Great Malvern is an area of Malvern, Worcestershire, England. It lies at the foot of the Malvern Hills, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, on the eastern flanks of the Worcestershire Beacon and North Hill which are easily accessed from the town centre. It is the historical centre of the town and is a designated a Conservation Area in recognition of the special architectural and historic interest of the area. It is the location of the headquarters buildings of the of Malvern Town Council, the governing body of the Malvern civil parish, and Malvern Hills District council of the county of Worcestershire, England, and a number of the town's amenities including the Malvern Theatres complex, a park, a swimming pool, a library, and a large indoor and outdoor sports facility.
It is the original main urban centre of the area of Malvern, Worcestershire that began with the founding of an 11th-century priory. During the 19th century, it became a popular centre for hydrotherapy and swelled to include the bordering settlements of Barnards Green, Little Malvern, Malvern Link with Link Top, Malvern Wells, North Malvern, and West Malvern, and often referred to collectively - along with the hills - as The Malverns. In 1900 the former urban districts and towns of Great Malvern and Malvern Link were merged and form the current (2009) six wards governed by Malvern Town Council.
The town developed around its 11th-century priory, a Benedictine monastery, the remains of which make up some of the early parts of Great Malvern Priory, now a large parish church. Several slightly different histories explain the actual founding of the religious community. Legend tells that the settlement began following the murder of St. Werstan, a monk of Deerhurst, who escaped and fled through the Malvern Chase, finding sanctuary on the Malvern Hills and establishing a hermitage near St. Ann's Well. St Werstan's oratory is thought to have been located on the site of St Michael's Chapel, which is believed to have stood on the site of Bello Sguardo, a Victorian Villa. Bello Sguardo was built on the site of Hermitage Cottage. The cottage was demolished in 1825 and ecclesiastical carvings were found within it. A Mediaeval undercroft, human bones and parts of a coffin were also uncovered. Although the legend may be monastic mythology, historians have however concluded that St. Werstan was the original martyr. The first prior was Aldwyn, who founded the monastery on his bishop's advice, and by 1135 the monastery included thirty monks. Aldwyn was succeeded by Walcher of Malvern, an astronomer and philosopher from Lorraine, whose gravestone inside the priory church records details that the priory arose in 1085 from a hermitage endowed by Edward the Confessor. An ancient stained glass window in the Priory church depicts the legend of St. Werstan, with details of his vision, the consecration of his chapel, Edward the Confessor granting the charter for the site, and Werstan's martyrdom.
An 18th-century document states that in the 18th year of William's kingship (probably 1083), a priory was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. Victoria County History describes how a hermit Aldwyn, who lived in the reign of Edward the Confessor, had petitioned the Earl of Gloucester for the original site (of the Priory) in the wood, and cites his source as "Gervase of Canterbury, Mappa Mundi (Rolls ser.)".
Large estates in Malvern were part of crown lands given to Gilbert "the Red", the seventh Earl of Gloucester and sixth Earl of Hertford, on his marriage to Joan of Acre the daughter of Edward I, in 1290. Disputed hunting rights on these led to several armed conflicts with Humphrey de Bohun, 3rd Earl of Hereford, that Edward resolved. Nott states that Gilbert made gifts to the Priory, and describes his "great conflict" with Thomas de Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford, also about hunting rights and a ditch that Gilbert dug, that was settled by costly litigation. Gilbert had a similar conflict with Godfrey Giffard, Bishop and Administrator of Worcester Cathedral (and formerly Chancellor of England. Godfrey, who had granted land to the Priory, had jurisdictional disputes about Malvern Priory, resolved by Robert Burnell, the current Chancellor.
During the Dissolution of the Monasteries the local commissioners were instructed to ensure that, where abbey churches were also used for parish worship, they should continue or could be purchased by parishioners. Accordingly, Malvern Priory survived by being acquired by a William Pinnocke and with it, much of the 15th century stained glass windows. The monastic buildings were taken apart and anything usable was sold off. With the exception of the church building (of which the south transept adjoining the monastery's cloisters was destroyed), all that remains of Malvern's monastery is the Abbey Gateway (also known as the Priory Gatehouse) that houses today's Malvern Museum.
Development as a spa (17th-19th centuries)
The health-giving properties of Malvern water and the natural beauty of the surroundings led to the development of Malvern as a spa, with resources for invalids and for tourists, seeking cures, rest and entertainment. Local legend has it that the curative benefit of the spring water was known in mediaeval times. The medicinal value and the bottling of Malvern water are mentioned "in a poem attributed to the Reverend Edmund Rea, who became Vicar of Great Malvern in 1612". Richard Banister, the pioneering oculist, wrote about the Eye Well, close to the Holy Well, in a short poem in his Breviary of the Eyes (see Malvern water), in 1622. In 1756, Dr. John Wall published a 14 page pamphlet on the benefits of Malvern water, that reached a 158 page 3rd edition in 1763. Further praise came from the botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet in 1757, the poet Thomas Warton in 1790, and William Addison, the physician of the Duchess of Kent (mother of Queen Victoria) in 1828, all quoted in a review by the medical historian W.H. McMenemy.
