History of the Wyche Inn at Malvern in the county of Worcestershire


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Some history of the Wyche Inn at Malvern

Formerly known as the Herefordshire Arms, and earlier called the Herefordshire House, the Wyche Inn is the highest public house in Worcestershire. In more recent times the hostelry also traded as the New Inn. However, it has been known as the Wyche Inn since 1978 so I have listed the pub as such despite it being a relatively 'new' name. The Wyche Inn could be called the First and Last or the Last Drop as it is centimetres from the border between Worcestershire and Herefordshire. The Wyche Road comes up at a steady gradient and turns right through Wyche Cutting and across the county line.

Wyche Pass at Malvern [c.1906]

The first image here shows part of Upper Wyche on the other side of the border in Herefordshire - the reason being that it is thought this was the original location of the Herefordshire House when it first opened in the early 19th century. Certainly, early records for the pub are collected within Colwall and not Malvern. This image is entitled Wyche Pass but the main focus here is Beacon Road which continues up Summer Hill, following Shire Ditch and up to the Worcestershire Beacon. Most of the buildings in this Edwardian image are still standing, though mature trees would hide some of them in a contemporary view. Coming up to The Wyche from Colwall, Walwyn Road is in the foreground and forms a junction with West Malvern Road and Beacon Road.

The location of the original Herefordshire House is thought to be close to the Church of the Good Shepherd where Upper Colwall meets The Wyche. In the early 19th century there was only a scattering of dwellings in this part of the Malvern Hills. The route up and over The Wyche was an ancient track and connected with the salt trade from Droitwich to South Wales. In days of old it was a rather tortuous route up from Great Malvern and an arduous journey for pack animals carrying salt and any poor creatures expected to haul a waggon up the slope. Little wonder therefore that a wheelwright named Thomas Fletcher traded at The Wyche in the early 19th century, providing roadside assistance for those who had suffered misfortune on the way up the hill - or perhaps making good any creaking noises before the terrifying descent.

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The old road is still very much in existence and climbing it on my bicycle is my favoured route up to the Wyche Inn. The Old Wyche Road has been named the second steepest residential road in England by the BBC. It certainly is a great eye-popping climb on a bicycle. Averaging around 15% gradient, it ramps up to something like 32% near the crest of the hill. In the early motoring era the narrow lane was often used as a reference point or advertising tool with manufacturers of motorcycles. This was particularly so when the famous motorcyclist, Eric Williams, climbed up on his Wolverhampton-made A.J.S. machine with sidecar, carrying four persons totalling 48 stone. Shell ran an advertising campaign to emphasise that Eric Williams had used their aviation fuel to complete the challenge in 1920. The Old Wyche Road had, by this time, become a regular fixture of motorcycling reliability trials staged throughout Great Britain.

Old Wyche Road at Malvern [2017]

The photograph below shows the Wyche Inn fronting the 'new' Wyche Road with the Old Wyche Road in the foreground. The 'new' road is jam-packed with spectators when the Tour of Britain comes up this road and down the switchback on Walwyn Road to Colwall. Sadly, the Old Wyche Road is too narrow for such a big race. However, it is the most exciting way to climb up to the Wyche Inn where you can recover with a glass of ale. My tactic for climbing the old road is to keep something in reserve for the final push up the steep ramp at the summit. This is not so easy to do when you are already heaving up a 20% section and you can see the road getting steeper as you make your way up the climb. To cycle up the Old Wyche Road you have to break the law as it is a one-way street but residents and other motorists simply let you get on with your suffering during the ascent. The climb emerges across the road from the pub's beer garden so you can bask in a little kudos from spectators as you roll through the gate seeking refreshment.

Construction of the 'new' Wyche Road was started in the autumn of 1836 when Thomas Bibbs, clerk to the Ledbury Turnpike Trust, invited tenders from contractors in October of that year. The heavy labour involved in creating a new road resulted in a large influx of navvies, resulting in a great boost in trade for the public houses situated on or near The Wyche. Indeed, this demand created a need for further beer houses. For example, the Cherry Tree was run by William South, a lime burner by trade, whilst The Rock Tavern made a bid for trade from those working at the quarry. The latter already brought custom from tough labourers and an influx of road builders probably resulted in the public houses being a bit rough-and-ready. The publicans were not going to turn away such lucrative trade but it was probably a tough job keeping an orderly house during this period.

