The Priory Plan

The Priory Plan, Issue 2, March 2017

The Priory Plan is a "conservation management plan" for Great Malvern Priory, outlining what is important and significant about the building, its need for repair and restoration and what our objectives are for any development work. It is a formal document but contains a wealth of information about the building, its history and its current use.

Recent major surveys of the stonework and stained glass, conducted since Issue 1 of the Priory Plan was published, have revealed that major restoration work is urgently needed.

This second issue of the Priory Plan outlines how we want to restore the fabric of the building, refresh its facilities for worship and for the building to be an attractive community venue, and reconnect with the life of the town and beyond as a visible and welcoming presence. We want to increase access to it for everyone to use and enjoy.

Please read the extracts below, but please do download the Priory Plan Issue 2 here (PDF).


Extract from Message from the Parochial Church Council (PCC)

“There has been a worshipping Christian community at Great Malvern for over 900 years, perhaps even before the founding of the Priory in 1085. The church was from the beginning fully integrated into the life of the local community that grew up around it.

“Although worship is the primary purpose of the building, our Benedictine foundations also emphasise the importance of welcome and hospitality as a witness to God’s love.

“The present church community is seeking to fulfil these roles in the context of a rapidly changing society. We aim to see the Priory flourishing as an integral part of the life of the local community, not only as a place for worship and quiet reflection, but also as an educational and cultural venue. Visitors often comment on the atmosphere of peace, and the beauty of the Priory, but there are aspects of the building that bear witness to the fact that it is over 150 years since the last major re-modelling. There is also the opportunity to make a substantial contribution to the economic regeneration of the town by opening up parts of the churchyard and enhancing the presence of the Priory in the town."

Executive summary

Great Malvern Priory is one of the finest historic parish churches not only in Worcestershire, but in England. Its exceptional architectural, art historical, archaeological, and historic importance is recognised in its Grade I listing. Of particular note is its architecture comprising a Norman nave dating from 1085 and extended in the C15th in an ornate perpendicular style; its collection of medieval stained glass, generally regarded as the finest collection of C15th and early C16th stained glass outside York Minster; its collection of medieval tiles, one of the largest and best preserved in England; and misericords dating from the C14th and C15th. There is also a fine organ and a ring of 10 bells, including one from the C14th.

Unfortunately, recent surveys have shown the fabric of the building to be in urgent need of repair and conservation:

  • Following falls of stone, a comprehensive inspection of all the stonework by Sally Strachey Historic Conservation (SSHC) in 2016 removed any stone that was found to be loose and in danger of falling, recorded defects, and recommended repairs with priorities and budgetary estimates. These sum to approximately £1.5M plus the significant cost of access (scaffolding) and VAT, and call for most repairs to be completed within either a 2-year or a 5-year timescale.
  • Following concerns about the glass, York Glaziers Trust (YGT) conducted a survey of all 40 windows in the Priory. Their conservation report, received in 2016, noted that the primary concern is the deterioration of the glass in the 14 main medieval windows (which include the largest windows in the Priory), due to corrosion of the glass itself caused by condensation and moisture which leach salts from the glass. YGT conclude that the immediate requirement is the installation of internally ventilated protective glazing to inhibit the ongoing cycles of corrosion that are damaging this historic and unique collection. Once removed for installation of this glazing, the windows should be cleaned in the studio to remove soot, dirt and corrosion products, and some repairs carried out. York Glaziers have provided budgetary estimates for the conservation of each of the 14 main medieval windows. These estimates sum to £2M plus the cost of access and VAT.
  • The lead on the aisle roofs dates from the 1860s and small leaks occur frequently despite regular maintenance. A supplementary inspection report by the Priory Surveyor, dated January 2016, identified many defects and recommended that the lead be re-laid. The cost is expected to be in the range £300k - £400k.

The Priory, located at the historic heart of the town, should however not be seen as an isolated historical monument, but understood within its wider human and natural environment, and as an asset for the local and wider community. The Priory is open every day under the oversight of a full-time custos and volunteers. It attracts around 40,000 visitors/year. Apart from regular and well-attended services of worship in a variety of styles and supported by a rich and varied musical tradition, the building is used by local schools, hosts orchestral and choir concerts, plays and regular programmes of lectures and organ recitals.

With this in mind, this document has been compiled by the PCC in order to act as a catalyst for restoring, conserving and developing the church building as a community and cultural asset as well as a place of worship and contemplation; as a place to learn about the history of Christianity in the area, and the rich local heritage of this place and area; and as a cultural centre, a place to enjoy music and art, working in partnership with other organisations to offer a resource and attraction, both locally and regionally.

The Priory Plan identifies limitations in the building’s facilities which fall short of modern standards and expectations and hinder wider use as described above. Some simple changes such as levelling the nave floor and installing under-floor heating, thus removing a trip hazard and improving heat distribution are proposed. Other limitations will only be overcome by more complex interventions. At the present time, the PCC is considering projects to:

  • Restore the decaying stonework of the North Porch.
  • Conserve one window in St Anne’s Chapel and the interior and exterior stonework in the bay that surrounds it.
  • Effect urgent repairs to the SW buttress, cracks in the east and west ends and to a section of the west wall..

These projects would begin to reveal afresh the glory of the fabric, and also provide confidence in techniques for conserving the glass and sandstone of the Priory and the costs of doing so.

The task is to develop a vision to realise a restored building, with modern facilities that make the Priory a venue of choice for a wide range of Christian and cultural events, and make that vision a reality by harnessing energy within the community and with diocesan and national support. This will require co-operation and understanding between the various stakeholders and everyone who cares about this place. The pace at which this vision can turn the building into one which is self-sufficient and sustainable will depend on the availability of major funding from grant-making bodies and from donations.

The aim is not only to respect the significance of the building and site and the values attached to it by the people of Great Malvern and beyond, but to enhance it, to make it better, to unlock its dormant potential.

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