In his lecture about Malvern at the Royal Institution, Addison spoke of "its pure and invigorating air, the excellence of its water, and the romantic beauty of its scenery". Similar views appeared in the press, Nicholas Vansittart brought his wife Catherine to Malvern for a rest cure in 1809. Chambers, in his book about Malvern, praised Elizabeth, Countess Harcourt (daughter-in-law of the 1st Earl Harcourt), whose patronage contributed to the development of hillside walks.
Bottling and shipping of the Malvern water grew in volume. In 1842, Dr. James Wilson and Dr. James Manby Gully, leading exponents of hydrotherapy, set up clinics in Malvern (Holyrood House for women and Tudor House for men). Malvern expanded rapidly as a residential spa. Several large hotels and many of the large villas in Malvern date from its heyday. Many smaller hotels and guest houses were built between about 1842 and 1875. By 1855 there were already 95 hotels and boarding houses and by 1865 over a quarter of the town's 800 houses were boarding and lodging houses. Most were in Great Malvern, the town centre, while others were in the surrounding settlements of Malvern Wells, Malvern Link, North Malvern and West Malvern.
Queen Adelaide visited St. Ann's Well in September 1842. "Throughout the 1840s and 1850s Malvern attracted a stream of celebrated visitors, including royalty." Patients included Charles Darwin, Catherine, wife of Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, Florence Nightingale, Lord Lytton, who was an outspoken protagonist, Lord Tennyson and Samuel Wilberforce. The hydrotherapists came under heavy criticism from Sir Charles Hastings (a founder of the British Medical Association) and other physicians.
The extension of the railway from Worcester to Malvern Link was completed on 25 May 1859. The following year, "Besides middle class visitors ... the railway also brought working class excursionists from the Black Country with dramatic effect ... At Whitsuntide ... 10,000 came from the Black Country to the newly opened stations at Great Malvern and Malvern Wells. Throughout June to September, day trips were frequent, causing the "town to be crowded with 'the most curious specimens of the British shopkeeper and artisan on an outing'".
Following Malvern's new-found fame as a spa and area of natural beauty, and fully exploiting its new rail connections, factories from as far as Manchester were organising day trips for their employees, often attracting as many as 5,000 visitors a day. In 1865, a public meeting of residents denounced the rising rail fares – by then twice that of other lines – that were exploiting the tourism industry, and demanded a limitation to the number of excursion trains. The arrival of the railway also enabled the delivery of coal in large quantities, which accelerated the area's popularity as a winter resort.
The 1887 Baedeker's includes Malvern in a London–Worcester–Hereford itinerary and described as "an inland health resort, famous for its bracing air and pleasant situation" and "a great educational centre", with five hotels that are "well spoken of", a commercial hotel, the Assembly Rooms and Gardens, and many excursions on foot, pony and by carriage. Other descriptions of the diversions mention bands, quadrilles, cricket (residents vs visitors) and billiard rooms. The Duchess of Teck stayed, with her daughter Mary (later queen consort of George V), in Malvern in the Autumn of 1891, joined by Lady Eva Greville and the Duke of Teck. The Duchess was "perfectly enchanted with Malvern and its surroundings" and, with the Duke, visited Malvern College. The Duchess returned to open the new waterworks at Camp Hill in 1895. In 1897, the painter Edward Burne-Jones came to Malvern for the "bracing air", on the recommendation of his doctor, but stayed in his hotel for a week. The 7 year old Franklin D. Roosevelt visited in 1889, during a trip to Europe with his parents.
Fearing that Malvern would become the "Metropolis of Hydrotherapy", a Malvern Hills Act had been secured in parliament in 1884 and later Acts empowered the Malvern Hills Conservators to acquire land to prevent further encroachment on common land and by 1925 they had bought much of the manorial wastelands.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the popularity of the hydrotherapy had declined to the extent that many hotels were already being converted into private boarding schools and rest homes, and education became the basis of Malvern's economy. By 1865, the town already had 17 single-gender private schools, increasing to 25 by 1885. The area was well suited for schools due to its established attractive environment and access by rail. Children could travel unaccompanied with their trunks by rail to their boarding schools near the stations in Great Malvern, Malvern Wells, and Malvern Link. The Girls College, in a former hotel directly opposite Great Malvern railway station, has a dedicated (now derelict) tunnel to the basement of the building, which is clearly visible from both platforms of the station.