The Medieval Room
This room has much to offer and families can find out what it was like to live in medieval Malvern. Children can dress up as monks or peasants and all ages can have a go at building Hanley Castle or arranging medieval tiles in the right sequence.
Malvern did not exist at the time of the Norman Conquest 1066. A group of monks set up a small community above what is now Great Malvern and a Benedictine monastery was established by 1085. It was the daughter house of Westminster Abbey. Little Malvern Priory, built a few decades later, belonged to Worcester Cathedral. Great Malvern’s first prior was Aldwyn and the renowned mathematician, Walcher of Lorraine, followed him. This prior is regarded as England’s first astronomer. His research introduced the lunar calendar and the use of Arabic numerals.
The magnificent Priory Church, with its stained glass, misericords (hinged seats) and the famous wall and floor tiles, is still admired today. The Priory Church was extended in the 1400s and attracted the support of the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, and Henry VII who both paid for new windows.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries
When Henry VIII closed the monasteries, local families succeeded in buying the church for £20, although it took them 2 years to raise the money! Other buildings were not so fortunate and were dismantled for building stone. The Gatehouse survived, as did the Guesten Hall. This half timbered building had provided accommodation for important visitors to the monastery. It became a barn until it was demolished in c1840. It is likely that Henry VII, his wife and their sons Arthur and Henry, stayed here c1500. Drawings of the Guesten Hall hang in the museum corridor, together with a number of unglazed medieval window heads.
One of the monks who may have studied either at Great or Little Malvern Priory was William Langland. He was the author of The Vision of Piers Plowman, the first major poem written in English. It was composed in c 1370, at least ten years before The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. The opening scene of Piers Plowman is set on the Malvern Hills.
The Medieval Malvern Forest and Malvern Chase
Visitors can also discover what life was like in the medieval Malvern Forest. William the Conqueror designated it a royal forest and probably hunted deer and wild boar here. Strict laws were introduced to protect the ‘venison and vert’, or animal and countryside. Local inhabitants faced harsh punishments for minor offences and were severely restricted in how they used the land they farmed. After the king rewarded a noble with the privilege of governing the Forest, the land became known as the Chase. King John built a small castle as a hunting base in the early 1200s. The nearby village became known as Hanley Castle.