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7 November 2014

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Malvern Hills - the water cure

Malvern water is famous throughout the world. The Queen drinks it and people still travel many miles to collect water from the springs on the hills.

The healing powers of Malvern water were first mentioned as far back as 1622 in Bannister's Breviary of the Eyes.

"A little more I'll of their curing tell.
How they helped sore eyes
with a new found well.
Great speech of Malvern Hills
was late reported.
Unto which spring
in troops resorted."
Bannister's Breviary of the Eyes

"It is a most beautiful place. Oh heavenly to meet the cold waters as I did this morning when I went out for a shower bath"

Charles Dickins on the Malvern water cure

Not the greatest piece of poetry perhaps, but an early mention of what was probably Holy Well, the first pure water source on the hills.

The water was bottled and sent all over the country from as early as the reign of James the first.

Dr Nash, in the 18th century, quoted the lyrics of a song from that period.

"A thousand bottles there were filled weekly
and many costrels* rare
for stomachs sickly.
Some of them into Kent,
some were to London sent,
others to Berwick went.
Oh Praise the Lord."
(*Costrel=A portable container usually cylindrical or barrel shaped.) 
Traditional song 

Taking the waters

The popularity of the water cure at Malvern owes much to two doctors, who set up hydrotherapy centres in the area; Dr James Wilson and Doctor James Manby Gulley

Dr Wilson had first hand knowledge of the water cure practised by Vincent Priestnitz in Graefenburg.

Dr Gully, an Edinburgh graduate, had published a book on 'neuropathy' in 1837.

The first Water Cure establishment in Great Malvern opened in 1842, and was at The Crown Hotel, where Lloyds Bank now stands.

People staying there would have had treatment using water from St. Anne's Well.

The cure

The regime at a hydrotherapy centre consisted of plenty of fresh Malvern water, lots of exercise and a strict diet - which may account for its success.

There's was an early start for those taking the cure:

6am 'Packing': The patient is wrapped in a long wet sheet and covered in eiderdowns.
7am: The patient is unwrapped, given a cold shower and rubbed down
The showers were of two types: the descending douche where the patient stood under a stream of cold Malvern water: the ascending douche, which is best left to the imagination.
A hike up the hills, drinking a glass of water at each well or spring. The infirm were allowed to ride up on donkeys until well enough to walk.
Strict diet: No alcohol or rich foods.


Many famous people came to Malvern to 'take the cure', including Charles Darwin and his wife (their daughter is buried in the town), and Charles Dickens and his wife Katherine, who stayed there in 1850.

Warning Notice

Warning notice

"It is a most beautiful place. Oh heavenly to meet the cold waters as I did this morning when I went out for a shower bath."
Charles Dickens: letter

The water was famed for its purity, though this may be because an analysis in 1757 by Dr. John Wall found that there was nothing remarkable contained in it.

This has led to a very famous piece of local verse, still widely known.

"The Malvern waters, says Dr. John Wall, is famed for containing nothing at all." 
Traditional verse 

This hasn't stopped people travelling from miles around, to get water from the springs that still flow out of the hillside.

Holy Well

Holy Well


Holy Well is a beautifully maintained spring, in a Swiss style building off the Malvern to Ledbury road, at the end of a long, steep, winding road. Don't try to walk there unless you're fit.

You can drive almost all the way to the well, and there is space to park, though bear in mind the needs of the people who live adjacent to the well

St Anne's Well is easily reached from the centre of Great Malvern.

You take a road that runs from the Unicorn pub leading to the wonderfully named Happy valley.

From there there are signs directing you to the well, and again it's a steep climb.

Hayslad spring

Hayslad spring

In West Malvern there is an easily reached Hayslad spring, alongside the West Malvern Road). This is one of the most popular for people coming to fill containers with water.

There is a layby on the opposite side of the road from the well as well as parking next to it - both get very busy at weekends.

There is another easily reached spring on the Cowleigh Road in West Malvern - The Earl Beauchamp spirng.

The very attractive brick facade surrounding the spring was paid for by William Earl Bauchamp, whose family were big landowners in the area.

Earl Beauchamp's well

Earl Beauchamp's spring

Again many people come to this spring to fill up water containers, and there is a car park just behind the spring.

On all of the springs is a warning from Malvern Hills District Council saying that water should be boiled before drinking

last updated: 05/01/2009 at 12:38
created: 11/03/2008

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