Malvern spring water catapulted Great Malvern into a victorian spa town attracting the rich and famous.
The attraction of Great Malvern today, is its unspoilt beauty and impression of past Victoriana with Malvern spring water wells, working gas lamps throughout the town, stunning views of the Malvern Hills, a vibrant music and theatre complex all makes Malvern and the surrounding area a great destination for the whole family.
Malvern sits in the middle of the three counties of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. Positioned on the east side of the Hills, Malvern developed from a small village into a busy spa town during the 19th Century, mainly due to the spring water. The Malvern springs have been releasing an average of 60 litres of water a minute, and to date, this flow has never ceased. In fact, the beneficial properties of the water have been celebrated for over 400 years, but it was during the Victorian times that Malvern was placed on the map.
In the mid-1800’s Dr James Wilson and Gully established the water cure spa treatment centre on Belle Vue, using the therapeutic qualities of the Malvern spring water. This Georgian fancy to ‘take the water’ transformed Malvern from a small village of 3000 inhabitants into a ‘Water Cure’ town. In 1831 Princess Victoria visited the area and by the time Queen Victoria died, the population was close to 16,000. As more and more visitors arrived for the water cure, Malvern boasted 95 hotels, and by 1865, there were over 200 boarding and lodging houses. Large villas were constructed along with shops, schools and churches, and private education became very competitive. Elementary schools were also established in every parish to provide working class children with a basic education. In 1851 Malvern was officially given Town status improving public services and facilities such as roads, sewers, drains, reservoirs, a town cemetery, electric and gas works. The railway from Worcester to Hereford was finally opened in 1861 following the completion of a railway tunnel through the Malvern Hill. This brought many more Water Cure visitors and tourists to Malvern rivalling other Spa towns such as Bath and Cheltenham.
The Victorians influenced the growth of Great Malvern, but its roots go back much further
Prior to the Victorians arriving, Great Malvern was just a collection of small cottages until the Middle Ages, and running along the Malvern Hills there are clear signs of Iron and Bronze Age forts and tracks. The Priory Church is the oldest part of the town, founded in 1085 when Benedictine monks settled there and built the Priory as a daughter-house to Westminster Abbey.
Malvern remained popular, even after the water cure demand had declined with George Bernard Shaw and Edward Elgar continuing to bring fame to the town during the 20th Century through their music and theatre festivals.
- Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens came to Malvern many times and helped make Malvern a popular destination
- Annie Darwin was the daughter of Charles Darwin and sadly died in Malvern and is buried in the Priory churchyard.
- Jenny Lind the “Swedish Nightingale” lived for some years at Wynds Point below British Camp.
- C. S. Lewis attended school at Malvern College. He said he drew inspiration from the gas lamps for elements of ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’.
- J. R. R Tolkien was introduced to the College’s Head of English, George Sayer, by C.S Lewis, and the “Lord of the Rings” was first put down on tape at his Malvern home.
- Peter Mark Roget famous for his Thesaurus, died whilst on holiday in the area and is buried in the churchyard of St. James’ in West Malvern.
- Sir Charles Hastings lived in Barnards Green House on Poolbrook Road and was the founder of the British Medical Association.
- Dame Laura Knight, the famous impressionist painter, often staying at the Mount Pleasant Hotel.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of America, convalesced at Aldwyn Towers in 1889 aged just 7 years old.
- Haile Selassie stayed at the Abbey Hotel in the 1930s during his exile.
Malvern Spring Water
When you visit Malvern you can still find spring water wells at around 70 locations across the Malvern Hills. Residents regularly fill containers from these wells free of charge and some have been well restored such as the Beauchamp Spout and the well-known fountain Malvhina at Belle Vue Island. Others are more obscure, so finding them is an interesting treasure hunt, but below is a list of the more well-known wells to visit.
- St Ann’s Well – Great Malvern, housed in a building dating back to 1815
- Beauchamp Fountain – Cowleigh Road
- Enigma Fountain plus Malvhina water feature, Belle Vue Terrace – town centre
- Evendine Spring – Jubilee Drive (west flank of the Hills)
- Hayslad Spring – West Malvern Road
- Holy Well – Malvern Wells
- Jubilee Fountain – Malvern Wells
- Morris Well and Wells Common – Lower Wyche
J Schweppe .established the popularity of Malvern water even further when he launched his bottled water at the Great Exhibition in 1851. The water continued to be bottled from Colwall on a commercial scale by Coca-Cola, who had taken over the Schweppe company, but in 2010 they decided to close the bottling plant. In 2009 a small family-owned business took over bottling the water under the name of Holywell Spring Water, Interesting to note that Malvern water has been drunk by Royalty since the 16th Century when Queen Elizabeth 1 was seen drinking it in public, and Queen Victoria never travelled without it.
The Malvern Priory
Dating back to 1085 the Priory is an impressive English medieval church and you can read more about the history of the Priory under Malvern Church’s
Malvern Theatre is one of the major centres for the arts across the West Midlands and found fame from the Malvern Festivals, founded by Bernard Shaw and Barry Jackson in 1929. The theatre was awarded a lottery-funded refurbishment in 1997 and today enjoys a diverse selection of plays, music, comedy, dance, film and education work, all under one roof. At the rear of the complex is Priory Park, which houses a victorian Band Stand which is still used during the summer months along with a picturesque duck pond and children’s play area.