The Wyche Inn and Old Wyche Road at Malvern [2017]

Construction of the 'new' road resulted in the lowering of The Wyche by creating the cutting seen today. This provided the impetus to create what was called 'an elevated carriage drive' around the hills to attract more tourism to the area. No sooner had the road been created when it was proposed to cut down Pillow's Pitch, and continue the road along the western side of the hills, so as to join the new road at The Wyche. Funding was sought to extend it thence to Wynd's Point. Today, this is a lovely road to cycle along to reach the Malvern Hills Hotel at the foot of British Camp.

The man responsible for collecting the tolls on the improved route to Herefordshire was James Chamberlain. When he and his wife Elizabeth were residing in the toll keeper's cottage the Herefordshire House was being run by Charles and Mary King. Born in Colwall in 1781, Charles King married Mary Cook in January 1813. She hailed from nearby Longdon. The running of the public house became a family affair with many of their daughters helping in the business. Charles King was a farmer but was later documented as a brewer so it would seem that he learned to produce the ales sold in the Herefordshire House. In the 1840's there was another farmer Thomas Bowers at the Malt House near The Wyche.

Charles King remained as licensee until December 1847 and was succeeded by James Barling. He had married Charlotte Browning in April of the previous year at Powick. She was the fourth daughter of the Worcester glove manufacturer William Browning. Their stay was seemingly brief for the 1851 census records Charles and Mary King back at the Herefordshire House. Their son William took over the reins in the mid-1850's. Charles and Mary went to live with their daughter Julia at Oxford Place close to the Link Brewery. She had married Henry Eagles who was the clerk at the post office. William King was buying beer for sale at the Herefordshire House rather than brewing it himself. In April 1854 one of three 36 gallon casks delivered by Mr. Brown, a carrier in the Worcester and Malvern area, was stolen and later discovered in a ditch in a nearby wood. The cask was, however, empty.

The Wyche from the valley at Malvern [c.1920]

Taken around 1920, this photograph shows The Wyche from the valley and I have marked the location of the Herefordshire House. As you can see there is substantial development by this period. The Wyche had its own shops and services at one time, including a post office, making it something of a self-contained community. This pattern originally stemmed from the influx of workers in the 19th century.

The pubs and beer houses in the locality enjoyed bumper trade in the 1850's when hundreds of miners were brought in to dig the tunnel for the Worcester and Hereford Railway. The Malvern Hills were to prove a formidable obstacle for the railway company who were determined to create a line between Great Malvern and Ledbury and onto Hereford. The engineering challenge of tunnelling through the hill was somewhat underestimated. A newly-invented steam-operated machine was brought in to make the work easy but this failed miserably. The only solution was to bring in a small army of miners and labourers who had to dig out the tunnel manually.

Work on the tunnel commenced in 1856 and initial progress was promising. The limestone shale on the western side of the hills was relatively easy to dig out and the red marl on the eastern slopes was trouble-free. Despite almost drinking the pubs dry, the tough labourers managed to advance by up to ten feet per week. However, when they reached the syenite, the incredibly tough rock that forms the core of the hills, progress dropped to a few inches per day. It was incredibly difficult work in conditions that made most coal mines seem like a jolly. Those working underground were soaked from the spring water that flowed into the workings. Miserable and demoralised, the men finishing their shift would seek solace in a local tavern.

More labourers found employment at The Wyche when the reservoir was constructed in the early 1850's. Located a short distance to the north of the Herefordshire House, work on this water supply for Malvern was started in April 1853 and was completed just twelve months later. It was calculated that the reservoir comprised of 450,000 bricks would hold 800,000 gallons of water.

