IN this new regular feature, Malvern Spa Association (MSA) answers FAQs about Malvern spring water, explains its fascinating natural and cultural history and provides updates about the water festivals and well-dressing events which take place throughout the year.

With May Day and the Malvern Water and Well Dressing Festival just around the corner, the first question for the MSA is:

“Why do people dress the springs and wells for May Day?”

The Malvern Hills have been a hub of human activity since prehistoric times.

One of the main reasons for this is the abundance of pure, natural spring water.

Many people held the water sacred, some believed it had healing properties.

They would travel long distances to offer prayers and blessings and decorate the springs with pebbles, flowers and fruit.

Wealthy individuals would leave precious items such as coins, jewellery and weapons. This is the origin of ‘well-dressing’.

Over time, the practice became more ritualised and was carried out at important times of year such as the equinoxes, saints’ days and May Day.

In her book Malvern Hill of Fountains, Malvern artist and MSA co-founder Rose Garrard noted that “in the 12th and 13th centuries the Holy Well was dressed annually with offerings, probably on August 5, in thanks to St Oswald for water cures there”.

In 1615 there was a national drought but, as Malvern’s springs kept flowing, they “were (well) dressed as a token of gratitude for a plentiful supply of water”.

From 1870 the Royal Well was regularly dressed in gratitude for William Ryland’s gift of the public spout ‘for the use of the public forever’.

The Wyche Spring was dressed by local residents throughout the 1900s until 1978.

In the 1990s a few sites were ‘decorated’ but when the MSA was formed in 1998 the well dressing tradition was revived.

It was carried out annually in September until 2001 when the date was moved to coincide with Malvern’s annual May Day celebrations, now known as the Malvern Water and Well Dressing Festival.

Every year the number of features, which include wells, spouts, fountains, bowls and troughs as well as the natural springs, has grown.

Twenty-eight were dressed in 2006 and around 85 members of the local community were involved.

In 2019 a record 60 features were dressed and at least 800 adults and children took part. Nowadays the number of sites is limited to 55 for practical reasons.

People come from all around the world to see the results which is a great boost for the local economy.

The theme for the year’s dressing is always chosen by the dressers in January. This year it will be ‘Trees’.

From then on the dressers work tirelessly until the Friday before May Day (in 2024 it will be May 3) which is when the dressings are put in place. Usually, the dressings stay up for seven to 10 days depending on the weather.

The prize-giving is in Priory Park on May Day Bank Holiday Monday (May 6) as part of the Water Festival Family Fun Day. Look out for more features and articles about the Malvern Water and Well Dressing Festival in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions or want to share photographs, memories and stories of Malvern water, please send them to

If you’d like to find out more about Malvern water and the MSA, see or get in touch at

Our columnist Carly Tinkler is the president of the MSA.