Malvern Spa Association (‘the MSA’) was formed on 18th September 1998, with the aim of “working with the community to conserve, protect, restore and enhance Malvern’s spring water heritage”.
Our purposes also include ‘increasing individual and collective knowledge of Malvern’s water, promoting the study, conservation, development and awareness of them to help preserve them for future generations’, and ‘preserving and maintaining the historic Malvern Hills’ water traditions, and celebrating the benefits of Malvern water by the annual Well Dressing Festival / other well dressing events’.
What we do
The MSA was preceded by the ‘Malvern Spa Water Strategy Working Group’, which was set up in August 1996 by Malvern Hills District Council (MHDC) under the leadership of Councillor John Ford, to address the role that water could play in the revitalisation of the town centre as part of their Malvern Town Centre Regeneration Strategy. The ultimate aim of the working group was ‘to bring water back into Malvern’, but all agreed that the immediate priority was to ‘restore the heritage of Malvern Water’.
This was mainly in response to the fact that ‘Malvern Water’ was no longer a visible or celebrated presence in the town and on the Hills – visitors were disappointed that there was nowhere to go for information about the springs, and complained that they couldn’t even buy bottled Malvern water locally. The following initiative was therefore added to the Town Centre Strategy document:
“Since the Victorian heyday of the Water Cure it has become apparent that many of these historic water sources have been neglected, dried up or totally lost. In order to promote Malvern’s Spa heritage, we will set up a small working group to look at all the existing water features to preserve the historic link with the Water Cure. We will prepare a bid for Heritage Lottery Funding to implement a phased programme to restore all Malvern’s fountains and water sources, notably to the Winter Gardens.”
MHDC agreed that funding would be provided for water-related restoration projects, new water features, and the promotion of ‘Malvern Water’ generally. Malvern-based sculptor and artist Rose Garrard, who was part of the working group, also proposed the creation of a new sculpture trail by nationally known sculptors, on lost spring sites throughout the town centre.
Since then, we have worked hard to fulfil the MSA’s aims and objectives, and to honour the vision of those who formed it.
By the mid-1990s, a total of 62 springs and other features had been identified in the Malvern area. In 1997, Rose Garrard was commissioned to set up the Malvern Spring Water Arts Project, and in October of that year, she ran a hugely successful ‘Artist’s Residency’ in an empty shop on Belle Vue Terrace. The public were invited to participate by bringing water-related artefacts for an exhibition and recording any information they had about the history of the water, sites of springs, the location of old pipework and tanks and other anecdotes, whether factual or mythical. The Residency revealed several previously unidentified springs, bringing the total up to over 80.
The result of Rose’s enthusiasm, creative talent and collaboration with the local community was the new Malvhina fountain, unveiled in September 1998. Spring water was drunk from a town centre spout for the first time in Malvern’s history.
Bidding for Heritage Lottery Funding
1999 was a busy year for the MSA: we began work on a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid with the AONB Unit to restore several springs and wells; we produced the first newsletter; Rose began work on the next new water feature on Belle Vue Island, which turned into the Elgar ‘Enigma’ statue; a website was set up; a new Springs and Wells Trail Guide was planned; and well decorating became a ‘new’ public event at the ‘National Heritage Weekend’ in September. It was noted that “9 or 10 springs are to be decorated this year, which is a record”. We also drew up lists of sites which were in desperate need of renovation.
One of our first ‘real’ projects was the restoration of Earl Beauchamp’s fountain in April 2000. That year we also worked with local Dowsers to trace many springs and pipelines, came up with ideas for new spouts at Goat Spring and Hayslad, organised the September well decorating weekend (17 wells dressed this time – another ‘record’); and held our first AGM in November.
Preparing for the HLF bid took up most of our energy over the next couple of years. It was a time-consuming and demanding undertaking. By that time we had developed a good working relationship with our local partners – the AONB Office, Malvern Hills Conservators, Malvern Town Council and parish councils amongst others; this prepared the ground for the successful funding award and the start of the lengthy but rewarding restoration process.
The Springs and Wells Trail Guide was published in August 2002. We were delighted that the new “Well Wardens” scheme was working efficiently, with local people keen to sign up and become ‘custodians’ of a spring on their patch. The well decorating event was moved from September to coincide with Malvern’s growing May Day festival, affectionately known as “The Wet Weekend”. Rose designed and produced a limited number (40 in total) of glass bottles for the Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. The first edition was presented to HRH Elizabeth II (who is believed to be a great ‘fan’ of Malvern water and apparently takes it with her when she travels).
We were also working on / cleaning-up springs and features such as Lord Sandys’ spout, Westminster Bank, Lower Wyche, West Malvern Tap, Temperance, St. Ann’s Well, the Tudor Hotel and Wells House School. The ‘Well-dressing’ event was becoming increasingly popular, the date having been changed from September to May in order to coincide with Malvern’s May Day weekend celebrations.
By 2004, the HLF bid was becoming reality and we were able to start raising our profile considerably, with beautifully designed, full-colour newsletters thanks to the first tranche of funding coming in. Few saw the blood, sweat and tears that arose from hours and hours of hard work spent on getting the newsletters right, but the quality of the first issue set a high benchmark which we have always tried to maintain.
The HLF project work was completed in 2008. We had achieved a great deal, including the restoration of the North Malvern Clock Tower, St Ann’s Well, and Jubilee Spout, and the installation of a ‘bifurcating’ spout at Hayslad. By 2009, water was once again being bottled at Holywell.
During the following years we continued in the same vein, with many other projects and successes under our belt that we will feature on the website in future. For example, we have now identified over a hundred springs, spouts, fountains, wells and features in and around the Malvern Hills, and more are being found – and created – all the time.
Well-dressing and more – bringing us up to date
Thanks to MSA well-dressing organiser Rick Banbury and his amazing team, well-dressing has gone from strength to strength. In 2019, a record 60 water features were dressed by some 800 adults and children. It’s a marvellous testament to the Dressers’ love of Malvern: they freely and happily give large amounts of time, flowers and materials, and with considerable skill, create the most glorious creations. In fact, the event has been extended so it now lasts for up to nine days – this better honours the worthy and hard work that goes into it, and allows more time for people to appreciate the displays. And, once again it is a ‘whole town’ celebration, involving many of our partners and supporters such as Malvern Hills District and Town Councils, Malvern Hills Trust, and the Malvern Hills AONB Partnership. This is good for collective health and well-being, community cohesion and the local economy, and fulfils the MSA’s aim of ‘increasing individual and collective knowledge of Malvern’s water’
We also organise social events, give talks, assist organisations such as Malvern in Bloom, and liaise with our twinned-town partners. Importantly, there are many new projects and plans afoot that we will tell you more about over the coming months.
With your help, the MSA can go from strength to strength. If you would like to find out more about what we do, become a member, or help in any way, please contact us.