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Malvern, UK

Map of the UK showing the location of MalvernMalvern is located in the south-west corner of Worcestershire, England, UK. The Malverns comprise a number of villages and areas centred around the town of Great Malvern, including Malvern Link, Malvern Wells, West Malvern, Little Malvern, Barnards Green and Colwall to the west of the hills. The town has a population of approximately 30,000 people, with the whole AONB having a estimated population of 50,000.

A History in 100 Words

The Malvern area has been occupied since prehistoric times; the Malvern as we know it today can trace its roots back 1000 years to the establishment of a Benedictine priory. The town started to grow during the 19th century, when the popularity of "The Water Cure" attracted large numbers of visitors. This Victorian tourist boom had largely died out by the latter part of the century, to be replaced by large scale quarrying, which didn't really start to decline until after the Second World War, with the last quarry closing in the late 1970s.

 


 

Malvern is well known for a number of things, including:

The combination of the hills and the water led to Malvern becoming a thriving Victorian spa town. The "Water Cure" was a major tourist attraction, as was perambulating gently on the hills. Indeed, the hills remain extremely accessible, with cunningly placed benches affording regular opportunities to stop and admire the views. Malvern has some fine Victorian architecture, although most of the large residences have been converted into apartments.

The name Malvern originates from the Celtic "Moel-bryn", meaning bare hill, probably.

For much more information about Malvern and its history, visit the Malvern Museum website.

The Malvern Hills

The Malvern Hills contain some of the oldest rocks in the United Kingdom, being approximately 600 million years old. The range of gentle hills is approximately 15 kilometres in length, and reaches a maximum height of just over 400 metres. The hills were extensively quarried until the earlier part of last century, with Malvern stone being in demand for, amongst other things, road building. The most interesting (and hence tourist-infested) area is at "British Camp", an Iron Age hill fort.

Most visitors to the Malvern area head for either British Camp, or the Worcestershire Beacon, which is the highest point on the hills. However, the most beautiful area is to the south, where the hills are more gentle and wooded. There is however, a conveniently situated public house at British Camp (and also an ice cream shop).

The hills have become less bare of late, leading to an active and somewhat controversial programme of management of the encroaching scrub (using cows, sheep and felling). There are skylarks on the hills, and keeping the tops clear should encourage them.

Mineral Water

It comes out of the ground, Schweppes used to bottle it, and people (including the Queen) drank it. It tastes like water. If you're very enthusiastic (with no sense of danger) you can actually collect it from various springs around the hills. It's just like the "real" stuff, except that it could contain added sheep products.

Until recently, over 12 million litres were bottled annually, from the Schweppes factory in Colwall near Malvern. Schweppes had been associated with Malvern for about 150 years, although the distribution of Malvern water can be traced back to the early 17th century. Unfortunately (for Malvern, although perhaps not for the environment), the plant closed in late 2010 - it was too small to compete against other bottled water brands. You can still buy Malvern spring water though, from the Holywell Spring.

Top environmental tip - use tap water. It requires 1/10,000 of the energy to produce, and tastes pretty good once the chlorine has dispersed.

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Elgar composed classical music (second-rate, in my humble and unqualified opinion). However, people around here seem to regard him as having some significance. I suspect my dislike is caused by "The Last Night of Proms", specifically Pomp & Circumstance March No.1, and all those flag-waving jingoistic twits. There is a statue of Elgar in Great Malvern town centre, and numerous places in the area claim an Elgar connection. My favourite of his works is "Nimrod" from "Enigma Variations".

I'm not a fan of Gustav Holst either, but Ralph Vaughan Williams is great (and you can still find ascending larks on the Malvern Hills).

The Malvern Theatres

The Malvern Theatres provide an excellent venue for listening to Elgar, or perhaps doing something entertaining instead. The complex has a theatre (well established on the touring circuit), a cinema, and the main auditorium known as "The Forum", in which various events are held.

The Malvern Theatres used to be known as "The Winter Gardens", but was renamed following a major renovation and face-lift. The renaming caused quite a controversy at the time, mainly amongst those who remember the original being built in 1885.

Look out for the interesting clepsydra in the upper bar area. It's a water clock, by the way.

Morgan Sports Cars

These cars have (until recently) been stuck in a time warp. They are classic sports cars, hand-built with a wooden chassis. There used to be a long waiting list to buy a Morgan (7 or 8 years), mainly due to the antiquated production methods (they couldn’t grow the trees fast enough, or something). Things have improved in recent years. They have a website.

Scientific Research

QinetiQ (formerly The Defence Research and Evaluation Agency, DERA, and before that DRA, RSRE, RRE and TRE) has one of its main sites in Malvern, originally employing over 2,500 people. It conducts research in a wide number of areas, and in the past has pioneered the development of well known inventions such as thermal imaging and the LCD. It was also involved in pioneering research into the silicon chip. It was the first UK site to be connected to the network that eventually evolved into the Internet. QinetiQ has a website too.

QinetiQ was controversially privatised well over a decade ago, having previously been part of the UK Ministry of Defence, and floated on the London Stock Market. Alas, the amount of research-based income continues to decline, and the company was focused for too long on buying US defense (sic) companies, taking on lots of debt in the process. The number of employees in Malvern is now nearer 500 than 1000, and some other UK sites have been closed completely or sold off.

Many ex-QinetiQ employees are still employed in Malvern, which now has a number of thriving small high-tech businesses, in what is now being called the Malvern "cyber valley".

Private Schools

There are several private schools in Malvern. These are confusing also known as "public schools" in the UK. The two most notable of these are locally referred to as "The Boys College" and "The Girls College". Both of these fine educational establishments have magnificent buildings. The Girls College is located in the old Imperial Hotel; an enormous hotel during the Victorian era, when Malvern was a popular spa resort. Some years ago it merged with "St. James & The Abbey" school, and its real name is now "Malvern St. James". The Boys College, Malvern College to give it its proper name, is now confusingly co-educational (it allows girls in).

Both of these schools charge approximately £30,000 per annum for full boarding, last time I checked, with plenty of opportunities for extra-curricular expenditure. However, you're pretty much guaranteed an affluent life after being educated at a place like this, so it's well worth the money.

Eating, Drinking & Shopping

Malvern is arguably the "Charity Shop Capital of the West", boasting a wide range of outlets selling second-hand stuff. They nicely complement the collection of formulaic national retailers located in the ever-expanding and inconveniently located retail park.

Fortunately, there are some excellent specialist shops too, including a great Indian restaurant (The Anupam), and literally one of the best pubs in the country (The Nag's Head). My local is The Great Malvern Hotel, which serves good beer, great food and has live music several nights a week. The Belle Vue Terrace area, at the top of Church Street, includes some nice shops such as Iapetus and a couple of chain pseudo-Italian restaurants (or you could go to Benedicto's or The Fig Tree, which are much nicer). Malvern has a Weatherspoons for those who like their beer cheap and plentiful. Sadly, there are few of the original town-centre style of shop remaining, as remarked upon by the proprietor of the excellent (but no longer trading on the high street) Malvern Country Meals - an award winning butcher, who now sells to the trade and through various markets and food events.