The Holy WellGreat Malvern
Holy Well Road
Malvern Wells
Worcestershire WR14 4LE
 

 

After a long and chequered history, the Holy Well on the slopes above Malvern Wells in Worcestershire, has been restored and is back in the business of bottling Malvern spring water.

The upper rooms of the 19th century ornamental building have been sensitively renovated and modernised for tourist accommodation, and a Visitor Centre has been included on the ground floor of the bottling works. The sacred spring flows from a spout into a basin and is freely available for visitors to sample the water.

Malvern Holy well spring water is being commercially bottled by Holywell Water Company Ltd, owned by the Humm family.

Sacred Springs
Pure freshwater springs have always gushed out of the Malvern Hills and for thousands of years people drank and bathed in the water. In olden days, miraculous cures were often associated with freshwater springs or ‘wells’. The healing powers of the water were attributed to a Divine Being rather than to the sheer purity of the water. Most wells or springs were given sains’ names to validate this belief.
 
The probable truth is that most ancient diseases were caused by dirty and unhealthy living conditions and the bathing in, and drinking of pure spring water cleared up or alleviated many of these ailments. The Holy Well water was renowned for curing skin diseases, ulcers and gout.

Holy Well is dedicated to St Oswald who supposedly revealed the healing properties of the well to a hermit who lived on the hills. In the past, the Well was dressed on St Oswald’s Day by people who had been cured at the well.

Until 2006, religious items, flowers and other objects were left as votive offerings at the Holy Well. Local Christians and foreign visitors of a wide range of faiths used to leave prayers and wishes in thanks for the pure water. Any such objects are now removed but the Well is ‘dressed’ during the annual Well Dressing in May.

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History
The spring used to bubble out of the bare hills, 787 feet (240 metres) above sea level. Long before medieval times, invalids were scrambling up the steep hillside to get to the water. They would fill earthenware pilgrim bottles with the water, which they hung from their belts. The water was drunk and also used to wet cloths which were placed over sores and other skin complaints until the cloths dried out and fell off. The process would then be repeated until relief was given.
 
1559
In 1558 when Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne she inherited a debt of £300,000. One of the ways of paying off the debt was to sell Crown land.
 
In 1559, under the Great Seal of Elizabeth I, local landowner John Hornyold Esq. bought the manor of Hanley Castle from the Crown for £850. Within the manor of Hanley Castle lay the Holy Well, one of only two wells that appear on the 1628 survey of Malvern Chase - the oldest known map of the Malvern Hills.
 
With the sale of the land came a caveat stating that “any pilgrim or traveller should be able to draw rest and refreshment from the Holy Well”.
 
The spring was owned by descendants of the Hornyold family until 1919, but the Elizabethan covenant still stands today.
 
1612
Three of the earliest references to Holy Well are found in the 1612 burial records of Great Malvern. Invalids came great distances, sometimes taking two weeks for the round trip which suggests that by 1613 the Holy Well already had a long reputation for healing.
 
Queen Elizabeth I issued a command that holy wells were Papist superstition and did not work - which is why she closed down so many. There were no facilities at Holy Well for her to close; so local people took no notice and continued to visit the spring even if the expected cure didn’t occur.
 
1622
The first record of spring water from Holy Well being bottled is 1622, during the reign of King James I. This makes Holy Well bottling works the oldest in the world.
 
Dr John Wall
Most natural springs contain minerals and taste terrible but not Malvern spring water. Its purity is due to it being rainwater which slowly filters through the oldest rocks in the world – Pre-Cambrian granite.
 
Dr John Wall was an 18th century Worcester physician who was familiar with the medicinal value of natural mineral springs. He became a major influence in the development of Holy Well as a health resort.
 
1743
In 1743 Dr Wall, together with apothecary William Davies, analysed the Holy Well water. They found that the mineral content was so low that it was negligible. At this time, the only facilities at the Holy Well were an open spring and a ruined bath
 
1747
Gout – def:  an ailment ascribed to over-drinking and over-eating.
 
Edward Popham of The Lodge near Tewkesbury was so crippled with gout that he had lost the use of all his limbs. After hearing of the miraculous cures at the Holy Well he was induced in 1747 to try the water. After about a month he partially recovered and, in celebration, erected the first bath house at the Holy Well. Shortly after this time a small hut became available for poor visitors.
 
