Great Malvern is largely Victorian but its roots go back much further. Iron and Bronze Age forts and tracks ran along the hills and Great Malvern was only a collection of small cottages until the Middle Ages. The oldest parts of the town can be seen around the Priory Church which was founded in 1085 when Benedictine monks settled here and built a Priory, which was a daughter house to Westminster Abbey.
Great Malvern originated as a spa village with therapeutic qualities attributed to its springs. It was the Georgian fancy of taking the waters and later the Victorian popularity of the water cure that transformed Malvern into a Water Cure town. Doctors Gully and Wilson brought hydrotherapy – the water cure – from Austria and built the first water cure house in 1845. The growing influx of visitors necessitated accommodation, information and social recreation to rival such centres as Bath and Cheltenham. Although you can no longer take the water cure in Malvern, many of the impressive buildings are still in use as public buildings.
The popularity of Great Malvern continued to grow even when the water cure had declined. George Bernard Shaw and Edward Elgar brought Great Malvern into the 20th Century with their music and theatre festivals held in the Winter Gardens. Today there is a new theatre complex in the old Winter Gardens; the old Iron Age tracks leading to St. Ann’s well and onto the hills are still walked by visitors; and cars as well as people now traverse Belle Vue Terrace. The delight of Great Malvern today is still its unspoilt beauty, with a glimpse of past Victoriana including our many still-working gaslamps, stunning views of the Severn Valley and exciting music and theatre.
Malvern is an impressive shopping destination, thanks to its hillside setting. There are bookshops – both new and secondhand. There are antique dealers, as well as auctions from time to time, not to mention quality furniture, fashion and food. The Malvern lifestyle attracts artists and craftspeople, so you will find some delightful works on show and in shops and galleries. But the best way to appreciate what Malvern has to offer is to visit and explore – there is much to find.
Within Malvern itself there is plenty to do – below are some ideas.
St Ann’s Well
The well waters of Malvern are many – but often well-concealed. St Ann’s Well (where you can enjoy a peaceful break with delicious refreshments) and Holy Well, are tucked away in valleys. But in and around the Malverns are many more springs, some well restored like the Beauchamp Spout in Cowleigh Road or the well known fountain, Malvhina, at Belle Vue Island and others more obscure. Finding them makes an interesting treasure hunt.
Great Malvern Priory
How about a visit to Great Malvern Priory? It is a cathedral-sized wonder of English medieval architecture, with many treasures to reveal; massive Norman pillars, a huge famous east window, misericord seats carved with lively and entertaining scenes, tiles in many designs, manufactured by the monks.
Malvern Theatres and Priory Park
Music and theatre are Malvern traditions. You will find them alive and well in the Malvern Theatres Complex which overlooks Priory Park. This Edwardian building has been transformed into one of Britain’s most enjoyed and popular provincial cultural centres. The theatre’s West End style and atmosphere helps the management attract big names and top-class drama, ballet and opera companies throughout the year. As for music, the Forum Theatre’s superb acoustics and seating enhance the quality of its programmes. And the cinema now has frequent showings of less-available films from all over the world, as well as current releases.
Malvern’s other medieval jewel is the Abbey Gateway, which is home to Malvern’s Museum. It is small but filled with exhibits on every aspect of Malvern’s history and development; geology, intriguing insights into the 19th Century, era of the water cure and items from Malvern’s famous defence research establishment, where historic wartime radar was developed.
For a tour with a purpose, around some of Malvern’s loveliest parts, follow the Elgar Route, to places loved by Edward Elgar. Favourite places to visit on the route include the Elgar Birthplace Museum at Lower Broadheath between Malvern and Worcester and the Elgar Graves in St Wulstan’s Church at Little Malvern.
Many eminent Victorians visited The Malverns during the heyday of the Water Cure. Sir Edward Elgar drew inspiration from walking and cycling in the area for his musical compositions. He collaborated with George Bernard Shaw to organise the Malvern Drama Festival from 1929. Charles Darwin visited on a number of occasions and his 10 year old daughter Annie sadly died in Malvern and is buried in Great Malvern Priory churchyard. Jenny Lind – the “Swedish Nightingale” lived for some years at Wynds Point below British Camp. C. S. Lewis went to school at Malvern College and drew inspiration from the Malvern gaslamps for elements of the story of “The Chronicles of Narnia“. Lewis introduced J. R. R. Tolkien to the College’s Head of English, George Sayer, 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, founder of the British Medical Association, lived in Barnards Green House on Poolbrook Road. Dame Laura Knight, the famous impressionist painter, often visited Malvern, staying at the Mount Pleasant Hotel. Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of America, convalesced at Aldwyn Towers in 1889 aged 7years. During the 20th Centrury, Haile Selassie stayed at the Abbey Hotel in the 1930s during his exile. Many of these visitors are commemorated by “Blue & Green Plaques” placed by the Malvern Civic Society on buildings associated with their Malvern connections.