A HISTORIC bottling plant believed to be the oldest in the world is up and running once again and ensuring Malvern’s famous spring water sits proudly on tables around the country.
Earlier this year father and son team Mike and Rhys Humm re-launched a tradition dating back to the early 17th century when they began bottling water at the Holy Well.
Nestled into the hillside at the top of Holy Well Road, the spring was Malvern’s most popular spout during the 18th century, and was home to Schweppes in the 19th century before it re-located over the hills to Colwall.
Mike purchased the well and adjacent cottage in 1999, following the death of previous owner John Parkes, who restored the well and re-built the business in the second half of the last century with wife Thelma, who still lives in Malvern.
On acquiring the site he was presented with a re-building task of his own, with the well in a state of some disrepair.
The best part of a decade on Mike has now achieved his dream, with the Holy Well currently producing about 600 bottles of water, both still and sparkling, every day.
The bottles are being pitched at the “top-end” of the market, within a 50-mile radius, and clients already include the Cottage in the Wood Hotel, Eastnor Castle and Michelin-starred restaurant Purnell’s in Birmingham. Ongoing discussions are also being held with supermarket giant Waitrose.
“The demand is pretty good at the moment,” commented Rhys, who joined his father as a director of the business in February. “The history and providence of the product is a huge help, as is the fact that this is the original source of Malvern water.”
Mike, Rhys and production manager Anthony Arnold now plan to push towards the well’s maximum output of 1,200 bottles per day and to help their historic product further penetrate the market.
If things are running smoothly since the bottling plan’s re-launch, arriving at this point was not without its difficulties.
“There were so many challenges in putting all this together,” said Rhys. “So many consultants came in and told us that the bottling room was too small and that we would never get the equipment in but we have managed it.”
Another difficulty arose last year when a builder discovered a bat at the site, setting the project back by more than six months.
The well was discovered to be a home to the lesser horseshoe bat, and an innovative solution saw a bat-flap and tunnel right through the bottling room fitted, ensuring that the nocturnal residents will not be disturbed by operations at the well.
Of course with so much history the Holy Well is far more than just a business, and a great deal of work has taken place in recent years to reinforce the well’s status as one of Malvern’s main attractions.
Heritage Lottery funding has seen the well chamber and rest room refurbished as part of the Malvern Hills AONB and Malvern Spa Association’s springs and wells refurbishment project, while a brand new Visitors Centre has been created in front of the bottling room.
This centre, which will be officially opened with a special celebration on December 15, could well be the jewel in the Holy Well’s crown, boasting a collection of Malvern water bottles from throughout the ages and maps and information boards detailing everything from the site’s history to the geology of the area and information about the Malvern Water Cure.
With so much happening this year both Rhys and Mike admit they have not yet had a real chance to sit back and take stock of how much they have now accomplished at the Holy Well.
“This is a hugely significant site in Malvern and we are really delighted to see everything coming together,” said Rhys. “But putting all this together was only phase one. For us now the hard work really starts of getting the Holywell Spring Water product out there.”