The park was formally the gardens for the Priory Mansion built in 1874. Today, the mansion houses the Council offices and Priory Park is surrounded by the Theatre complex, Malvern Splash Leisure Complex and the Council House. Previously known as the Winter Gardens, Priory Park is filled with magnificent mature trees, the duck pond which is spanned by a couple of wooden bridges and the Victorian bandstand built back in 1875 and later restored in the 1980s. Many of the beautiful trees in the park were planted almost 150 years ago when victorian gardeners loved to plant exotic trees from other parts of the world. Located in one corner of the park you will find the beautiful wooden carving, created by Tom Harvey from a tree which had to be felled. Access to Priory Park is via Grange Road, Priory Road or walk through the theatre complex and enter the park from the rear.
St Ann and Holy Well
We have already listed some of the wells in and around Malvern but St Ann’s Well and Holywell both have impressive buildings to house their spring water wells. From the town centre take the steep climb up to St Ann’s Well and read the story board of how the well came about and if it’s open you can grab some refreshment at the small cafe.
Holywell has been in use as far back as 1622 when the monks at Great Malvern Priory used the water to benefit the town’s sick and elderly. For centuries the water was bottled at this site and used locally until 1843 when Mr Schweppes came to Malvern and commercialised ‘Malvern Water’ at the Holywell Spring. When Queen Victoria was introduced to Malvern Water at the Great Exhibition, she gave it a ‘Royal Appointment’ and it had remained the water of choice for British Royal Family.
In 2009, Mike and Rhys Humm started bottling water from the Holywell Spring again and set about bottling the water in a fashion that befitted the quality and history associated with Malvern Water. Coca-Cola then decided to withdraw from Malvern Water in 2010, which drove Mike and Rhys’s passion and responsibility to ensure Malvern’s Water remained available for generations to come.
Built around 1430, the Gateway is the second oldest building in Malvern after the Norman Priory Church. It is the only remaining building from the 12th-century Benedictine monastery that was destroyed in 1539 during King Henry VIII dissolution of Monasteries. This medieval jewel is home to Malvern’s small Museum filled with exhibits on all aspect of Malvern’s history and how it developed. There is an insight into geology, the 19th Century era of the water cure, and items from the town’s famous defence research establishment, where wartime radar was developed.
Great Malvern Station
Built by the Worcester and Hereford Railway in 1860 the Great Malvern Station was completed in 1862. The building is constructed from Malvern rag stone in a French Gothic theme and a particular feature of the station is the awning pillar capitals on both platforms.
This fantastic victorian station is decorated with high relief mouldings depicting different arrangements of flowers and foliage. The station celebrated its 150th birthday in 2010 and today there is a small cafe on platform one.
Rose Bank Gardens
Rose Bank Gardens look down on Great Malvern and sit on the East side of the Malvern Hills. Initially, it was part of a Regency House called Rose Bank and then gifted to Malvern in 1918 by Mr Dyson Perrins, but the house was demolished in 1959. Today it forms part of the ‘Route to the Malvern Hills‘ starting at Great Malvern Station, up through the town, through the gardens and then up the ’99’ steps to the Malvern Hills and St Ann’s Well.
Within the garden, there is a terraced pathway lined with Victorian gas lamps and an excellent view over the town, The Priory, Abbey Gateway and the Abbey Hotel. The Diamond Jubilee Sculpture of Two Buzzards by Walenty Pytel can be seen from the road and looks quite magnificent. Rose Bank Gardens are on Belle Vue Terrace, next to the Mount Pleasant Hotel.
Malvern theatre of Small Convenience
The theatre situated on Edith Walk has been host to a great variety of theatrical experiences. Dennis Neale founded this unique theatre in November 1999 as a non-profit making independent project. He has held performances both professional and amateur during that time and as a keen puppeteer and drama enthusiast runs the theatre to simply offer drama, puppetry, poetry, story-telling, music and monologues, and even a day of opera!
When you enter the theatre you feel as though you are stepping through a magic door into a quaint theatrical style interior marked by Italian commedia dell’arte and painted walls of summer skies, blue seas and wild greenery adding depth and drama to the atmosphere.
The theatre only holds a dozen people afore an unconventional stage, so it really is very sweet and quite unique.
Gas Lamps in Malvern
Malvern is famous for it’s working gas lamps (over 80) that can be seen all over the town. There are gas lamps in the Town Centre, on the Belle Vue Island, in the Priory Churchyard, Holywell Road, West Malvern, and along the only A road in the Uk lit up by gas lamps, the Wells Road in Malvern Wells. If you have read ‘Narnia’ by C. S. Lewis, it is said that the Malvern gas lamps were featured as a result of him attending Malvern College as a schoolboy.
The Malvern Tourist Information Centre sell a small ‘Gas Lamp Trail guide‘ to assist you to search out and admire these rare survivors of an earlier era.