inscribed and dated in the margin "View from Sitting Room Window, Abbey Hotel, Malvern 1865"
The Abbey Hotel and its landscaped gardens stand on the site of ancient monastic buildings. Today the Priory Church and Gateway (now the Malvern Museum) are all that remain of Malvern’s Benedictine monastery.After the monastic community was disbanded during Henry VIII’s reign, the Priory Church and Priory House were bought for £20 by villagers. The rest was acquired by Sir John Knotsford in 1545. Around 1600 the Priory’s residence was replaced by a large three-storey stone house named Abbey House. By the mid 1700s it had become a lodging house. In 1757 full board cost 15 shillings per week.
When the Water Cure was brought to Malvern by Dr. Wilson in 1842, the number of visitors put pressure on the hotels and lodging houses. In 1848, after failing to sell the old Abbey House to the Parish for £3,000, William Archer had it demolished and built in its place the present Abbey Hotel. During World War II, The Abbey was first commandeered by the Ministry of Information, who held secret meetings in what is now the Shaw Suite. The building then acted as the headquarters of Belgian refugees before being taken over by the RAF. The Abbey was later extended to accommodate more guests and provide extra conference and banqueting facilities, including the 300-capacity Elgar Suite.The rich history of The Abbey Hotel, its impressive architecture, and stunning position in the spa town of Great Malvern combine to make your stay especially memorable. You can learn more about the history of the town and surrounding area by following one of our recommended guided or self-guided walks around Malvern.
Little is known about Malvern over the next thousand years until it is described as "an hermitage, or some kind of religious house, for seculars, before the conquest, endowed by the gift of Edward the Confessor" The additions to William Dugdale's Monasticon include an extract from the Pleas taken before the King at York in 1387, stating that there was a congregation of hermits at Malvern "some time before the conquest". Although a Malvern priory existed before the Norman Conquest, it is the settlement of nearby Little Malvern, the site of another, smaller priory, that is mentioned in the Domesday Book . A motte-and-bailey castle built on the top tier of the earthworks of the British Camp just before the Norman Conquest was probably founded by the Saxon Earl Harold Godwinson of Hereford. It was destroyed by King Henry II in 1155.
The town developed around its 11th-century priory, a Benedictine monastery, of which only the large parish church and the abbey gateway remain. 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 fled from the Danes and took refuge in the woods of Malvern, where the hermitage had been established . St Werstan's oratory is thought to have been on the site of St Michael's Chapel, which is believed to have stood on the site of Bello Sguardo, a Victorian Villa, which was built on the site of Hermitage Cottage. The cottage was demolished in 1825 and ecclesiastical carvings were found in it, along with a mediaeval undercroft, human bones, and parts of a coffin. Although the legend may be monastic mythology, historians have however concluded that St. Werstan was the original martyr.
The first prior, Aldwyn, 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 in France, 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 the reign of William the Conqueror (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.
A discussion in 2005 about the stained glass windows of the Priory Church in terms of the relationship between Church and Laity stresses the importance of Malvern in the development of stained glass. It refers to "the vast and strategically important estates of which Malvern was a part" in the 15th and 16th centuries, to a widespread awareness of Malvern Priory, to the likelihood of a pilgrimage route through the town. The discussion also mentions Thomas Walsingham's view that Malvern was a hiding place of the Lollard knight Sir John Oldcastle in 1414 Chambers wrote, in relation to the stained glass, "the situation of Malvern was so much admired by Henry VII, his Queen (Elizabeth of York) and their two Sons, Prince Arthur, and Prince Henry" that they made substantial endowments.
As a Royal forest, the area and the surrounding chase were subject to forest law. By Tudor times, royal lands had become used as commons and forest law had fallen into disuse.
During the Dissolution of the Monasteries the local commissioners were instructed to ensure that abbey churches used for parish worship, should continue or could be purchased by parishioners. Malvern Priory was thus 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.
An Elizabethan land grant of 1558 mentions Holy Well. A Crown grant of tithes in 1589 mentions lambs, pigs, calves, eggs, hemp and flax. Elizabeth made her Chancellor, Sir Thomas Bromley, the Lord of the Manor. The contemporary antiquary John Leland described the Malvern Hills and Hanley Castle.
King Charles I attempted to enclose and sell two thirds of the Chase, as part of a wider attempt to raise revenue for the Crown from the sale of Royal forests. The attempts to enclose the lands, used as commons, resulted in riots, part of a pattern of disturbances that ran across the disafforested royal lands. In 1633, the Court of Exchequer Chamber of Charles I decreed the rights of the public to two thirds of the lands on the Malvern Hills, and rights of Sir Cornelius Vermuyden and his descendants, and the Crown, to one third (quoted in the preamble to the Malvern Hills Act of 1884). By that time, Malvern had become an established community and the major settlement in the Malvern Chase.
The purported 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 for tourists. According to legend, 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". The occulist Richard Banister 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.:127 Several large hotels and many of the large villas 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 hospitality venues. 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 advocate of the waters, Lord Tennyson and Samuel Wilberforce.
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.1972 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.
By 1875 encroachment on Malvern's wastelands by landowners had reached new heights and action was taken by the people of Malvern and the Commons Society to preserve the hills and common land and to prevent encroachment. Local lords of the manor indicated that they would like to give their rights to the wastes to the public. After preventing the enclosure of a common in 1882, negotiations were initiated with the owners of the northern hills and the first Malvern Hills Act was secured in parliament in 1884. 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. Malvern St James (formerly Malvern Girls College), in a former hotel, opposite Great Malvern railway station, has a tunnel (now derelict) to the basement of the building, which is visible from both platforms of the station.
Malvern began to develop into a modern town in the early 1900s, with a continuing strong agricultural presence. Modernisation continued, and the World War II years transformed the population and its activities, establishing the town as a centre of scientific research.