Malvern had to lobby to get the railway to come to the town
The Malvern Hills almost caused Malvern to miss out on the railway building boom of the Victorian age.
As the great railway lines fanned out across the country, there was an obvious need for a line linking Birmingham, the workshop of the world at the time, to the coal fields of South Wales.
The original plan, submitted by the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) in 1852, would have seen the line leaving south of Shrub Hill station in Worcester, and following the present day A4103, which skirts the northern end of the Malvern Hills.
Both Malvern and Ledbury would have had to be content with branch line connections, rather than being on the main line.
In 1853 another plan was put forward, this time by the Great Western and the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton railway (known at the time as The Old Worse and Worse).
Planned and actual routes for the railway line
This would have seen a mixed-gauge line leave Worcester and cross the River Severn on a swing bridge at Diglis - Worcester was, at the time, a busy river port.
This line would have gone through Malvern, but not through Ledbury, thus avoiding the need for a tunnel under the hills.
This scheme also came to nothing, but after considerable lobbying from the residents of Malvern and Ledbury, a plan following the present route was adopted.
Bridges and tunnels
Building the railway on this route involved some massive engineering challenges:
- A new railway viaduct, with sixty five brick arches, had to be built in Worcester, to allow the line to cross the River Severn by Pitchcroft racecourse.
- A new station had to be built at Foregate Street in Worcester, and a bridge across the road.
- A tunnel had to be dug under the Malvern Hills, though some of the hardest rock in the country.
- Another tunnel was needed on the approach to Ledbury.
- A 31 arch viaduct across the River Leadon at Ledbury
The Malvern Hills loom behind Great Malvern station
It's small wonder that the line had to opened in stages, as these challenges were overcome.
On 25 July, 1859 the line opened from Henwick Station, on the west bank of the River Severn, to Malvern Link - the bridge across the river was not complete.
On 17 May 1860, the line was opened from Shrub Hill station, through Henwick Station, and on to Malvern.
Malvern had three stations - Malvern Link, Great Malvern and Malvern Wells (also known as The Common).
For nine months passengers had to walk across the new railway bridge in Worcester, because the government inspector, Colonel Yolland, refused to pass it as safe, after watching a train cross it.
The reinforced bridge (which had three arches) was finally passed safe on 17 May 1860 - it was replaced with the present bridge in 1905.
Horde of barbarians
People flocked from the Black Country to enjoy the Malvern Hill
The coming of the railway to Malvern had an immediate effect on the town, due to the sheer number of people who visited there.
The population of Malvern in the 1861 census was given as 4,484, yet on 28 July 1860 the Malvern Advertiser reported that 5,000 people arrived in the town for 'excursions'.
The previous week the same paper reported how 2,000 'excursionists' arrived at Malvern Link station at the same time.
They were the workers from a locomotive carriage works in Oldbury, together with their friends and families.
The paper reports how they were "regaled with a substantial breakfast by their employer" before the journey, and that "the hills were of course the attraction, and during the day the grassy slopes were covered with happy groups enjoying the delightful prospect of inhaling the invigorating breezes for which Malvern is famous."
Some local people were less happy about the population of the town doubling at weekends.
In an editorial in June 1860 the Malvern Advertiser noted that some residents "look on excursionists as a horde of barbarians, whose irruptions (sic) spoil peace, comfort and poetry... they resent vulgar and noisy people coming among them."
Lady Emily Foley
The former Imperial Hotel is now a girl's boarding school
Malvern's stations helped reinforce the class divide: Malvern Link was where what The Advertiser called "the most curious specimens of the British shopkeeper and artisan" disembarked for their trips up the hills; Great Malvern station was for those who could afford to stay at the splendid Imperial Hotel, which was next to the station, or make their way up the tree-lined Avenue to one of the other town centre hotels.
The design of Great Malvern station was overseen by Lady Emily Foley, the formidable matriarch who lived in Stoke Lacey house, on the Herefordshire side of the hills.
The extent of her influence can be judged by the fact that she had the right to ask trains to stop at Stoke Lacey whenever she felt the need to travel, though she usually preferred to take a carriage ride to Great Malvern (thus avoiding two smoky tunnels), where the first-class waiting room would be set-aside for her exclusive use.
Despite the grumblings of some local residents, Malvern was not slow to advertise its attractions, and the local economy was only too happy to accept the flood of new visitors, and their money.
By 1907 the masthead of the Malvern Gazette proudly proclaimed the town's attractions: "the healthiest of health resorts, the lowest death rate in the Kingdom, prettiest place in England... magnificent views, purest water in the world."
The coming of the main line railway to Malvern undoubtedly stimulated the rapid growth of the town - Bromyard and Leominster, who had to wait years for a branch line to reach them, and grew to nowhere near the same extent.