By this time the Herefordshire House was run by James and Emily Bailey. He is recorded at the tavern in 1851. Born in 1821, James Bailey had grown up in Colwall Green from where his father worked as a tailor. Indeed, he would follow a similar career path and earned a living as a tailor whilst living at Brook Cottage with his Bosbury-born wife Emily. It is thought that James and Emily Bailey undertook the relocation of the Herefordshire House. Certainly, it would have been an administrative nightmare convincing the local authorities to transfer the licence from one county to another. The Victorians became entrenched in bureaucratic rules and regulations and, as a result, James and Emily Bailey would have had an easier job moving the Malvern Hills than a public house! One assumes that the couple had profited from the trade brought by labourers in order to finance the capital expenditure required to build a new pub. The couple are recorded within the parish of Colwall in the early 1860's but fell under the jurisdiction of Hanley Castle by the end of the decade. It was at the Upton-on-Severn Petty Sessions of September 1864 that James Bailey successfully applied for a new licence. The couple also operated a grocery shop at The Wyche and their son Herbert assisted in the business.

The Wyche Inn and the Wyche Cutting at Malvern [2017]

The Herefordshire House was part of a development that including several cottages. The new Wyche Road promoted the development of land fronting the turnpike road. Parcels of land were auctioned off in the 1850's. Shops opened with an established post office and a workers' institute meant that The Wyche was a thriving community. However, the fact that it was up on the hill, away from the main town, may have led some to believe that they were out of reach of the law. There were some right goings-on in the mid-19th century. For example, in March 1859 there was a disturbance at the Herefordshire House so the landlord sent for Police Constable Powell to restore order. According to a report, he did this is in a very judicious manner and cleared the house. However, once outside the premises, the fighting started again. Powell went to stop the fracas but was brutally set upon by several of the party. The policeman was knocked to the ground and the crowd commenced kicking him until he was insensible. Some people who attempted to help the officer were also assaulted. The police at Malvern were sent for and eventually four railway labourers, Samuel Thorpe, John Iles, John Comb and Francis Ellis, were arrested and taken to Malvern station.

In the previous year Robert James Robertson, a former ship's mate, along with his wife, robbed the nearby Rose and Crown and stole £100, the property of George Whitnall, an inspector of railway works, who was staying at the tavern. This building was later the home of Arthur Troyte Griffith, a local architect and great friend of Edward Elgar who dedicated the seventh of his Enigma Variations to the man who designed the toposcope on the Worcestershire Beacon.

The lawlessness at The Wyche culminated with the closure of another local tavern. John Roberts of the Rock Tavern beer house was refused the renewal of his licence in August 1869 on account of him being previously convicted for allowing prostitutes and other disorderly persons to assemble in his house. Fighting broke out in the Herefordshire House on many occasions, some being reported to the police, others being hushed up. In May 1878 James Bailey was hauled in front of the magistrates after he was charged by Police Constable Tummy with permitting drunkenness in the Herefordshire House. The policeman stated that he had found twenty men in the tap room of the pub, all pretty much intoxicated. Four of the men were fairly legless and were each fined five shillings. The publican however was fined 40 shillings and costs. James Bailey's licence was eventually endorsed when, in October 1883 he was charged with permitting drunkenness and riotous conduct inside the Herefordshire House.

Interior of the Wyche Inn at Malvern [2017]

