Research by Rose Garrard in 2006 has revealed for the first time an ancient tradition of Well Dressing in the Malverns. In the 12th and 13th centuries the Holy Well was dressed annually with offerings, probably on August 5th, in thanks to St Oswald for water cures there. In 1615 there was a national drought, but as Malvern`s springs kept flowing they “were (well) dressed as a token of gratitude for a plentiful supply of water” (Malvern Advertiser 1870). From 1870 Royal Well was regularly dressed in gratitude for William Ryland`s gift of the public spout, and the Wyche Spring was also dressed by local residents in the 20th century until 1978. The MSA can now celebrate that we are actually reviving an ancient Malvern tradition of Well Dressing dating back at least to the 12th century.
Cora Weaver independently reintroduced well ‘decorating’ to Malvern on five sites in 1993 and again in 1997 and 1998 supported by funds from Malvern Hills District Council. In 1994 Cora and Bruce Osborne published ‘Aquae Malvernensis’, a book with invaluable information about sixty springs and fountains of the Malvern Hills.
In 1997 as part of the ‘Spring Water Arts Project` with Artist in Residence Rose Garrard (funded by the MHDC and the Arts Council), local residents mapped over two hundred remembered water sites, including springs, wells, spouts, pools, tanks and fountains around the hills. Rose published ‘Malvern “Hill of Fountains” in 2006, her book about the ancient origins, beliefs and superstitions surrounding Wells and Well Dressing.
In 1998 the Malvern Spa Association was founded to “conserve, protect and restore” Malvern`s spring water sites. Each autumn in 1999 and 2000, Well ‘decorating’ became an annual Malvern Spa Association event organised by Cora Weaver to celebrate Malvern`s water heritage. By then it had grown from four to fourteen sites, but in 2001 Cora felt she had to stand down as MSA Organiser due to pressure of other work and later in 2004 she left the Malvern Spa Association.
Rose Garrard became the MSA Organiser of the renamed ‘Well Dressing’ in 2001, moving it to the spring in 2002 and creating the ‘Wet Weekend’ of MSA events in support of the Malvern May Day Festival. The Well Dressing has continued to grow annually, with 28 water sites beautifully dressed in 2006 by about 85 members of the local community.
In 2008 Lionel Butcher took over the reins as the Well Dressing Organizer. Lionel has made some changes, he has reduced the number of groups to Adults and Children and now presents Gold, Silver & Bronze awards to all winners in place of the cups. He has retained the Chairman’s special prize.
The MSA Well Dressing not only celebrates Malvern`s many spring water sites, but the MSA also aims to focus public attention on our unique heritage of springs and wells, increasing community support for their restoration & maintenance.
To take part in next year’s Well Dressing email firstname.lastname@example.org
DO YOU WANT TO BE A WELL DRESSER?
The Theme is different each year & will be announced well in advance of the competition. Anyone can become a Well Dresser – you do not have to be an MSA member. People taking part vary from year to year and must annually fill in an MSA form identifying the water site they have chosen and giving the contact details of one individual representative from their site. This is sent back to the MSA by the 1st April, who will then send you confirmation and further details. Sites are agreed on a strictly first come first served basis.
Usually about 100 people take part on more than 20 sites around the hills that are both publicly and privately owned. About two thirds of these participants choose to enter the Well Dressing competition for Gold, Silver & Bronze Awards to be presented at Priory Park Band Stand on the Saturday lunchtime each year. Usually one third of people who to take part want to celebrate the springs but choose not to be entered into the competition.
Further enquiries, please email email@example.com
MALVERN SPA ASSOCIATION WELL DRESSERS
How to take part
Anyone can become a Well Dresser. You do not have to be an MSA member. Well Dressers are members of the local community who wish to take part in the MSA “Well Dressing Weekend”, an annual May Day Festival event usually coinciding with the Bank Holiday weekend. The chosen theme for the Well Dressing will be publicised in the early part of the year in the MSA News, on this website and by the local press.
About 100 people take part on more than 20 sites around the hills that are both publicly and privately owned. In order to maintain a high standard of Well Dressing most participants spend considerable time preparing parts of their Well Dressings in advance, off site. About one third of people who take part choose not to be entered in the competition, while two thirds of participants choose to enter the Well Dressing Competition itself for the Gold, Silver & Bronze Awards presented at Priory Park Band Stand on the Saturday lunchtime as part of Malvern May Day Festival.
People taking part vary from year to year and annually fill in the MSA form identifying the water site they have chosen and giving the contact details of one individual Representative from their site. This is returned to the MSA by the 1st April.
Sites are agreed on a strictly first come first served basis. Each Well Dresser Representative then receives a letter of confirmation for their site, which contains details of the timetable and all rules for the event. This representative is then given one year`s free MSA Membership including the next 3 MSA Newsletters.
Guidelines and some Competition Rules
Well Dressers are asked to respect the site and not to obstruct usual public access to any water present. Well Dressers must not make any markings directly on the structure of the site or damage the site in any way. Well Dressers usually tidy the site removing any fallen twigs, leaves or litter before decorating it. Just before the event a map of all participating sites and a poster will also be sent, both to be displayed near the site.