Little Malvern Priory
(Church of England)

 

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History of LMP

The story of Little Malvern Priory may be said to have started with St. Benedict (A.D. 480-543). He first planted at Subiaco in central Italy the seed from which sprang the Benedictine Order, which spread all over Western Europe, 1'he rule of St. Benedict was brought to England by St. Augustine in A.D. 597 and proof of its influence is to be found in many of our abbeys, cathedrals and monasteries, some now ruined and others still in active use.

 Of the monasteries, Little Malvern was one of the smallest, never having more than ten or twelve monks at any one time, but not one of the later ones for it was in existence in the middle of the twelfth century, and its formation date is now generally accepted as 1125. There has been a theory that it was originally founded by two brothers, Jocelyn and Eldred, who came here as hermits from Worcester in 1171, but this theory has been disproved by the records of Bishop Simon of Worcester (1125-1150) which refer to 'Little Malvern and the Church there situated' as being 'one inseparable body with the (church of Worcester' so that the 'Prior of Worcester in way of correction' could 'remove monks from Little Malvern to Worcester, place monks of Worcester in their room and choose the Prior of Malvern in the Chapter of Worcester'.

It was, however, in 1171, that the Foundation was firmly established, the fact being proved by the fragment of the late Norman work of the nave arcade on the left-hand side of the entrance door. This dependence of Little Malvern upon the Mother-House of Worcester continued uninterrupted until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the sixteenth century. Very little, however, is known of the place during those early years. In 1282, Bishop Giffard visited the Priory and re-dedicated the Church to St. Mary, St. Giles and St. John the Evangelist, and the discipline of the house seems to have been good until 1323 when Bishop Cobham found it necessary to send the monks a letter condemning various abuses which had crept into the life of the Priory. But the most famous of the Episcopal Visitations was that undertaken by Bishop Alcock in 1480, when he found 'the great ruin of the Church and place', and when he discharged the Prior and monks 'by reasons of their demerits'. According to his own account the 'builded their Church and put their place of lodging' into a sufficient state of repair so that the monks were able to return to their Priory in 1482, having spent two years under correction at Gloucester Abbey.

Thereafter so far as is known, life at the restored Priory went on normally until, like other lesser Monasteries, it was dissolved on August 31st, 1534, when the Prior John Bristowe and six monks subscribed to the King's supremacy. The Priory and its lands were subsequently leased to John Russell of Strensham, near Pershore and later sold to his son, Henry Russell, the stipulations being made that the Choir of the Church should remain for the use of the parishioners, and that ~5 should be paid annually to the Curate. The only part of the Monastic buildings to survive the Dissolution was the eastern portion of the medieval house including The Prior's Hall, which forms part of Little Malvern Court. The Court still belongs to the Berington family, descendants of Henry Russell by inter-marriage in the eighteenth century who have lived here continually since that time.  

Thoughts about the History

Monk’s path?

 

Britain is covered in the vestiges of these ancient roadways. Some are absorbed into our modern roads and others have disappeared completely. In wandering around our local footpaths, I question why these paths are where they are. The line of the old railway from Malvern to Upton via Malvern Wells is a more obvious route but what about the old track on Fruitlands that goes from Peachfield Road behind the houses in Walnut Crescent to emerge near Cherry Tree Drive? It links the bridleway that goes under the railway and across the golf course to the club house at what was Wood Farm. From here it crosses a field and you can pick up the route again near the Corner of Green Lane. You can follow this path southwards to join another path that comes out in Assarts Lane and with not too much imagination it would continue along the field boundary hedges on 19th century maps straight towards Little Malvern Priory.

Was this the route of an ancient Monk’s Path? There are parallel paths above and below this one along which travellers could vary the route according to the season. Trade and communication was by foot or horse-back with goods being carried by mules and pack-horses along these ancient routes.

If you trace the route back towards Great Malvern it goes across Malvern Wells Common into College Road and along modern day Abbey Road or Priory Road to Great Malvern Priory, built some 40 years after the building of Little Malvern Priory. Was it a Monk’s Path?

Returning to Little Malvern Priory, there are roads, paths and tracks radiating outwards leading to Deerhurst,Gloucester, Winchcombe, Tewkesbury Evesham, Pershore and Worcester. These places had something in common– they all had Benedictine Priories, sadly there are few remains. They were mainly founded in the 12th century and were dissolved by King Henry VIII in the 1530’s.

Great Malvern Priory was built for around thirty monks and the Church, Pool and Abbey Gateway are remnants of this bygone era.

Little Malvern Priory was built for a community of around a dozen monks in 1125 and was originally known as St Giles Priory. (is this how the Church at Hanley Swan got its name?) It was built as an annex to the Church Of Worcester with Worcester's Prior having the right to remove monks from Little Malvern and indeed being able to choose the Prior of Little Malvern.

There is a list of priors with their dates inside Little Malvern Priory. The earliest Priors are not recorded but there is a reference to one ‘William of Broadway being appointed in 1269. There was a ‘John of Dumbleton’ (appointed 1299) who resigned after one year.Henry Staunton took over in 1360 and died 9 years later. In 1378 Richard of Wenlock became Priory until 1392.

Henry Morton was the Prior in 1480 and it was during his time that the remaining monks were sent to Gloucester Abbey whilst Little Malvern Priory was refurbished. They were able to return two years later. It was at this time that a Refectory known as the ‘Prior’s Hall’ was built there . Thomas Colman came next (1484) then there is a gap until John Bristowe is recorded as the Prior in 1529. On August 31st 1534, Prior John Bristowe and his remaining six monks were required to surrender the buildings and their lands with the dissolution of Little Malvern Priory (probably the smallest Priory in the land) as part of King Henry’s programme. In 1536, John Bristowe was awarded a pension and the Monastery buildings were already beginning to fall into disrepair.

This land was purchased by the Berington family shortly after the dissolution of the monasteries. They had Little Malvern Court built around the ‘Prior’s Hall’ and also on the site of the Monastic Cloisters. The ten acres now surrounding the Court (the house and gardens are open to the public on certain days) used to be part of the monastic grounds. Over the next three centuries the Priory Church deteriorated to a point where the barrel vault roof caved in and the Berington family had this repaired in 1864. Since then there have been a number of refurbishments and the remaining Priory Church and nearby ruins are listed as an ancient monument.

In 1954, The Society of Friends of Little Malvern Priory was formed and since then nearly a quarter of a million pounds has been raised towards various projects to maintain the building for all those who call by to visit or to worship at the regular services ( at least once a week, often more) held in this very special Priory Church.

As for Little Malvern Priory itself, it is just beyond the Parish of Malvern Wells but those who live there cannot help but feel that it is a very special place. If you have never been inside it is definitely worth a peep. If you are interested in its detailed history there is an excellent little book for sale in the entrance to the Priory Church.

There are examples of 14th century tiles in Little Malvern Priory that were made in the Grounds of Great Malvern Priory. Were these transported by horse and cart through the Parish of Malvern Wells along the old Monk’s Path mentioned here? Malvern tiles can be found in many local Churches and Cathedrals and as far away a St. David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. This is further evidence of how far goods were transported along these ancient trackways.

When you are out and about walking the local footpaths and country lanes, spare a thought for all those who have gone before you and wonder, as I have done, why these tracks are where they are.

Glynis Dray (2009)

 

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