The Herefordshire House was, on occasion, used to hold inquests. One case in April 1854 caused quite a sensation as Francis Jones and Mary Hodges were brought before Henry Underwood, the coroner, facing a charge of murder. Francis Jones was a wheelwright and carpenter living near The Wyche. He had prospered and had built two houses, one of which he lived in with his wife Mary Ann. The couple had been married for over a decade during which time Mary Ann Jones worked as a laundress. However, she gradually fell ill and was bed-ridden for some time before her husband was alleged to have killed her. He had formed a relationship with Mary Hodges and wanted to marry her. The lovers were accused of murdering Mary Jones as she was deemed an obstacle to their marriage. The neighbours witnessed the decline of Mary Jones as she got thinner over a period of around six weeks, apparently as the husband was starving her and locking her in her room throughout the day. She was described as "a frame of bones." Dorothy James, a neighbour living at Hill Cottage told the coroner that she had been concerned about the welfare of the woman and, indeed, the conduct of Francis Jones. Ann Layton, a widow who lived opposite, told the coroner that she heard that Francis Jones used to shake his wife and treated her poorly. Mary Hull, who used to live with the couple, told the inquiry that Francis Jones took to locking up his wife all day after meeting a 'bad' woman at Worcester races. She also deposed that the wheelwright was "very sly and artful in trying to prevent anyone knowing how he behaved towards his wife." Sarah Wharton told the jury at the inquiry that Jones had ill-treated his wife and used to beat her. She had seen Mary Jones with two black eyes and bruises. William Griffin, the surgeon who performed the post-mortem reported that he found a wound on the temple of the deceased which, in his opinion, was caused by a stick. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against Francis Jones and Mary Hodges, who were then committed to take their trial at the Assizes. The Hereford Journal reported that "the greatest excitement prevailed in the neighbourhood, and the public feeling against the prisoners was so strong that the Coroner thought it necessary to order that they should be removed in a fly." At the Assizes the evidence against Francis Jones and Mary Hodges was considered insubstantial and the pair walked free after an open verdict was returned.

Following the death of James Bailey, his wife Emily moved to No.1 Hill Top where she lived with her granddaughter. By 1889 the Herefordshire House was being run by John Wilkins. Seemingly, he found it difficult to maintain order in the pub and had to seek help from the local police on more than one occasion. In September 1890 he ordered Harriett Speed, a local married woman, to leave the premises when she was causing a commotion. She refused to quit the premises and was eventually charged with causing a disturbance. In April 1895 the publican was having the same problem with Charles Alford, a labourer who also refused to quit the premises. Things turned nasty and the licensee was assaulted. John Lloyd, a Colwall blacksmith, also got into the mix and assaulted the publican and Police Constable Walters. Both men were sent to prison for 14 days. A sign that the authorities were starting to crack down on unruly behaviour at The Wyche was exemplified when the magistrates sent labourer Thomas Bennett to prison for 14 days simply for the use of obscene language in the pub.

By the end of the 19th century Charles Henry Chapple was listed in trade directories under the Herefordshire House. It is unlikely that he was involved in the day-to-day management of the pub. It would appear that he held the licence and installed a manager to work for him. Born in Devon in 1856, Charles had spent his formative years on the family's large farm at Tetcott. His parents William and Jane Chapple later acquired the Beauchamp Hotel in Malvern. Following his father's death in 1885, Charles became the manager and, later, the proprietor of this stylish establishment. Meanwhile, he appointed Oxford-born Henry Saul Talboys as manager of the Herefordshire House. He and his wife Ellen enjoyed movement around the country in an era when transport links presented new opportunities to people. She was originally from Shropshire but the couple had earlier managed a public house in the Manningham district of Bradford in Yorkshire. When they moved again, Charles Chapple employed Charles and Mary Spawton to run the Herefordshire House.

Charles Ernest Spawton of the Herefordshire House at Malvern

Charles Edward Spawton almost certainly had a few interesting anecdotes to share with his customers at the Herefordshire House. Born in Weybridge in Surrey in 1865, he served in the Sudan in the mid-1880's with the 20th Hussar Light Camel Regiment, a military action for which he was decorated. The above photograph shows him as a corporal, possibly back in Blighty at his barracks. Charles Spawton's family had already moved to Great Malvern before he joined the army. His father James Spawton emigrated to New York but his mother Fanny kept a lodging house in Cemetery Road in the 1870's. After his military service, Charles Spawton returned to Worcestershire and married Mary Ann Alford in March 1894 at Upton-on-Severn, a period when he was working as a cabman.

Trouble did occasionally break out in the Herefordshire House but, unlike his predecessors, Charles Spawton was not one to put up with any nonsense in his pub. The locals would soon learn to behave themselves for shortly after the former solider took over as manager he physically sorted out a problem in the building. A labourer named John Clarke was subsequently charged with being disorderly in the Herefordshire House. Charles Spawton had cautioned him several times regarding his obscene language but Clarke was being very quarrelsome. A newspaper report stated that the labourer was with difficulty twice turned out of the house. Clarke claimed that he had bought some mutton chops at the local butcher's shop and had lost them whilst inside the pub. The publican was refusing to allow him to search the premises and a row ensued. William Moss, the butcher, stated that he saw Charles Spawton outside the building when he knocked the labourer head over heels with a punch. Clarke did not try to enter the pub again. Despite Clarke's subsequent remonstrations with Police Constable Lyes, it was the labourer, minus his mutton chops, who was charged and fined. No doubt, other drinkers in the Herefordshire House made a mental note not to upset Charles Spawton in the future.

