Local History - Priory Park Mansion in Great Malvern
Priory Park Mansion is the largest Victorian Gothic building in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, England. It is situated on the north eastern boundary of Priory Park at the corner of Avenue Road and Priory Road.
The photo below shows the entrance, adjacent to the car park, which is primarily for the use of council staff, and the path beyond into Priory Park.
The mansion is now occupied by Malvern Hills District Council and is a popular venue for Registry Office weddings because scenic photographs can be taken in the grounds of Priory Park.
The photo below shows a glimpse of the south side of the building viewed through the trees from the Splash.
There are many gargoyles, for example see photo below.
Another photo (below) shows the mansion viewed from the south east, where on the corner there is a distinctive 'turret' supported on a pedestal.
To the right of the picture is a large glass-house that has recently been refurbished. Possibly this was an original feature?
Alongside the entrance from Avenue Road is a prefabricated building used for meetings, which was originally the Priory School gymnasium built about 1910.
We updated this page, after finding 'The Story of Malvern Council House' published by John Young in 1991, in the library. It's a slim booklet, so easy to miss amongst the other volumes, but it's a gem describing the history of the site and those who lived there (ref 1). It's one of several booklets that have been printed by First Paige about the history of Malvern.
The first house on this site named either 'The Priory' or 'Priory House' was apparently built in 1834 for a Robert Thomson, and sold to the water cure doctor James Manby Gully in 1847.
Dr Gully, the son of a coffee grower, was born in Jamaica about 1808. His first wife Fanny sadly died of smallpox in 1838. He came to Great Malvern in 1842 and began his water cure practice with his colleague Dr James Wilson at the Crown Hotel on Belle Vue Terrace. Not long after, the doctors went their separate ways, and Dr Gully moved his main Hydrotherapy Practice to Holyrood and Tudor House on the Worcester Road.
A green plaque on the NW corner of Priory Park Mansion records that this was the site of 'Priory House' which from 1847 - 1872 was the home and consulting rooms of 'water cure' doctor James Manby Gully.
In 1851 Dr Gully bought further land probably encompassing what is now the Splash and Swan Pool. You can read more about him on our page The Victorian water cure doctors of Great Malvern.
About 1872 Dr Gully retired, leaving the business in the hands of his colleague Dr Fernie, and moved to London where Dr Gully died in 1883.
In 1873 'The Priory' was sold to wealthy merchant Alfred Miles Speer who had the first house demolished in 1874.
The present mansion, by local architect Henry Haddon, was built between about 1874 and 1880, on the site of 'The Priory', for Irish born Alfred Miles Speer, a London based merchant who traded with South America. He was born Waterford, Ireland, 1825 and died London 1894.
By 1871, Alfred's brother Henry Templeman Speer was already living in Great Malvern at Batsford Lodge, Avenue Road, with his wife Frances Selwyn Morris of Cheltenham - they had no children. Batsford Lodge is another fine Victorian Tudor Gothic building, with fancy pierced barge-boards, on the NW corner with Imperial Road, by Haddon Bros, circa 1869-70.
Alfred Miles Speer married Margaret Annie Milford, Truro, Cornwall, and they had four sons, Joseph Templeman Speer, William Henry Speer, Alfred Ernest Speer and Frederick Arthur Speer. Two embarked on musical careers.
Elizabeth Speer (mother)
Alfred's mother Elizabeth died at Malvern in 1877 and in Great Malvern cemetery you will find a large table top tomb near the memorial to Jenny Lind, where eight plaques record Elizabeth and other members of her family.
Elizabeth's plaque reads:
Joseph Templeman Speer (son)
Another plaque records the death of Joseph Templeman Speer. The inscription reads:
Probably the tragedy of their eldest son's death in an accident caused the family to lose interest in their house at Malvern, though the Speer family continued to own Priory Park Mansion, which passed to William Henry Speer, following his father's death in 1894.
William Henry Speer
The story of musician and composer Dr William Henry Speer (1863 - 1937) is recounted in Malvern Civic Society newsletter The Bandstand Vol 57 no 3 June 2015 by Felicity Ebsworth. William also has an entry in the 'Dictionary of Composers for the Church in Great Britain and Ireland'.
He studied at the Royal College of Music and Trinity Cambridge.
