played a very important role in cementing good relations between the two countries, and have acted as one of the principal custodians of what has come to be known as the Special Relationship.


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The Pilgrims  — 

On 16 July 1902 an informal meeting took place at the Carlton Hotel in London, at which the decision was taken to establish The Pilgrims of Great Britain. Those present included General Joseph Wheeler, the famous cavalry leader of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War; Colonel (later General Sir) Bryan Mahon, who had commanded the troops relieving Mafeking in 1900; the Hon Charles Rolls of Rolls-Royce fame and a notable aviation pioneer, and Harry, later Sir Harry, Brittain. The title of the Pilgrims, not to be confused with the Pilgrim Trust, had nothing whatever to do with the Mayflower and the Pilgrim Fathers of 1620, but was chosen as a short and concise name which would express the idea of members of the English-speaking world travelling from one country to another. The main objective of the Pilgrims was, as it still remains, the encouragement of Anglo-American good fellowship.

The distinctive Pilgrims’ logo was designed by Hugh Fisher, an artist at The Illustrated London News. It shows an ancient mounted pilgrim, with a lion (representing Great Britain) walking beside him and an eagle (representing the USA) perched upon the steed’s rump. Above this, another ancient pilgrim gazes with amazement at a motor car, bicycle, steamship, train and aeroplane. The motto Hic et Ubique translates as “Here and Everywhere”.

The Pilgrims of the United States came into being at a meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York on 13 January 1903. The Pilgrims of Great Britain and the Pilgrims of the United States have reciprocal membership. By tradition the Pilgrims join together in a single toast His/Her Majesty the King/Queen and the President of the United States, and the first speech on British soil by a new American Ambassador to the United Kingdom is to the Pilgrims of Great Britain and the first speech by a new British Ambassador to the United States is to the Pilgrims of the United States.

In 1994 it was decided to establish an annual Sir Harry Brittain Memorial Lecture in memory of Sir Harry Brittain (1873-1974), the British journalist and Conservative politician who tried to foster closer Anglo-American relations and was the principal founder of the Pilgrims. For seventeen years, first as Honorary Secretary and then as Chairman, he steered the society through its early life. He resigned the Chairmanship in 1918 because of his Parliamentary duties, and became its senior Vice President and the only Pilgrim Emeritus.

Over the years the roll-call of distinguished guest speakers at Pilgrims’ events has been most impressive – Lord Curzon, Mark Twain, Admiral Peary, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), Stanley Baldwin, Ramsey Macdonald, George Marshall, Dean Acheson, Anthony Eden, Archbishop Fisher, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Henry Kissinger, Caspar Weinberger, HRH The Princess Royal and General Lord Dannatt – to name but a few.

The Centennial year of 2002 saw a series of memorable events, including a reception at St James’s Palace in the presence of our Patron Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and a Thanksgiving dinner at the Mansion House by courtesy of the Lord Mayor of London. Her Majesty has allowed the Pilgrims to hold receptions at St James’s Palace on four occasions. 2002 also saw the publication of The Pilgrims of Great Britain – A Centennial History by Anne Baker, an account of the Pilgrims’ activities and achievements over ten decades, with some well-chosen photographs and other illustrations. Anne Baker went on to equal her achievement by producing in 2003 The Pilgrims of the United States – A Centennial History.

While visits to places of interest, often with an American connection, have continued to occupy an important place in the calendar, periodic receptions at Winfield House as guests of the American Ambassador have helped to strengthen the unique Anglo-American relationship.

Under the Presidency of Admiral Lord Boyce and the Chairmanship of Mr Ronald M Freeman, the Pilgrims of Great Britain look forward with continuing enthusiasm to a challenging future.

The Pilgrims' archives are lodged with London Metropolitan Archives. Please contact for further information regarding access.

Copies of the fully-illustrated The Pilgrims of Great Britain - A Centennial History by Anne Pimlott Baker (2002) are available on application to the Pilgrims' office at a cost of £25.00 each.

The Pilgrims of Great Britain - A Centennial History is a celebration of a great institution and a valuable record of 100 years of discreet influence on AngloAmerican relations. The Pilgrims Society of Great Britain was founded in 1902 to promote 'good-will, good-fellowship, abiding friendship, and everlasting peace between the United States and Great Britain'.

Throughout the twentieth century its glittering dinners and receptions formed a focus for those who saw the abiding importance of an alliance of interests across the Atlantic. In the opening years of the twenty-first century, as the world faces threats and crises that would have been unimaginable to the founders of the Society a hundred years before, the "special relationship" between the USA and the UK is as valuable as it has ever been. The Pilgrims Society has its own special part to play in that relationship by cultivating mutual interest, understanding and friendship between the two countries.

The fascinating story of the Pilgrims is one of distinguished public figures and a no less remarkable array of those such as Harry Brittain (the Society's first and indefatigable secretary and later its chairman) and J. Wilson Taylor (secretary for an astonishing 24 years, from 1919 to 1943) who worked tirelessly to make the Pilgrims the success it has become.

More than 200 seldom-seen illustrations with detailed captions supplement this meticulous history, graphically evoking the personalities and special atmosphere of the Pilgrims. An introductory letter by HM The Queen, Patron of the Pilgrims, a foreword by Lord Carrington, President 1983-2002, and an introduction by Sir Robert Worcester, Chairman 1993-2010, together with details of past and present officers, the first official list of members in 1903 and a record of functions through the years complete this unique and authoritative chronicle.

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