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History

1085 Norman Beginnings

 

According to the Worcester Monastic Annals the building work began in 1085.

The Priory was built for thirty monks and was much smaller than it is now. The areas coloured red in the plan on the right are part of the original building, itself part of a larger complex of Monastery buildings. The picture (below right) shows the Roman style pillars and arches.

Not long after the time of the Battle of Hastings St Wulstan, the Bishop of Worcester, encouraged a monk, called Aldwin, in the work of founding a monastery in what was then the Malvern Chase. (A chase was an unenclosed area of land where wild animals are preserved for hunting!)

 

The Priory was built on land which belonged to Wesminster Abbey, under the control of the crown at that time. Malvern was in the diocese of Powick but the Priory was subservient to Westminster Abbey and so it had 'Priory' status.

Having allegiance to Westminster Abbey, there were altercations between the Priory and the Bishop of Worcester over the years.

It is reported that in 1286 the Archbishop, the King and even the Pope were involved in these disagreements.

 

The picture (right) shows one bay of a two bay sunken chantry alongside St Anne`s chapel. You can see two coffin lids, one of which records an epitaph to Prior Walcher who died in 1135. He was Malvern's most outstanding scholar and the first man in the western world to record the use of the astrolabe, an early form of sextant marked in degrees.

Read this article on his work (pdf).

 

1440 - 1500

Around this time Henry VII and the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III donated two of our great windows, that at the west end and the one in the North Transept. You can see a sample of these windows on the Stained Glass page.

The North aisle was also extended and the new shape of the Priory is indicated by the blue colour on the plan (right). Widening of the South aisle was prevented by existing monastery buildings.

Floor and wall tiles plus Monk's stalls were added at this time.

The Norman church was extended in the years between 1440 and 1500. There is an interesting study into the rebuilding of Great Malvern Priory in 15th Century.

 

1539 and Henry VIII

(I) During the 1530's King Henry VIII was short of cash 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. These were leased and sold to various people. The exception was the disused church which belonged to the crown.

(II) Destruction began; one man paid a pound for the Lady chapel and destroyed it. The cloisters and the South transept were pulled down and the lead removed from the roofs.

(III) The Priory church was saved by the parishioners of Malvern. Their own tiny parish church was derelict. It stood where the main Malvern post office is now. The parishioners petitioned the King and succeeded in buying the Priory for £20. It took them two years to raise the money. The parish consisted of only 105 families and after they had bought the church they had no money left to carry out repairs!

It is an interesting fact that we have, in the Priory, a monument to one of the men, John Knotsford, who was responsible for the demolition of the monastic buildings.

John's daughter Anne gave the impressive monument (pictured on right) with herself kneeling at the foot of the tomb.

 

1540 to 1800

Lack of money continued to be a problem over the next couple of centuries. This meant that hardly any repairs or maintenance were carried out over this period of time. On the plus side there was no money to remove the 'Popish' medieval glass so it is still with us.

Although the Civil War raged in nearby Worcester, Malvern was still a remote part of the English countryside surrounded by the dense forest of Malvern Chase.

The picture is a view of the Priory in 1782, from an etching made at that time.

 

1860 Restoration and Repair

We are not sure who financed this work but this was the age of the industrial revolution and wealthy businessmen clearly made possible this renewal. Details in the stained glass windows of the nave, and tiles on ceiling and floor, bear witness to their generosity. On the right is a picture of the ceiling put in at this time.

The North Porch was rebuilt in 1894 and between 1910 and 1915 a considerable amount of restoration of the stained glass was carried out.

 

1939-45 World War II

During World War II the stained glass was removed and stored in zinc lined boxes which aided their preservation. After the war Dr L.A. Hamand, the organist, painstakingly replaced the stained glass windows in their original positions as far as was possible.

1977

In 1977 over £100,000 was raised for urgent repairs to stonework and re-leading of the glass. This never ending preservation work continues today.