In 1887 William married Marion Lilford Loraine Estridge the daughter of Rev Canon Loraine Estridge of Manby Road, later vicar of St John the Baptist, Mathon. William's father contributed to the building of the tower of the Lyttleton rooms in Great Malvern and on the north side under the clock you will see a plaque commemorating the union of William and Marion in 1887.
Between 1903 and 1910 William was organist and choirmaster of St Peter's church Bexhill.
His death is recorded on a memorial shield, one of several surrounding the Speer family tomb in Great Malvern Cemetery.
The couple had several children but sadly their son Alfred Henry Templeman Loraine Speer was killed in the Great War; see more about below.
Frederick Arthur Speer (youngest son)
At the time of the 1881 census Alfred Miles Speer was again living in London, but his wife Margaret was absent. In 1891 she was living with her married son Frederick Arthur Speer. a barrister, at the seaside town of Christchurch in Hampshire. In 1901 after her husband's death, Margaret was still living wiith Frederick in Bournemouth.
An extract from Frederick's Cambridge University's Alumni record reads:
Frederick and Amy's son Lionel Arthur Templeman Speer became a priest.
Lionel's cousin, Alfred Henry Templeman Loraine Speer, the son of William and Marion, was educated locally at Malvern College. Sadly, Lieutenant Alfred Henry Templeman Loraine Speer, Royal Field Artillery, was killed on 9th July 1916 while attached to the Royal Flying Corps.
On 10th January 1916 he had qualified for his Aviators Certificate at the Military School Norwich flying a Maurice Farman Biplane.
He is buried in London Cemetery, Neuville-Vitasse, Pas de Calais, France, and is remembered on the war memorial at Balcombe in Sussex, on the memorial to the 91 and 139 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery in St Swithun’s church, Hither Green, and Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge.
In 1911 Priory Park Mansion was let to school teacher Ebenezer Lloyd-Jones on a 14 year lease and it became a school for the sons of gentlemen, until 1925 when the school moved to Wood Norton Hall near Evesham. Possibly he first started the school as early as 1901.
Malvern District Urban Council acquired the property on 31st July 1925.
An open air swimming pool had been built for the school circa 1923, and was still used by the public, in the summer, until the 1990s when the pool was demolished to build the popular indoor Splash Leisure Complex.
The magnificent lodge at the entrance to Priory Park mansion was demolished to build a gymnasium. This building, sometimes now referred to as the Cricket Pavilion, is still standing, and used for functions and large meetings (see photo below which also shows the parking area).
Dr James Wilson, another water cure doctor, had his home at Grattan House in Orchard Road on the south side of Priory Park immediately below his large Hydropathic Establishment - the building now known as Park View.
James Wilson, born Holywell, Flintshire, in 1807 was the son of an Irish father and Welsh mother. He married circa 1840 in Nice, France, Clara Kortright.
Clara's mother, Juliana Margaretha Waltersdorff (1769–1819) married Cornelius Hendrickson Kortright (1764–1818). After several years in the West Indies the Kortrights moved to England and bought Hylands House near Chelmsford in Essex, their home from 1797 to 1814.
As already mentioned, in 1842 James Wilson set up a 'water cure' practice with his business partner Dr James Manby Gully at the Crown Hotel on Belle Vue Terrace. Later they split up and Wilson purchased land from the Mason Estate to build his own purpose built Hydrotherapy Establishment (Park View) and Malvern House, next door in Abbey Road.
Grattan House, his home, stood on what is now the Priory Park Bowling Green at the south end of Priory Park. For a short period, Grattan House later became a school and was demolished in the 1930s. Possibly James Wilson named the house and his son after the famous Irish politician Henry Grattan.
Dr Wilson owned the Chalybeate spring behind Spa Cottage and it is rumoured there had once been a dispute with Dr Gully about access to the spring-water.
Sadly Dr James Wilson died suddenly in January 1867 at the early age of 59, while staying at the Ilkley Wells hydropathic establishment in Yorkshire. He is buried in Malvern cemetery.
The photo below shows the pool in Priory Park not far from the site of James and Clara Wilson's home, and that of Dr Gully. A lovely place to stroll and bring the children to feed the ducks.
We are so fortunate that this area of the town once owned by wealthy families is now a community asset for all to enjoy.
If you are able to correct or add to the story on this page please get in touch by contacting the webmaster
Last updated 4th July 2015