Great Malvern Priory, Malvern, Worcestershire

Interior, Priory Church, Malvern
Publisher: Valentine

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Great Malvern Priory in Malvern, Worcestershire, England, was a Benedictine monastery (c. 1075 – 1540) and is now an Anglican parish church. . . . The priory was built for thirty monks on land belonging to Westminster Abbey. A charter from Henry I in 1128 AD refers to Great Malvern Priory as ‘the Priory of St. Mary’. In 1154–1156, Westminster Abbey obtained a Papal bull from Pope Adrian IV which confirms a strong dependency of the priory of St Mary, Malvern, on the Abbey of Westminster. An 18th-century document in the Worcester County Record Office states that in the 18th year of King William’s reign (1083?), the priory was dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. Within the Victorian History of the Counties of England: A History of Worcester, edited by W. Page, there is an account of the foundation of the monastery in Bishop Guilford’s Register of 1283. It describes how hermit Aldwyn petitioned Urse d’Abetot, the Earl of Gloucester, for the original site (of the Priory) in the wood, and land “as far as Baldeyate”; that he collected monks, and adopted the Rule of St. Benedict; dedicating the monastery to the Virgin Mary – but occasionally under patronage of both St. Mary & St. Michael.

On the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1541, local people raised £20 to buy the building to replace their decaying parish church. By 1788 the Priory had fallen into disrepair. It was partly restored in 1812 and again in 1816, 1834 and 1841. A careful restoration was carried out in 1860 under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott, the famous architect, who also designed the roof of the nave in imitation of the medieval original.

The Priory was built for 30 monks and was much smaller than it is now. . . . In the 15th century, the Priory church was extended and rebuilt in the perpendicular style with large windows. The tower was reconstructed (styled on Gloucester cathedral), the presbytery, choir and choir aisles were rebuilt and the north aisle was widened. Locally made tiles were put on the floors and some of the walls, and the windows were filled with stained glass. More monks’ stalls (misericords), depicting the labours of the months of the year, were installed. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, (later Richard III) and Henry VII both donated glass for two large stained glass windows at the west end and in the north transept. . . . During the 1530s King Henry VIII needed money and since the monasteries belonged to someone else – the Pope – he decided to plunder them. All opposition was brushed aside by Thomas Cromwell, and in 1539 the Malvern monks surrendered their lands and buildings. The Prior’s house, Priory gatehouse (now Malvern’s museum) and the Guesten Hall were allowed to stand and were sold. The Chapter House, Refectory and Dormitory were sold and demolished. The Lady Chapel (which extended out from the east end) and the south transept were torn down and the lead was stripped from the roof of the main building. The rest of the church was only to remain standing until the Crown could find a buyer looking for a cheap source of building material.

The Priory church was saved by the people of Malvern. Standing where the main Malvern Post Office stands now, their own 13th century parish church was in a state of disrepair. The parishioners, led by John Pope, petitioned the Crown and succeeded in buying the Priory for £20, to be paid in two annual instalments of £10. The parish consisted of only 105 families. After they had bought the church they had no money left to spend on the building. A chalice from the old parish church was sold to raise some funds for essential repairs; there were large holes in walls where structures had been torn down. Subsequently they struggled with its upkeep. . . . By the latter half of the 18th century the whole building had fallen into a terrible state of disrepair. It was damp and parts of it flooded, windows were deteriorating because of weakening of the leadwork and many were smashed as a consequence of storms and vandalism. A huge ivy had grown up against the great east window, through it, and into the church. Plaster was falling off the walls and there was even a pigeon loft in the north transept.

The growing popularity of the water cure in Malvern brought both people and money to the town. At the beginning of the 19th century attempts to renovate the Priory began. The walls were cleaned and whitewashed and windows repaired. Unfortunately the local glaziers pieced together fragments of glass from various windows in wild confusion. . . . The main restoration of the Priory in the 19th century was in 1860 under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott, at a cost of £11,000. The internal masonry was scraped and cleaned, transept gallery pews were removed, the wooden ceiling of the nave was repaired and restored, wooden ceilings were provided for the nave aisles and north transept, the canopied triple decker pulpit was replaced, the old box pews were changed for rush seats and the mediaeval floor tiles were lifted, relocated on walls and replaced with Victorian Minton copies.
Great Malvern Priory

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