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The Nether Grange Estate, the Mason family and the Victorian hydros of Great Malvern
The land on which Dr James Wilson's water cure establishment was built was part of the Nether Grange Estate and purchased from Oliver Mason in the 1840s. In the churchyard of Great Malvern Priory there is a tomb in the shape of a slab topped by a cross bearing the inscription:
The Mason Family Vault
There is no other inscription but we speculate it could be the resting place of Oliver Mason and his wife, although it seems a rather large construction for just two burials. If you know more do please tell us.
Marks in the base indicate the grave was once protected by iron railings, as were many other monuments in the churchyard. Sadly all the railings in the churchyard were removed to provide scrap metal for the war effort during WWII.
The Mason family vault in the Priory churchyard
We wondered who this Mason family was and what impact, if any, they had upon the town.
So how was Oliver Mason linked with the Nether Grange Estate?
A monastic 'grange' was a manor or other centre of an outlying farming estate belonging to a monastery and used for food production. So the Nether Grange Estate would have been one of many parcels of land once owned by the monastry of Great Malvern Priory.
There is no trace of the 'Nether Grange Estate' in Malvern now, other than the road running past the theatre being named Grange Road, and a large Victorian house named 'The Grange' in the north west-corner of Priory Park (see photo below viewed from Grange Road).
In recent years 'The Grange', which was built circa 1830, had been occupied by Malvern Hills District council, but in 2014 it was offered for sale, being surplus to requirements and in need of extensive repairs to the fabric of the building.
According to 'The Story of Park View' (ref 1), following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 the monastic land immediately surrounding the Priory was sold, eventually passing to William and Anne Savage whose descendant Thomas Burch Savage of Elmley Castle, High Sheriff of Worcestershire in 1757, sold the land to Alderman James Oliver of Worcester circa 1774.
We know nothing of James Oliver but speculate that James passed ownership of the land to his daughter Elizabeth Oliver, born about 1753, who became the second wife of Birmingham merchant William Wallis Mason, when they married at St Nicholas, Worcester in 1782; Elizabeth was in turn the mother of Oliver Mason.
William Wallis Mason was born in Birmingham about 1746. He is recorded in Chapman's trade directory as a merchant (commerce) of 15 Temple Street, Birmingham. He died in 1805 and his will reveals he was quite a wealthy man.
William first married Mary Collett (1746-1782). They had a daughter Mary and a son also named William Wallis, as was his son, the name passing down through the generations.
After Mary's death, William then married Elizabeth Oliver in 1782, and they had nine children, Sarah, James, Oliver, Philip, Charles, Samuel, George, Mary and Frederick. Two children died in infancy and several at a young age; our story is concerned primarily with Oliver and his youngest sister Mary.
The Foley Estate map of the Manor of Great Malvern in 1828 shows the Mason family owning a large swathe of land around what is now Abbey Road and to the south of Church Street.
Oliver's mother, Elizabeth Mason, died in 1835 when Oliver was aged 48 and she was buried at St Philip, Birmingham.
Oliver Mason Esq born 1787, is recorded in Pigot and Co's Royal National and Commercial Directory of 1842 resident in Malvern (ref 2). He probably moved to Malvern following his mother's death and after inheriting the Nether Grange Estate, as he was not listed in the earlier Pigot's Directory of 1828.
Building land must have attracted a premium with the arrival of the water cure doctors Gully and Wilson in 1844, and perhaps Oliver Mason saw an opportunity to sell them land to augment his income.
He had instigated the building of a system for collecting spring water in a large cistern known as The Mason Tank, which once stood near the site of the Baptist Church, to supply water to those wishing to buy his land. This was of great importance before the introduction of a public water supply.
The Mason Tank fed the Hydro, Fonthill, Chatsworth House, and Tintern House in Abbey Road (ref 5).
Oliver may also have been responsible for the building of Reginald Tower (see below) and The Grange, mentioned above.
Billings Directory of 1855 lists Oliver living at Reginald Tower, Great Malvern. where he lived until his death in 1871 (ref 3).
There is no house named Reginald Tower now, but the census (ref 4) indicates the house lay near The Grange, and the Gentlemens' Club; the latter now an Estate Agents,situated by the traffic lights on the corner of Grange Road and Church Street.
We think it very likely 'Reginald Tower' was next renamed 'Hendon'. In 1891 spinster Mary Bramwell, born Hendon, Sunderland about 1839, was living there with a cook, ladies maid, parlour maid, general house maid, and a kitchen maid. Trade directories suggest she was there until 1904. In 1881 she was living at Townshend House in College Road with her widowed mother and sister Jane Elizabeth who had married Rev Charles Henry Ford (1825 - 1888). Mary's father was Christopher Bramwell a wine merchant and JP of Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire who had died in 1866.
