Friday, July 26, 2019

Beautful Malvern

by Lauren Gilbert

The author at Catstlemorton in the Malvern Hills
Not far from the Cotswolds are the Malvern Hills. I had the good fortune to visit that area last year, and enjoyed it greatly. Officially designated an Area of Outstanding Beauty, the Malvern Hills occupy a large range in Worcestershire, Herefordshire and a small portion of Gloucestershire. The area has long been famous for its natural springs and wells. Picturesque towns and villages abound, such as Great Malvern, Little Malvern (3 miles from Great Malvern), Malvern Wells (2 miles from Great Malvern), Upton upon Severn, Castlemoreton, Guarlford, Newland, and others. The entire locale has a long and fascinating history.

An Iron Age fortification is located high in the hills which housed ancient Britons. Initially considered a defensive structure, it mayhave been a permanent fortification, housing up to 4000 residents for a 500-year period. The name “Malvern” appears to have been derived from “Moel-Bryn” (or “Mal-Bryn”), ancient Briton meaning “the bare hill”. The fortification subsequently housed, in turn, Romans, Saxons and Vikings; it was also used by the Normans.

Central mound of the British camp viewed from the
south-layered earthwork defense can be seen.

Great Malvern Priory’s history is cloaked in legend. St. Werstan escaped from the Norsemen and found refuge a hermitage in the Malvern Hills near St. Ann’s Well. He was found and murdered. The Normans arrived shortly after the Battle of Hastings and started work on a monastery called Malvern Chase in c 1085 (“chase” is unenclosed land used for hunting) which evolved into Great Malvern Priory. By 1135, there were 30 monks under Aldwyn, the first prior who was appointed by St. Wulfstan, then Bishop of Worcester. With work completed c. 1100, the Priory church was part of the monastery complex which (it turns out) was built on land belonging to Westminster Abbey. In 1154, it was placed by papal bull under the jurisdiction of Westminster Abbey, putting it under the control of the crown instead of the parish. Tensions with the Bishop of Worcester resulted. Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) and Henry VII both donated stained glass windows in the 15th century. In 1539, at the will of Henry VIII, the monks surrendered the lands and buildings, which were plundered. The Priory church itself was saved by Malvern parishioners whose parish church was derelict and it became the parish church.

Great Malvern Priory from the Churchyard 
There was no money for repairs or maintenance up to 1800. The mediaeval stained glass was kept as the parish had no funds to remove and replace it. In the mid to late 1800s, the priory was repaired, restored and renovated, with the work being funded primarily by wealthy businessmen. Between 1910 and 1915, the glass was repaired and restored. During WWII, the windows were removed, and the glass was stored in zinc-lined boxes. The windows were replaced after the war by organist Dr. L. A. Hammond.

Great Malvern Priory-"King Solomon" Window by Shrigley and
Hunt, 1908 (some 15th century glass still remains)
Little Malvern Priory (Our Lady and St. Giles) was a small monastic cell founded about 1125 from Worcester Cathedral (independent of the Great Malvern Priory), and was originally known as St Giles Priory. A Benedictine monastery built in the village of Little Malvern 3 miles south of Great Malvern Priory evolved from St. Giles and the church was completed 1171. It was dissolved Aug 31, 1534 when the prior subscribed to Henry VIII’s supremacy over the Church of England.

Little Malvern Prior, in the village of Little Malvern 
The area around Great Malvern was a natural watering place. Wells, fountains and springs, including Holy-Well, St. Anne’s Well, Pewtress Spring (now known as Primeswell spring) were found throughout the Malvern Hills area. Holy-well water was bottled as early as 1622. Richard Banister’s book, published in 1622, ‘Breviary of one Hundred and Thirteen diseases of the Eyes and Eyelids” mentions the curative properties of Malvern water (Richard Banister was an occulist. By 1688 the waters were known as a cure for cancers and sores of all descriptions. In 1756, Dr. John Wall (a famous doctor, involved with Royal Worcester pottery) analysed the water and established that it had an exceptionally low mineral content (he claimed he found nothing in it at all). He wrote a treatise “Experiments and Observations on the Malvern Waters” which went to three editions, with the third 3rd being published in 1763).

The clean air and clean water led to a drastic population increase from about 1800 on. By the early 1800s, Malvern was a popular summer resort. A GUIDE TO ALL THE WATERING AND SEA-BATHING PLACES for 1813 by the Editor of THE PICTURE OF LONDON (John Feltham) extolled the clean air, clean water, beautiful countryside and the attractions of the surrounding area, including the ancient cam and the churches in Great Malvern and Little Malvern. A list of notables who had chosen to live in the area was also provided, and mention was made of stately homes to visit. Malvern’s proximity to Worcester was also a significant advantage.

