Great Malvern, or ‘Malvern’ as it is typically known, is the quintessential Victorian spa town. From Medieval times onwards, the water in Malvern was (and still is by some) regarded as having special or even ‘healing’ qualities. Malvern water was being bottled and sold as early as 1622. Yet, it took the ingenuity of the Victorians to turn this once small village into a hugely popular and extremely fashionable spa town.
The Victorians have left a huge physical legacy, and not just in Britain. Theirs was the age of empire and an unwavering certainty of Britain’s role in the world. Their buildings and engineering projects reflect that certainty, vast edifices to power designed to awe. No one could visit New Delhi and not appreciate the intent behind the vast Lutyens-inspired colonial city that was constructed there. The scale is monumental. That same jingoism infected just about every Victorian building project in Britain, and sturdy, confident Victorian buildings are everywhere in Malvern.
Malvern grew dramatically in the early part of the nineteenth century as more and more people came to ‘take’ the waters. Even Princess, later Queen, Victoria made a visit in 1830. Aged only twelve, she came to open a newly created walk to St. Anne’s Well, one of the many fresh water springs. Her presence made Malvern even more popular, but it was the invention of the ‘Malvern Water Cure’, and the opening of clinics administering the ‘cure’, that really put Malvern on the map for health craze mad Victorians.
The popularity of the ‘cure’ saw an unprecedented surge in building: hotels, spas, boarding houses, Victorian and Edwardian villas and dozens of grand town houses fill the centre of Malvern to this day. The architectural styles range from Scottish Baronial to Ancient Greek, a collection Victorian fantasy buildings to rival Disney. The railway came to Malvern in 1859, making travel from London and elsewhere much more simple, and cementing the town’s position as one of the leading spa towns in Britain.
All this development had a downside. It crept ever further from the centre and started eating into common land and the Malvern Hills, which were a huge tourist draw in their own right. This was resolved by the 1884 Malvern Hills Act of Parliament, preventing further development. Throughout this period Malvern also became known as a centre for education, and numerous private schools opened in the town. Among those that remain, Malvern College, is a classic example of a Victorian private school – all towers and turrets.
Walking through the town today is a visual joy. Much of Victorian Malvern, and even earlier, has been preserved. It has one of the finest collections Victorian-era buildings anywhere in Britain and, almost uniquely, very few examples of 1960s and 70s architectural nihilism that blight less fortunate towns.