Charles and Mary Spawton had three children, Eva, Frederick and Jack, all of whom spent their early years in the pub. The couple remained at the Herefordshire House for many years, possibly forty years in total. They remained as a management couple through a couple of changes in ownership. The Herefordshire House was taken over by Spreckley Brothers Limited of the Worcester Brewery in Barbourne Road. Actually, the brewery was of some antiquity as the family acquired Stallard's Britannia Brewery in 1884. A new company was registered in June 1897 to acquire both the Worcester Brewery and George Joseland and Sons, resulting in a tied estate of almost 70 public houses. The company was bought out by Cheltenham and Hereford Breweries Ltd. in 1958. Along with the Stroud Brewery, this enterprise evolved into West Country Breweries Ltd. before it was acquired by Whitbread in 1963. This helps to explain how the Herefordshire House became a Whitbread pub in the latter 20th century.

Licensees of this pub

1841 - Charles King
1847 - James Barling
1851 - Charles King
1856 - William King
1861 - James Bailey
1889 - John Wilkins
1900 - Charles Henry Chapple
1932 - Charles Ernest Spawton
1945 - J. H. Davies
Note : this is not a complete list of licensees for this pub.

Inn Sign of the Wyche Inn at Malvern [2017]

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Newspaper Articles

"Henry Williams and Jane Powell, both tramps, were charged with burglary, in breaking into the house of Henry Oakley, of Coddington, on May 14th, and stealing a considerable quantity of wearing apparel. The prosecutor's wife deposed to having locked the door in the morning and gone to work at Cradley, and on returning home in the afternoon met the prisoners within about a hundred yards of her house, and found the stolen property in their possession; she accused them of the robbery, and they ultimately left the things on the road and passed on. P.C. George Pritchard, stationed at Colwall, deposed: On the day in question I found the two prisoners at the Herefordshire House, at Colwall, about two miles from prosecutor's house; I charged them with breaking into the house; he said it was not he, for he had only come from Worcester after he got into the road he said to his companion [the woman] "Take your hook [thereby that she was to escape]; he has not charged you, he has only charged me;" she said she would not; when going down the road the male prisoner said he would not be taken, and told the woman to take up a stone and dash my brains out; I charged another person to help, and I then apprehended the woman. Committed for trial."
"Charge of Burglary"
Hereford Times : May 18th 1861 Page 8.

"About a fortnight agd an accident occurred on the Malvern and Tewkesbury Railway to a man named John Guest, aged 61, by slipping off one of the empty trucks as it was passing along the metals, which passed over his body and crushed him in a terrible manner. He was conveyed to the Herefordshire House, Colwall, and was attended by Mr. Williams, surgeon, of Malvern, until his death, which took place in a week after the accident. An inquest was held on Monday last; verdict, "Accidental death."
Hereford Journal : July 31st 1861 Page 3.

"James Bailey, of the Herefordshire House, charged a navvy, named Richard Wilson, with stealing a bottle containing gin, of the value of 1s., on the 3rd September. Wilson was committed for six weeks' hard labour."
"Ledbury Petty Sessions"
Hereford Times : September 14th 1861 Page 10.

"On Friday morning, Mrs. Bailey, of the Herefordshire House, Wyche, in company with her daughter, on their way to Worcester, was descending the Wyche Hill, in a spring cart, and when about half way down, some of the horse's tackling broke. The restraint of the harness being removed, the animal started off at a rapid and dangerous pace. As he neared Ellerslie the vehicle came in violent collision with some obstruction, and both the occupants of the cart were pitched out. Mrs. Bailey was greatly injured, having, besides injuries about the head and face, her wrist dislocated and her arm fractured."
"Serious Accident"
Worcestershire Chronicle : April 7th 1869 Page 6.

