Anyone can get involved in Malvern Well Dressing, so membership to Malvern Spa Association who organise the event is not a requirement. Anyone wanting to get involved simply completes a form requesting which water site they wish to ‘dress’ and the Association chooses individuals on a first come first serve basis.
Around 100 people get involved across 20 odd sites across the Malvern Hills of wells that are publicly and privately owned. Some participants enter this Malvern competition in a bid to win Gold, Silver or Bronze Awards which are presented annually at the Priory Park Band Stand. Others simply take part to celebrate the springs and choose not to be entered into the competition.
Anyone can partake in Malvern Well Dressing but generally they are members of the local community who just wish to take part in the Malvern Spa Association ‘Well Dressing Weekend’. This May Day Festival event usually coincides with the Bank Holiday weekend and the chosen theme is publicised earlier in the year via the Malvern Spa Association website and the local press.
The organisers want to maintain a high standard of ‘Well Dressing’ so participants put in a considerable amount of time preparing their Well Dressing in advance and off site. Well Dressers are expected to respect the site and not obstruct public access to the site. They are also asked not make any markings directly on the structure of the site or damage the site in any way. They usually tidy the site removing any fallen twigs, leaves or litter before decorating it and just before the event a map of all participating sites and a poster is displayed near each site. By the finish date, sites are left tidy with absolutely no trace of the Well Dressing remaining as all material is completely removed from the site.
In 2006 research by Rose Garrard discovered an ancient tradition of Well Dressing in the Malvern’s which started in the 12th and 13th century. The Holy Well was dressed annually with offerings, they think on August 5th as thanks to St Oswald for water cures. There was a national drought in 1615, but Malvern`s springs kept flowing and the wells “were dressed as a token of gratitude for the plentiful supply of water” (Malvern Advertiser 1870). From 1870 Royal Well was regularly dressed in gratitude for William Ryland who gifted a public spout, and the Wyche Spring was also dressed by local residents in the 20th century up until 1978. Now the Malvern Spa Association is actually reviving this ancient Malvern tradition of ‘Well Dressing’.
In 1993, 1997 and 1998 Cora Weaver independently reintroduced well ‘decorating’ to Malvern on five sites, with support from the Malvern Hills District Council and 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` local residents mapped over two hundred remembered water sites, including springs, wells, spouts, pools, tanks and fountains around the Malvern Hills. In 2006 Rose Garrard went on to publish Malvern “Hill of Fountains” a 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 to celebrate Malvern`s water heritage.
In 2001 Rose Garrard became the Malvern Spa Association organiser of the renamed ‘Well Dressing’, moving it to the spring and in 2002 created the ‘Wet Weekend’ in support of the Malvern May Day Festival. This event 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 running of the Well Dressing and made some change; reducing the number of groups to Adults and Children and presenting the Gold, Silver & Bronze awards.
The Malvern Spa Association’s Well Dressing celebrates Malvern`s many spring water sites and aims to focus public attention on the unique heritage of springs and wells and increases community support for their restoration & maintenance.
You can visit the Malvern Spa Association for more information; welldressing@malvernspa or email to; firstname.lastname@example.org