1757
In 1757 Dr Wall published his results stating that the Holy Well water, unlike most healing waters which rely on their mineral content for their healing properties, was pure. This prompted one ‘comedian’ to write the following rhyme:

Malvern water, says Dr John Wall, Is fam'd for containing just nothing at all.

Dr Wall’s findings gave the Holy Well the medical endorsement it needed for success, and any profit from the sales of his publication was used to improve the facilities. Despite being renowned for curing obstinate diseases the well was not being patronised for a number of reasons - no proper road to the well, no suitable bath, no accommodation - not even a cover over the well, which was open to the elements.

What was needed was a specifically designed dwelling for drinking the waters, bathing, wet sheet application and lotion rooms etc. It had to be suitable for both the wealthy and the poor.

1759
A group of wealthy Worcestershire gentlemen provided extensive funds to improve the Well’s facilities for practising hydrotherapy.
 
To prepare Holy Well for the anticipated rush of invalids, trees were planted for shade on the bare hills, zig-zag walks laid out offering beautiful views from the summit, and seats and shelters provided for resting; the Holy Well was protected from flooding in the event of heavy rain, and a new access road was built between the well and Wells House, a lodging house that was being built nearby.
 
There were five main promoters of the Well, including Dr Wall. The Holy Well at Malvern became an 18th century notable spa. In 1774 Dr Wall retired to Bath and died two years later.
 
By the 1820s the Holy Well facilities were described as consisting of a bath and apartments for different uses of the water.
 
1840
In 1840, a Miss Mary Steers, invoked the Elizabethan covenant. Through legal action, she prevented the owner of Holy Well from privatising the supply stating: “always the public should have free access to the water.’’
 
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Malvern’s Heyday
1842
In 1842 Drs James Gully and James Wilson opened water cure clinics at Malvern, thus beginning the town's prosperity. Gradually, the popularity of Holy Well declined as people flocked to St Ann’s Well which was closer to the bath houses and Water Cure establishments of Great Malvern.
 
1843
By this time, hydrotherapy was the fashionable cure for all types of illnesses. Royalty, the famous and the wealthy flocked to Malvern.
 
In 1843 Holy well was purchased by T G Hornyold. Around three years later he erected a new well house and baths, i.e. the current building, at a cost of £400. The faux Austrian building is Grade II Listed because of its distinctive cottage-orné style. This rustic and picturesque cottage look was a romantic style much favoured by the Victorians. It was achieved by adding decorative features such as battlements and window tracery to cottages.
 
1850
Schweppes leased the rights to bottle water at Holy Well from W & J Burrow of Malvern. Schweppes sold Holy Well water at the Great Exhibition in 1851 as Malvern soda water later to become Malvern Seltzer in 1856.
 
In the early 1890s Schweppes built their own bottling plant at Colwall and stopped drawing their water from Holy Well.
 
1895
The next long-term lessees of the Holy Well bottling plant were J & H Cuff. In the mid-1890s they made extensive alterations and improvements to the plant, installing new machinery and drawing spring water direct from the source. Cuffs continued bottling at their mineral water factory at Holy Well until the 1950s.
 
However, the old 19th century well house and bath was neglected and lapsed into a derelict state. It was in grave danger of being demolished.
 
1972
Salvation came in May 1972 when John Parkes of Penylan, Cardiff, bought the Holy Well and the two cottages. In conjunction with the Civic Trust he began extensive restoration and renovation costing approximately £15,000. During the restoration the upper windows of the well house were extended downwards. By the 1980s John Parkes was bottling and selling the Holy Well water, but the business was not financially viable and the bottling was abandoned in the 1990s.
 
2000
Once again Holy Well was saved, this time by the Humm family who have continued the restoration and re-commenced the bottling of Holy Well water.
 
This writer is indebted to “Malvern Springs and Wells Discovery Trail” by Bruce Osborne and Cora Weaver © 2012 for much of the information on this page.
 
Contact & Further Information
The Holywell Water Company Ltd
Telephone   +44 (0)1684 568 548
Mail   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
 
Google Map - The Holy Well, Malvern