"On Monday last, about 2 p.m., a girl, nine years of age, daughter of Mr. J. Kings, newsagent, Malvern Link, was crossing the road pushing a perambulator containing two children, when a cart belonging to Mr. Bailey, of the Herefordshire House Inn, The Wyche, came in violent contact with her. The girl was knocked down and severely hurt, and tbe perambulator containing the children overthrown. Assistance was immediately rendered, and Dr. Weir called to the girl, when it was found tbat her spine was much bruised, and that total rest would be required to gain permanent good results. Fortunately the children in the perambulator escaped almost unhurt, one sustaining a slight graze of the arm."
"Accident at The Link"
Worcestershire Chronicle : June 22nd 1870 Page 2.

"Both the complainant and defendant in the last case of the day were summoned by James Bailey, tbe landlord of the Herefordshire House, for fighting and creating a disturbance in his house, and refusing to leave when requested, on the 29th August 1874. The defendants, John James and Alfred Taylor, were fighting together. Taylor had been married that day and, pleading guilty, he told the magistrates that "he had taken more drink than was good for him." He was fined 2s. 6d., and 8s. 6d. costs. James pleaded not guilty, and produced evideuce to show that he did not leave the premises, as was not requested to do so; and also that he was, after Taylor had left, supplied with a quart of ale, which he and the others drank, and then quietly left for home. This case was therefore dismissed."
"Creating a Disturbance at an Inn"
Worcestershire Chronicle : September 12th 1874 Page 8.

"On Friday afternoon Mr. F. Wilkins son of Mr. Wilkins, of the Herefordshire House Inn Upper Wyche, accompanied by a lad and a gentleman staying at Goodrich Villa, Wyche Road, was driving in a dog-cart down Church Street at a slow pace, and when reaching Mr. Nott's grocer's shop the horse took fright, the reason not being known. It bolted down the street at a furious rate, and when opposite the residence of Mr. Haddon, architect, the wheels of the trap coming into collision with the curb-stone of the footpath, the occupants were pitched out. The visitor sustained serious injury to the head and left arm, although the latter was not broken. It is feared concussion of the brain may ensue. Mr. Wilkins sustained a severe cut near the left eye, and put his left big toe out of joint. The lad, falling on the top of the gentlemen, escaped unhurt. The horse and cart also was uninjured. Dr. Dawson is in attendance upon the sufferers."
"Trap Accident"
Worcestershire Chronicle : October 2nd 1886 Page 7.

"Charles Bethell, Colwall, labourer, was charged with having whilst drunk, been guilty of violent, quarrelsome, and disorderly behaviour, and refusing to quit the Herefordshire House Inn, the Wyche, on Saturday, the 20th April 1889. The landlord, John Wilkins, said that the defendant came into his house and called for drink. The defendant was drunk, and the publican refused to serve him with any more. Defendant then took off his jacket, and wanted to fight, and he had to be turned out of the house. Defendant, who did not appear, was fined 10s. and 9s. 6d. costs."
"Quarrelsome and Refusing to Quit"
Worcester Journal : May 4th 1889 Page 3.

"Alfred Harding, Colwall, was charged with disorderly conduct and refusing to quit the Herefordshire House Inn, The Wyche, on November 26th 1894. The defendant admitted the charge, and pleaded that he "had had a drop." He was fined 1s. and 9s. costs."
"Disorderly Conduct"
Worcester Journal : December 8th 1894 Page 7.

"George Bailey, labourer, Colwall, was charged with refusing to quit licensed premises on the 8th March 1895. Mrs. Wilkins, wife of the landlord of the Herefordshire House Inn, the Wyche, said the defendant was in her house for an hour. He was very abusive and refused to leave. No drink was aupplied to him. Charlea Bpawton, cabman, corroborated. P.C. Walters said defendant was a nuisance to the neighourhood. Fined 7s. 6d. and 11s. costs."
"A Nuisance to the Neighbourhood"
Worcester Journal : March 16th 1895 Page 7.

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