April 2 – A Visit to the Malverns

A church micro day around Little Malvern, Great Malvern, Malvern, Hanley Swan, Cradley, Mathon and Wellington Heath

Hi from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

The Malverns have been recommended for us to visit and today is the day. We were very surprised that we had not heard about it before since it is not too far away and we had a wonderful day visiting the area.

St Wulstan’s Church in Little Malvern was built in 1862 and is the last resting place of the English composer, Sir Edward Elgar and his wife, Caroline Alice, known as Alice. There is a relatively simple sandstone tomb commemorating Lady Caroline Alice Elgar who died in 1920 and Sir Edward who died in 1934. Nearby are memorials to other members of their family. The siting of the tomb looks out across the Severn Vale to the distant hills across areas that the composer cycled in search of inspiration. Today the view is somewhat obscured by trees. We arrived here quite by chance by doing a church micro multi and one of the requirements was to look for the tombstone. Unfortunately, though the church was closed so we collected the numbers and walked the short distance to the cache. Our GPS was pointing into the garden but the hint suggested somewhere else and we found it easily.

We continued on to Great Malvern and wow! There were two surprises here, the size of the Priory church at Great Malvern and the Malvern Hills themselves which we may not have found without geocaching. We walked around the Great Malvern Priory to collect the numbers for the church micro multi which took us to several places of interest including the gravestone of Anne Elizabeth Darwin, Charles Darwin’s eldest daughter, who died of tuberculosis after her health was weakened by contracting scarlet fever along with two of her sisters. After collecting the six numbers required we continued on to the final where the hint gave us the final resting place of the geocache. At ground zero there was only a high stone wall and a sign so there was only one place to look. Michael had to jump to retrieve it, being slightly vertically challenged. I also got muggled while standing there which is an occupational hazard. ‘Can I help you?’. No problem though, I think he just thought we were lost.

Great Malvern Priory was built around 1075 to 1540 as a Benedictine monastery and is a grade I listed building. It was awesome with the largest display of 15th-century stained glass in England.  The highlight for me was the two Tom Denny windows based on Psalm 36. His windows are noted for the distinctive way in which light and colour move across the surface. He achieves this effect by acid etching and silver staining each small piece of glass. I am now able to instantly recognise his work as it is so distinctive.

Millennium windows by Tom Denny, 2004 – Great Malvern Priory

The church has a wonderful range of tile work on the floor with lots of different designs but the 15th-century tiles on the walls were fantastic. The church had a major restoration by Sir Gilbert Scott in 1860 and the altar and reredos were particularly wonderful additions. There is also a gorgeous banner designed by Sir Ninian Comper. The choir stalls were also a highlight with their 15th-century misericords and tapestry misericord backrests. The colourful altar frontal in one of the side chapel was inspiring. I am looking forward to creating something magical like this when I get home to New Zealand.

The Priory Gardens featured some wonderful and varied sculptures. One particularly nice woodcarving was ‘Water Sustains Life’ by Tom Harvey from Tewkesbury. The blossom was out and the trees were in varying stages of greenness so it was a great place to eat our lunch.

The  United Reform Church of Holly Mount sits prominently on the eastern slopes of the Malvern Hills and is a notable landmark when viewed from the surrounding countryside. It looks out across the Severn plain, the Vale of Evesham and the Cotswolds. The church was closed and so was the footpath to the church. We collected the numbers and walked the short distance to the cache where there was an excellent hint.

We also visited St Mary’s church in Guarlford and St Andrew’s church in Malvern both of which were closed but had church micros to add to our rapidly growing collection.

St Gabriel’s in Hanley Swan, Worcestershire, was built in 1874 mainly of Malvern stone with a church spire of Bath stone. It was designed in the Gothic Revival style by the leading architect of the Victorian era, Sir George Gilbert Scott, who also designed the Albert Memorial and St Pancras station in London.

It is one of two churches in the village of 1500 people and has a  large carpark. I found the cache quickly before joining Michael in the church. It was quite a surprise with its wonderful features. It had a lovely stained glass window with a glowing halo by A.L. Moore of London and another wonderful Tom Denny window with royal blue as its dominant colour. I think this one is my favourite of his works that I have seen so far. The amazing reredos in alabaster with gilded and coloured mosaic tiles featuring Archangels Gabriel and Michael on each side with floral tilework is magnificent. The East window was Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with the Good Shepherd in the middle.

The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady & St Alphonsus in Hanley Swan was built in 1846. It was designed in the Gothic Revival style by the architect Charles Francis Hansom whose brother designed the Hansom Cab. The interior fittings, including a fine floor made from Mintons tiles, are all made to Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin’s designs, whose works included the interior of the Palace of Westminster and St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham. There were fourteen painted and gilded pottery stations of the cross. The high altar frontal has six statues of angels with Jesus crucified in the centre with a reredos of gold and red. The stained glass windows were all by William Wailes. Both side chapels are separated from the nave and aisles by painted timber screens and both have painted stone altars and reredoses. The chancel is separated from the nave by an ornate timber rood screen across the pointed chancel arch.

The site of the parish church of St James the Great in Cradley, Herefordshire, probably dates back to Saxon times. In the north wall of the tower is a Saxon stone that may have served to mark a gathering place for visits by Saxon missionary priests. Parts of the church date from 12th, 14th and 15th century but substantial alterations were made during the Victorian period.

The font is late 18th century which is unusual as very few parish churches possess a Georgian font. This one was made in 1722 and donated by Rev Thomas Bisse, one of the founders of the Three Choirs Festival.  One memorial in the nave, that of Richard Chambers, tells of an 18th-century family squabble, stating that if his son, Richard, kept a pack of beagles or hounds he would be disinherited in favour of his sister Margaret. Did his love of dogs outweigh his love of money?

Cradley takes a bit of finding but when we got there extensive renovations were taking place especially inside the church. A workman was there and he turned off the alarm system so that we could see the fantastic St Francis of Assisi stained glass window in the sanctuary. It was breathtaking and the habit of St Francis was a wonderful mixture of brown and purple which gave a stunning effect. The cache was an easy find once we could see where to go on the long walk around. We thought we might have the numbers wrong but they were fine.

The church of St John the Baptist at Mathon, Herefordshire, was erected in the eleventh century. Outside the west door there is a flat stone larger than a tombstone and without an inscription – it is thought to be a `Hiring Stone’. Before people could read or write and knew nothing of agreements or contracts, farmers requiring dairymaids, herdsmen, ditchers or diggers would place some coins upon the `Hiring Stone’ and whoever picked them up would be hired. Taking place near the church made the practice sacred and thus binding on master and workman alike.

The impressive Yew tree, an emblem of immortality, is thought to be over 900 years old and has a girth of more than 22 feet. The church was closed but we found the cache with an excellent hint and a lovely container.

Although there has been a settlement in Wellington Heath since the early Middle Ages there was no established church until the mid 19th century. Until then villagers had to walk to Ledbury or Coddington for baptisms, marriages or funerals.

In 1840, plans for the construction for Christ Church were drawn up and the building was opened on the 15th of July 1841. It was the first church to be consecrated in Herefordshire for over a hundred years. We were driving past on our way home so it would be wrong not to find the cache, wouldn’t it?

Another fantastic day.