Mary left Malvern and in 1911 was staying with her brother Rev Addison Bramwell in London. She died at London in 1918 and one of her executors was her niece Caroline Sophia Eden nee Ford.
Trade directories indicate that by 1908 Reginald Tower alias Hendon had been renamed Priors Croft. The 1911 census records Dr Arthur Oliver Holbeche living there, who was born at Sutton Coldfield in 1855. He died at Priors Croft on Christmas Day 1931 leaving a widow Helen Jane who died at Droitwich in 1950; one of his executors was Charles Francis Dyson Perrins.
Pictured below is Priors Croft with its 'fairy tale' towers. The house, which was once named Reginald Tower, home of Oliver Mason, is now a restaurant.
Reginald Tower now named Priors Croft
In 1853, aged 66 years, Oliver Mason married Emma Susannah Hyde daughter of an Attorney.
Oliver, who is described in the census as a landed proprietor, died at Reginald Tower in 1871 and Emma died there in 1883. They had no children.
Priors Croft was restored circa 2010.
Oliver's youngest sister, Mary Mason, born 1796, married a clergyman, Rev Edward Palmer, born 1793, at Saint Martin, Birmingham in 1833.
Rev Edward Palmer, was Curate of St John the Baptist, Deritend, Birmingham, long since demolished. They had one daughter Mary Phebe Palmer born Highgate, Birmingham in 1837.
Rev Edward Palmer died after a long illness at Malvern on 31st January 1846 aged only 53 years and is buried in the churchyard of Great Malvern Priory, see photo below. Maybe he had come to Malvern for the water cure, or to visit his brother-in-law Oliver.
Following Edward Palmer's death, Mary moved to Great Malvern to live at South Abbotsfield in Abbey Road near her brother Oliver.
An 1884 map of Great Malvern indicates South Abbotsfield stood on the site of the housing development now known as Croftdown Court. The oldest building on the site had been occupied by Croftdown School for girls which came to Malvern in the 1940s, and possibly the grand building (shown opposite, screened by trees) was South Abbotsfield.
Mary died on 4th November 1865 aged 69 years at South Abbotsfield and is buried with her husband Edward. Her executors were Rev Henry Gisborne Cooper, possibly a friend of her husband's and her nephew Alfred Mason of Uley Lodge, Dursley, who was the son of her deceased brother James.
Edward and Mary's daughter, Mary Phebe Palmer, continued to live at South Abbotsfield until her death on 23rd December 1904. She is buried with her parents.
Louisa Sarah Mason
Louisa Sarah Mason born 1837 was the grand-daughter of Mary Mason's elder half brother William Wallis Mason (the second)) who was a jeweller and merchant. Wrightson's Triennial Directory of Birmingham 1815 lists William Wallis Mason and Sons, merchants, of Broad Street.
After Mary Palmer nee Mason died, Louisa Sarah Mason went to live as companion to her 'cousin' Mary Phebe Palmer at South Abbotsfield and remained there until her death in 1923. They were both born in 1837 and did not marry.
Sarah Mason was the younger sister of Louisa Sarah Mason and seems to have lived mostly with her parents; but following the death of their father in 1885, she appears in the 1891 census living with her widowed mother and a retinue of servants at 'The Grange' in Grange Road, Great Malvern. She is still there in 1901 following the death of her mother, but with just a cook. Two people in such a large house (see another photo of The Grange, taken from Priory Park, below).
Another view of The Grange
Soon after 1901 Sarah seems to have joined her sister Louisa at South Abbotsfield where Louisa died in 1923 and Sarah in 1940.
Their father, William Wallis Mason (the third) who died in 1885 was a Chemist and Druggist.
A large grey tablet set in the grass of the churchyard of Great Malvern Priory, records the death of Edward and other members of the extended Mason family.
The grave is about ten yards from the entrance of the Priory on the north side of the footpath. There is a long inscription which will be transcribed to our page about The Priory. It records:
Next to this grave is the tomb of water colour painter Edward Webb who died at Malvern in 1854. Edward was was the father of famous architect Aston Webb.
Pigot's Trade Directory of 1842 also listed a Rev Joseph Mason after Oliver Mason Esq, but he appears to be no relation.
This Rev Joseph Mason, the son of Abraham, was born Dublin about 1836, BA Oxford 1841. Appointed a curate to Great Malvern Priory, he was in 1851 appointed vicar of East Tytherley in Hampshire where he continued to serve until his death on 5th Sep 1876.
During the Crimean War, Joseph served as a chaplain to the forces. The 1861 census records Joseph visiting Rev George Shaw Munn at Madresfied Rectory, so possibly they were friends at Oxford or had met as curates in Malvern.
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Last updated 6th October 2018