And The Surrounding District


2. Development and history of the Common

The main natural vegetation of Britain is forest, and after the Ice Age, the plants slowly returned, until

most of the country was covered in a blanket of trees,

but it was a blanket full of holes. So it was in this

area, when prehistoric man first arrvied, as a hunter,

and found the bare hill tops, and thick woodland, with

some clearings where the soil was too stony, or wet,

for trees to grow well. It is said that the name

Malvern comes from the Celtic Moel Bryn meaning


As Britain was settled man made little impact upon the

area of the common, though there are Iron Age Hillforts

on the hills either side - British Camp and Midsummer

Hill, and the Romans built roads to the east and west.

The only marks of man from this long period may be the

ancient trackways across the waste, especially the old

hill crossing by Pink Cottage. The old hollow ways

leading from the car park by the Pink Cottage track, up

through the bracken and through the Pink Cottage gap

(which is called the Silurian pass in geological

circles) probably date from this period, but the

straight roads and tracks across the lower common, seem

to be from the Mediaeval period rather than the Roman.

William the Conqueror 'afforested' the Malvern Chase,

which means that in about 1086, an area which stretched

from the hills to the River Severn. and from Cowleigh

Gate (North Malvern) to Whiteleaved Oak (South end of

Ragged Stone Hill) was declared Royal Hunting Forest.

The wild land was good for deer, and wild boar and

other types of game. At some point during the next two

hundred years the powerful landlords of Westminster

acquired rights here, and in l2&l it is recorded that

the Abbey "assarted" some land at Castlemorton (to

assart means basically to enclose and sell off common

land). In the period soon after, the Red Earl,

Gilbert de Clare (l2A3-95), built his Red Earl's Dyke,

along the crest of the hills, to divide his Malvern

Chase from the Bishop of Hereford's Western Chase.

The Earl had a ditch and dyke constructed so that the

deer could jump into Malvern Chase, but could not jump

back out, as shown below:

The Chase was very thinly populated, and records are

correspondingly thin. In 1276 the taxed population of

the area was only 93! Only records of the old laws of

the Chase seem to have survived. These were very

harsh, and included maiming of dogs so that they could

not chase deer (to prevent poaching), and hanging law-

breakers at Rhydd Green near the river and at Hangmans

Hill below Pink Cottage.

In the l4th century this area was still very remote,

and was the scene for William Langlands epic poem of

Piers Plowman.

A small number of Castlemorton residents died during

the Plague in l609—lO but in general the population was

slowly increasing, usually through the growth of the

'squatter' settlements.

There was an old custom that, if a person could build a

house between sunrise and sunset, so that smoke was

coming out of the chimney, that person could claim any

land he had fenced around in the same time — quite a

tall order!

In practice a family would sneak off into a remote

valley in the Chase, and first build a chimney and a

quick rough shack in order to fulfil the first part of

the custom. Afterwards, especially if they were not

discovered for days, they would gradually enclose a

bigger piece of land especially the more fertile


As the family grew the sons and daughters would take

land adjoining the parental home, and thus the

settlement would spread up the valleys. This

'squatter-landscape’ can be seen in several valleys,

where the walker on the common suddenly comes up on a

scatter of dwellings, eg Eight Oaks, Huntsbridge, and

below Hollybush church.

Some of these people would be legitimate settlers, who

worked for the Landlord of the Chase, clearing rides

for the hunting parties, acting as beaters and game-

keepers etc. and others would come to settle as

farmers. Most of them would have known how to tan

skins, using oak-bark, a practise which was still

widespread in l8h8, according to records. It seems

that the men did the tanning, and the women did the


Charles the First was the one who first made inroads

into this wasteland in the 17th Century. He had the

idea of 'disafforesting’ the Chase, by assart in order

to raise money for the Royal coffers.

A survey was carried out in 1628, and from it the

patchy nature of the useable land can be seen. The

actual hill-land was more or less worthless at a value

of 2/6d per acre: Little Malvern had some of the best

land, valued at l6/- per acre. Castlemorton only

reached 6/8d, which is why the common survived eventhe expense of enclosure. Even the determined efforts

of the Land Enclosure Acts of the l8th and l9th

centuries did not see the disappearance of all the

common land. The Hanley Castle Inclosurc Act of l797

allowed for much of the open land to be enclosed and

sold off, but even so the local opposition made it a

very slow process, and the old Geological Survey map

(which may be seen in Malvern Library) based on a map

of 1831' still shows common extending in a fairly

unbroken area from Castlemorton to Gilberts End brook

at Hanley Swan, up to the Kings Assart at Assarts Road,

Upper Welland, and all across Hook Bank.

Today, these remnants of the original waste lands are

only vestiges, but there are still plenty of them on

this flank of the hills, eg the Malvern Common, the Old

Hills and Castlemorton Common itself.

Even here there is not much which can be said to

represent the original Wildwood, since many areas have

been dug for gravel (remember the Ice Age?), both for

tracks and for floors. The author had part of his

house with a floor of gravel beaten into Marl clay, and

he remembers an old resident of the area telling him of the

dig for Victory campaign in World War II, those areas which

were not too bumpy, (through gravel extraction), too

steep, or too wet, were ploughed and planted with

potatoes and wheat - they gave poor but useful yields!

Examples of these are the Hurst Bank and Hollybed.

There are a few areas which have never been disturbed

by man, but it is probable that parts of the common

have only ever been cultivated or worked by man for

three or four years since the Ice Age ended - which is

why the area is so special.

When looking at the common today, it should be

remembered that it is much more open than it used to

be. Man gradually used up the woodland for fuel,

fences and buildings. Grazing animals have prevented

the regrowth of trees, by simply eating the seedlings

or trampling them. This is reflected in the way that

trees have begun to colonise parts of the land, as the

number of grazing animals has dwindled. That part of

the common by Hancocks Lane, where a thick scrub growth

gives shelter to seedling trees, is rapidly reverting

to woodland, and the preservation of open common is

becoming a headache for the Malvern Hills Conservators,

especially where they cannot use a tractor drawn mower.

By  Med Snookes

A handbook for Locals and Visitors