Upper Arley Conservation Area was designated in 1991 and is based upon a rural hamlet set on the sides of the valley of the River Severn, together with outlying buildings and landscape features.
Upper Arley has probably been a settlement for over a thousand years, its first mention being made in 996 AD when it was given to a College of Canons. Roman traces however have also been found in the area. Upper Arley was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086 and King James granted a charter in 1606 to the inhabitants. The present Parish Church is of the early fourteenth century and incorporates twelfth century fragments. Most of the other historically important buildings date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much of the Conservation Area falls within the present Upper Arley Estate.
In the past Upper Arley has had a reputation for cider making and has been noted for lampreys, fish, oats, wine and agriculture. The latter is still important to the life of the hamlet.
The Victorian era was very important to Upper Arley. 1861 saw the opening of the existing school and in 1862 Arley Station was opened on the western bank of the River bringing new life to the settlement.
Buildings in Upper Arley are of a variety of polite, picturesque and vernacular styles but the materials are overwhelmingly red brick or red or buff coloured sandstone with clay tiled roofs. The form of development varies from that of Arley House standing in extensive grounds, to the tightly packed arrangement of the dwellings along the narrow Arley Lane. A footbridge links the north and south banks of the River. There is a substantial buff sandstone revetment to the north-east bank of the River adjoining the footbridge. A small slip-way is set into the east bank of the River.
The sweep of Arley Lane down to the river and up towards the Church is an important characteristic of the settlement. The walls, hedges and railings along it enhance the sense of enclosure. Important spaces include the open fields between the River and railway station, between the River and Arley House, on either sides of the lanes leading into the settlement from the north and north-east, and between the River and Severnfield Cottages; together with the park and garden associated with Arley House.
Natural features of particular importance to the Conservation Area are the River Severn and its banks, and Arley Brook and its valley running through the centre of the hamlet. The hamlet is surrounded by attractive landscape of woodland and pasture and is set off by the landscaped gardens and arboretum of Arley House on the hill above. The Arboretum, planted around 1820, is included on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. Numerous deciduous trees throughout the Conservation Area add significantly to its character, opening and closing seasonal views and providing seasonal variations in colour.
The railway station is currently operated by the Severn Valley Railway and forms a popular stopping-off point for day-trippers, increasing the profile of the Conservation Area. This profile is further increased by virtue of two important public footpaths running through the area along both the north and south banks of the River; the footpath on the south bank forming part of the Severn Valley Way regional recreation route. The north bank is particularly popular for recreational course fishing.
Congestion can be a problem during the summer months but having no through traffic for much of the year, Upper Arley remains in relative tranquillity. Seasonal overflow car parking is provided in one riverside meadow on the south bank, to the south of the footbridge. The informal nature of this car parking, without fixed signage, hard surfacing or lighting, helps to reduce its impact on the Conservation Area.