Every year, many Americans visit Billericay's Chantry House and St Mary Magdalen Church opposite, both in the High Street. The Chantry House is reputed to have been built around 1510 on the site of an earlier building erected to house the priest who served the Chantry Chapel (now St Mary Magdelen) in 1342/5. Legend states that Christopher Martin, the Governor of the famous Mayflower ship, who owned the Chantry House at 59/61 High Street, was the provisioner who supplied the food for the arduous 66-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean. It is believed that the flour for the voyage was milled locally at one of two windmills on Bell Hill.
The Mayflower with its 102 passengers eventually left Plymouth bound for the New World on 6 September 1620. On the passenger list, there were thirty-five devout Non-Conformists - later known as the Pilgrim Fathers, mainly coming from the Eastern Counties. Christopher Martin had been churchwarden of Billericay's mother church St Mary Magdalene at Great Burstead. It was here in 1607 that Martin married Marie Prower, a widow with a son, Solomon and the whole family embarked on their great adventure to the New World 13 years later.
It is said that the small band of Billericay pilgrims, families and friends, met at the Chantry House to say goodbye on the evening before the folk began their journey to join the Mayflower. Christopher Martin and his family with two other local men are now believed to have been part of that contingent. Unfortunately, the Great Burstead emigrants all died within a few months of arriving in Cape Cod.
During the 19th century the Chantry House was owned by the Mead and Richardson families. One of the Meads, a wealthy farmer from Little Burstead, presented the building to his daughter as a wedding gift. A later owner, Mr C H King caused an outcry when he was rumoured to have sold the house to an American who wanted to transport it to the US.
Mr King told a newspaper: "I have been the owner of the house since the end of 1919. It possesses some wonderful rafters. The house was built in 1367 and was renovated in 1510 and when I undertook some necessary restoration I found many interesting features which had been concealed. There are 12 rooms, almost in their original condition, with rafters and oak panelling. The two vestment cupboards, used by priests, are utterly unspoiled and the little paned windows at either side of the altar are just as they were in 1510. The house is built of timber and mud and it is intended, I understand, to take every bit of it to America, where it will be reconstructed. It will not be a difficult matter to take the house down."
Descriptions of the Chantry House are described in Volume IV of "Monuments of Essex." Mr King went on to say that at one time it was used as a meeting place for priests who said their Masses in the private chapel. Accordingly, Sir Henry Slessor promoted a Bill in the House of Commons making it an offence to pull down an ancient monument or work of art and send it out of the country. Saved then by Parliament, the Chantry House has had several owners over the last 90 years and is now the Kosthuree restaurant.