The Malvern Well Dressing Festival happens each year over the May Day bank holiday weekend and is organised by the Malvern Hills District Council and the Malvern Spa Association. Each year there is a different theme, with the chosen theme being publicised earlier in the year on the Malvern Spa Association website and through the local paper. Over the weekend, the wells, springs, spouts and fountains are decorated by members of the local community, schools, children’s groups and other individuals in the theme for that year (with medals and prizes being awarded to the best entries). They also receive special blessings from various religious groups.
From 1993, Cora Weaver (a local historian) started to reintroduce well decorating into Malvern. In 1997, local residents helped to map over two-hundred water sites. The following year in 1998, the Malvern Spa Association was founded to conserve, protect and restore Malvern’s spring water sites and the two following autumns saw the Malvern Spa Association put on an event to celebrate Malvern’s water and its history. In 2001, Rose Garrard became the organiser of the event for the Malvern Spa Association and changed the time of the event to spring, the name of the event was also changed to ‘Well Dressing’. She was in charge until 2008, this is when Lionel Butcher took over and made some changes including the introduction of the gold, silver and bronze awards.
In 2006, research by Rose Garrard showed the roots of this Malvern tradition and she would later go on to publish “Hill of Fountains”, a book about the history of Malvern’s Wells and Well Dressing. She discovered in the 12th and 13th centuries the Holy Well was dressed each year with offerings to give thanks to St Oswald for his healing with the water cure. People would then make offerings to the well to hope for the continuing of the healing powers from the water. In 1615 during a national drought, Malvern’s springs kept flowing. This led to the wells being dressed as a token of gratitude for the constant supply of water. Whilst from 1870, the Royal Well was dressed in gratitude for William Ryland who built the well to allow locals to use the water from St Thomas’ spring (which was hidden under a cottage he purchased). The Wyche Spring also saw local residents dress the spring, up until 1978.