The Fierce Independence of Little Malvern Priory
Little Malvern Priory started life as a daughter house to Worcester probably for monks wanting a more recluse and contemplative life. (Although this will have been a challenge with all the chores of daily living to deal with in a world without electricity etc).
It subsequently became the church of Little Malvern under the protection of Little Malvern Court. This was interesting, since after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIIIth, and the imposition of the “Church of England” on all, Little Malvern Court was resolutely Catholic starting with the Russell family and continuing with the Berington family. It says much for the goodwill between Church and Court that LMP remains a much loved parish church.
In recent times there have been several proposals to amalgamate LMP with Malvern Wells.
The first time was in 1930 but this was abandoned due to the opposition of the then Vicar,
Rev JG Barrow and the Berington family.
The proposal resurfaced in 1938, when I guess most people’s attention was on the threat of war. The basis of the idea was the paucity of clergy, the lack of sufficient work for a priest to do at LMP, lack of cash, and a very small geographical area with a small number of residents, most of whom were Roman Catholics.
The diocese thought it would be sensible to unite the parishes of LMP and Malvern Wells as most of the worshippers were from outside the parish boundary and could go to their own parish church, so allowing considerable savings by using St Peter’s as the parish church and LMP as a “chapel of ease” with occasional services only. The other proposal was to unite the benefices, where each church would retain its identity but share the parish priest.
At that time the church was in reasonable repair, having been well looked after by the Berington family and the congregation. The church was recognised as being an “exceedingly precious heritage” because of being a typical Minster church on a small scale. The cash problem was addressed by an endowment from a Miss Hookham (a member of the congregation at the time) of £4.500 on condition that LMP was not united with any other parish. She gave a further £4,500 in trust for LMP.
There was also a problem with the “advowson”. This is the “gift” of the living or the patronage of the church and was held by the Berington family. As far as I can ascertain, they could not legally exercise their right of patronage because of being Roman Catholic. The legal patrons were one of the Oxford Colleges. In practical terms this had not mattered much but was added to the arguments in the furore.
There was clearly a long (2.5 hours) and heated meeting between the representatives of the Diocese and the parish in December 1938. Mr W Berington ( the great grandfather of the current Thomas Berington ) said what a privilege it was to be the patron of the living which had been granted to his forebears by Queen Mary 1st (Philip and Mary) and handed down to the Berington family by marriage. He felt that union with St Peters would effectively remove the patronage, which should legally stay in place for his lifetime. He also said that the money from Miss Hookham would provide a “living wage” for a vicar and relieve the Diocese of the expense. He felt that the job would suit a ‘part time’ or retired priest. He added that as Patron of the living he was “best of friends” with the parishioners in spite of being a catholic and was upset by the periodic threats to the independence of LMP.
The eventual outcome was the continuation of LMP as a parish with its own vicar.
A similar process occurred in 1981 when the benefices of Malvern Wells, the Wyche and Little Malvern Priory were united. Yet another episode happened after the retirement of Rev JET Cox in 1987 when Rev Dunn became priest in charge. Eventually after considerable time, effort and energy had been expended, Little Malvern Priory became independent.
The living is still officially financed by the money donated by Miss Hookham all those years ago. In today's world this is quite insufficient for the purpose and maybe we should remember this for the future as the money is currently the basis of much of our giving to e.g. Long Lartin prison.
What a huge use of time and effort that could have been used more productively, I suspect, for the furtherance of the Kingdom.
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