The History of the Priory Gatehouse
Purpose in Medieval Times
This was once the gatehouse to Great Malvern’s Benedictine priory, and was built c.1480. Under the archway you can still see the huge oak timbers from which the great gates hung. You can also see the squint window where visitors declared their business to the porter, who kept watch from within. He was expected to be cheerful, polite, and welcoming at all times.
Although Malvern was remote, the monarchs established a royal hunting ground here c.1086, about the same time as the priory was built. Royal visitors included Henry VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York, and their sons Arthur and Henry (later Henry VIII).
Henry VIIIs dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s meant that most of Malvern priory was destroyed but, mercifully, this building was spared. Circa 1560 it was extended on the south side and you can still see the red Tudor brickwork and the mullioned windows. The little angel above the arch is thought to be John Knotsford, who owned the building at that time.
The Priory Gatehouse in Later History
In the early 19th century the gatehouse upstairs was used as a court and there was a prisoner’s cell downstairs on the east side. You can still see the metal bars at the window. There was also a fruit and game shop downstairs on the west side. Later, solicitors, estate agents and architects had offices here. One architect was Arthur Troyte Griffith whose dear friend Edward Elgar used to visit him in his office. Troyte became Enigma Variation no. VII.
The gatehouse was remodelled in 1891. On the north side a battlement was added and the crumbling façade was refaced. A controversial extension was added on the west side, destroying its symmetry. In 1978 an ice cream van became wedged under the archway causing a huge amount of damage, after which traffic was banned from driving through the arch. At that time the priory gatehouse was used as lodgings for the staff at the nearby Abbey Hotel. In 1980 the owners, de Vere Hotels, generously gave the ancient building to Malvern Museum Society.
The gatehouse is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade II* Listed building, and now houses a fine local history collection where the story of Malvern may be explored.