Church of St GilesMalverns
Little Malvern Priory
Little Malvern
Worcestershire WR14 4JN
 

 

In the pretty rural countryside of The Malverns nestle many beautiful ancient buildings and gardens. The tiny village of Little Malvern, tucked under the ramparts of the Iron Age British Camp, is home to what remains of Little Malvern Priory (LMP).

The remnants of the priory church are now the Anglican parish Church of St Giles, and the Prior’s Hall has been incorporated into Little Malvern Court & Garden.

The strange roof on St Giles’ tower gives this medieval church a ‘Continental’ appearance, but inside it is quintessentially English with some superb treasures.

A unique stained glass window has the only known image of one of the Princes imprisoned in The Tower, supposedly murdered by their uncle, King Richard III.

It is hard to believe that just over 900 years ago this tranquil spot was under the control of some extremely powerful and influential churchmen and ‘royal’ families.

Little Malvern Priory History
LMP was a Benedictine monastery founded in 1125; It was very small and never housed more than 10 or 12 monks at a time. It was founded by the Prior of Worcester who retained disciplinary control of the monastery. The Prior, by 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'.
 
This dependence of LMP upon the Mother-House of Worcester continued uninterrupted until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Very little, is known about the priory’s early years.
 
Discipline seemed 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 trouble really struck when Bishop Alcock visited in 1480. He found 'great ruin of the Church and place'. He discharged the Prior and monks 'by reasons of their demerits', and sent them for two years correction at Gloucester Abbey (now Gloucester Cathedral).
 
During their absence Bishop Alcock repaired the Church and made the Priory habitable again ready for the Prior and monks return in 1482.
 
The lesson was learnt and there was no more trouble until King Henry VIII started Dissolving the Monasteries. LMP was dissolved on August 31st, 1534, when Prior John Bristowe and six monks left the Monastery.
 
The Priory and its lands were subsequently leased to John Russell of Strensham, and later sold to his son, Henry Russell. The terms of the sale stipulated that the Choir of the Church should remain for the use of the parishioners, and the buyer should provide a living for a Curate employed to serve the parish.
 
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 & Garden. The Court still belongs to the Berington family, descendants of Henry Russell by inter-marriage in the 18th century, who have lived there continually since that time.
 
Interestingly, despite Henry VIII breaking with the Church of Rome and forming the Church of England, the Beringtons have continued to look after St Giles’ despite being members of the Roman Catholic faith themselves.
 
The Church
There is very little of the 12th century building left except the scalloped capital ant shaft to the left of the entrance. Originally the church would have had a nave, transept and chancel, with a low tower over the crossing. It obviously underwent rebuilding in the late 14th century.
 
The current church consists only of the space beneath the Tower and the Choir of the formerly cruciform building. This space now forms the ‘nave’ and the chancel. The transepts and chapels became ruined and were walled off, probably in the late 16th or early 17th century.
 
In the tracery of the East window can be seen the coat-of-arms of the disciplinarian, Bishop Alcock – a mitre and cocks’ heads.
 
This powerhouse of a man was responsible for much of the structure we see today. He inserted the arches between the present ‘nave’ and the now ruined lateral Chapels. He also strengthened the tall windows on either side of the sanctuary by inserting the Perpendicular transoms halfway down. He built the east window and filled it with stained glass, and probably made the two, now walled up, doorways on either side of the Altar for a processional way.
 
The Screen
The 14th century rood screen which now divides the nave from the chancel is obviously not in its original position. However, it is beautifully carved and well worth studying.
 
Monks Stalls
Immediately to the east of the screen are the "ten Monks' stalls", which would have formerly stood under the Tower and across the now walled-up transept arches.
 
During the Civil War Cromwell’s troops hacked away the carved Misericords but the hand rests remain. Look for the carving of two pigs with their heads in a trough (third on the right). The sometimes grotesque little human faces are said to be caricatures of the Monks or of the craftsmen.
 
The Squints
Above the stalls, on either side of the chancel, are squints to allow a view of the High Altar from the Chapels, which were not necessarily restricted to the use' of Lepers.
 
Since this was a Priory Church, the Monks would have used the Chancel, and the laity would have used the side chapels, having had no access to the Chancel.
 
Medieval Floor Tiles
In the 15th century Great Malvern Priory had its own tile works. Not only were they producing for local consumption but also exporting across Britain. There are Great Malvern Priory tiles in St. David's Cathedral in Wales. The St Giles Sanctuary floor tiles are from the Great Malvern tile works.
 
East Window
This beautiful 15th century glass window is the outstanding treasure of St Giles. The subject is the royal family of the House of York and was installed by Bishop William Alcock, an extremely powerful and influential man. The Bishop was Chancellor of England and President of the Royal Council.
 
It depicts the key royal protagonists of the time, the family of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, including the future Edward V, one of the princes in The Tower of London. The glass is rich in colour and exhibits a technical virtuosity appropriate for its regal subject matter. It has been described by an eminent Authority as being of national importance.
 
The Window can be firmly dated to 1480-2 and it is by a Malvern workshop headed by Richard Twygge and Thomas Woodshawe. The workshop executed some of the most important glazing commissions carried out between the 1480s and the early 16th century including the Great Malvern ‘Magnificat’ window, Tattershall College (Lincs) and Westminster Abbey nave.
 
The Ceiling
The 1824 ceiling replaces an earlier wooden one that was divided into panels with a carved boss at each intersection. Some of these bosses have been preserved and arranged in the form of a cross on the present plaster ceiling. Notice also the wooden frieze of the original ceiling above the east wall
 
Armorial Hatchments
The hatchments on the walls are the coats-of-arms of the different families at Little Malvern Court; those on each side of the organ are of the Russells, while those on the left hand side of the Chancel belong to the Beringtons.
 
The window, now in the North Chapel arch, was originally the east window of this Chapel. On the ledge opposite this window are the two sides of a 14th century table-tomb, on which are four charming figures of 'weepers'.
 
The Tower
The base of the tower was rebuilt in the 14th century, and the top stage was added in the 15th. It seems that after the Dissolution the tower was to have been demolished, and that a start had actually been made by removing the pinnacles and parapets, the bases of which are still in situ, but that the work was stopped. The present roof was put up later to repair the damage already done to the tower. The wall plates and principals of the original roof, at a much lower pitch, still remain under the present roof.
 
The Bell
Only one of the tower’s 5 bells now remains. It is believed to have been cast in 1350 by John of Gloucester.
 
The Friends Society
The Society was formed in 1954 and through their hard work St Giles has acquired a new porch, the windows have been repaired, the walls stripped of their plaster, the stonework made good and the vestry refurbished.
 
Work to beautify the interior is being carried out by local weavers, woodcarvers and metal workers. The church possesses a chalice with paten cover dated 1571, which is still used. It also has a 15th century crucifix, given to the church, which is decorated with medallions showing the symbols of the four evangelists and is so constructed that it can be used as a processional cross.
 
St Giles is an out of the way church which should not be missed.
 
Plan Your Visit 
Accommodation - Search & Book through Hotels.com here:
 
Opening Days & Times
Every day during daylight hours
 
Admission
Free but donations always welcome.
 
Services
For details of services during the month go to the Church website link below.
 
Facilities
Informative small Guide Book for sale at a very reasonable cost.
 
Contact & Further Information
 
Getting There
- By Car:  Situated at the southern end of Malvern, on the A4104, just below British Camp
 
Google Map - Church of St Giles, Little Malvern