The Malvern area had its heyday as a Victorian era spa thanks to the popularity of hydrotherapy (the use of water for medical benefit-soaking and swimming, drinking, application in packs, etc.). In 1842, the first “water cure” clinic was established by Drs. James Gully and James Wilson in the Belle Vue Terrace. Queens Victoria and Adelaide, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Florence Nightingale, and other notables visited the spa to receive the benefits of the cold springs water. Both doctors published materials discussing water treatments and cures.

Malvern water was bottled commercially by J. Schweppes & Co. in 1850. The reputation of the water itself was long established and the Malvern water bottled by Schweppes appeared at the Great Exhibition in 1851. The popularity of the spa increased dramatically over the next several years, a process further accelerated when a railway link from Worcester was completed in 1859. Unfortunately Malvern’s popularity as a watering place began to decline in 1870’s due to the death of Dr Wilson in 1867 and the departure of Dr Gulley in 1873, an outbreak of typhoid fever in the area, and competition from less expensive and equally effective treatments at other facilities (especially in Europe).

Malvern today is a popular and thriving area. Spas are still to be found in Malvern. There are numerous luxury spa hotels in the area (although they are different from the Victorian spa clinics). The springs and wells still attract people for health matters and the area has attracted practitioners of holistic medicine. Holy-well water, once bottled by Schweppes/Coca Cola, seems to be sold today to a limited market and is reputed to be a favourite of the Royal Family. It is also a popular tourist destination, due to the beauty and charm of the towns and surrounding countryside. Outdoor activities are very popular in the summer, including camping, hiking and biking. The area’s status as an Area of Outstanding Beauty has resulted in the preservation of the countryside, with the hills and springs and wells.
Sources include:

A GUIDE TO ALL THE WATERING AND SEA-BATHING PLACES For 1813. With A Description of The Lakes; A Sketch of A Tour In Wales; And Itineraries. By the Author of The Picture of London. London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, Paternoster-row. PP. 294-303. WHERE I LIVE Hereford and Worcester. “Malvern Hills: British Camp” (no date or author; page archived). HERE ; HEREFORD AND WORCESTER Malvern Hills “The History of British Camp” by Paul Renfry, September 24 2014 (page archived). HERE; “MALVERN HILLS-the water cure” last updated 5/1/2009. HERE “About Us: Malvern’s History with Holistic Medicine” (c) Drs. Martin and Sue Allbright, major update 2012.HERE

British History Online. A HISTORY OF THE COUNTY OF WORCESTER, Vol. 4, “Parishes: Great Malvern With Newland”, pages 123-134. Ed. William Page and J. W. Willis-Bund. Originally published by Victoria County History, London 1924. HERE

GoogleBooks. EXPERIMENTS AND OBSERVATIONS ON THE MALVERN WATERS. THE THIRD EDITION, Enlarged with an Additional Appendix by J. Wall, M.D. Worcester: Printed and sold by R. Lewis, bookseller, 1763. HERE

Great Malvern Priory. “History” (no author or post date shown).HERE

HistoricUK. “Malvern, Worcestershire” (no author or post date shown). HERE

InformationBritain. “The History of Malvern Wells” (no author or post date shown). HERE

Little Malvern Priory. “History of LMP” by Glynnis Dray (2009). HERE


A view of Castlemoreton Common-author’s personal photo.

British hill fort by Spoonfrog at English Wikipedia [Public domain].

Great Malvern Priory: Wikimedia Commons-published under Creative Commons license by the author Poliphilo (all rights waived)- HERE

Great Malvern Priory-“King Solomon” Window by Jules & Jenny from Lincoln UK: Wikimedia Commons-licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License - HERE

Little Malvern Priory by Saffron Blaze: Wikimedia Commons-licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 HERE 

About the author: Lauren Gilbert holds a BA in English with a minor in Art History, and is a long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her first published work, HEYERWOOD: A Novel was released in 2011. She is in the process of completing a second novel while doing research for a nonfiction work. She is a member of the Florida Writers Associations and the Society of Authors. Lauren lives in Florida with her husband Ed. You may visit her website for more information.


  1. A Wonderful inspiring post, Lauren. I really feel a road trip coming on for future days!

  2. Thanks, Paula! I'm glad you enjoyed it. The area is well worth a visit.


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