Little Malvern Priory, Worcestershire


★★

Tower and graveyard
North transept

Picturesque parish church at the foot of the Malvern Hills, occupying part of a larger building from a 12th century Benedictine monastery
Entry
Free
Location
On the east side of the Malvern Hills, near the A449/A4104 junction
Photo Tour (18 images)
Like the rather larger Great Malvern Priory, 3.5 miles north, the parish church of Little Malvern Priory was once part of a Benedictine monastery, flourishing for around four centuries until closure by order of Henry VIII, in 1534, at which time the site consisted of an ornate church with a square central tower between north and south transepts, adjoining a cloister that was lined by other monastic buildings. The monastery was subsidiary to the larger institution at Worcester, and was always relatively small, inhabited by no more than 30 monks. Following the Dissolution, the nave of the church was soon demolished but the rest survived, purchased by a local landowner, John Russell of Strensham, and later transferred to the parishioners, while part of the remainder of the site was developed as a manor house (Little Malvern Court), also still intact, and held by descendants of the Russell family.

The first church at the priory was constructed at the end of the 12th century, though only some minor sections of the walls remain from this time; instead, most of the building dates from the 1480s when it was rebuilt and restored under the guidance of Bishop Alcock, having become somewhat dilapidated. The condition of the transepts and two adjacent chapels deteriorated in the following centuries and are now ruined, but the rest of the building - the tower and chancel - remains intact, and is still used for regular services.

The interior contains a variety of original, late medieval features including stone carvings, stained glass and floor tiles, and the place has an peaceful, evocative atmosphere, helped by its remote, countryside setting; apart from the manor house and a few other nearby buildings, the surroundings are open farmland, with the steep slopes of the Malvern Hills rising a short distance west. Added interest comes from the ruined fragments of the transepts and chapels, some of which are incorporated into the garden of the manor.



Location


The church is located along the A4104, near the junction with the A449, on gently sloping land, high enough for long distance views east, towards the River Severn. Like most rural churches, the building is usually unlocked during the day but may sometimes be closed. Parking is available directly opposite, an area also used by visitors to Little Malvern Court, which is open to the public only on about 15 days each year, between April and July. The entry path leads through the small graveyard, which is shaded by ancient trees and contains a few piles of jumbled masonry fragments, from the now vanished sections of the church. The path ends in front of a heavy door in a dark corner, beyond which is a small room with parish notices and brochures plus a little kitchen to one side, while another door leads to the actual church, entering through a wooden screen at the east end.

Exterior


The original church had a traditional cruciform layout, with the nave to the west, leading to the crossing beneath the tower, the chancel to the east, and transepts at either side, bordering the cloisters to the southwest. Virtually nothing remains of the nave, only a few masonry elements incorporated into the west wall of the church; the area once enclosed is now partly under the churchyard and partly under the driveway of the manor house. The church entrance is below an arched window on the west side of the north transept, the walls of which continue, just a few feet high, round the far side and link with another short wall, from the adjacent chapel. A large arch cuts through the north side of the church, walled up when the transept was abandoned in the 17th century. The east end of the church probably once extended to a vestry, though no trace of this remains, while the far side has similarly ruined remnants of the south transept and its neighbouring chapel. The area within these rooms is planted with bushes and flowers, forming part of the gardens of the court.



Interior


The church has a full height, windowless wall to the west, filling in the great arch that once linked to the nave, and a equally tall wall on the east side, about half of which is taken up by a grand, six-light window, containing several panels of original, richly-coloured stained glass, depicting the family of Edward IV. The remainder is filled with more recent, plain glass. Below this is the altar, on a stone floor that incorporates several dozen medieval tiles, similar in design to those at Great Malvern Priory and so presumably produced by the same manufacturer. The two side walls each contain three windows, and two pairs of walled arches, formerly linking to the transepts and the chapels. The north chapel arch is centred on another small window, salvaged from the chapel, and also containing a few small pieces of the original coloured glass. There are many salvaged fragments of carved masonry along shelves at either side of the church, and two narrow, slanted openings (now sealed), that enabled people in the adjacent chapels to view the altar. The modern nave is divided from the altar by a wooden screen from the 14th century.