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A Cemetery Chapel in Compton, Surrey designed as work of art by Mary Watts
Set in a churchyard of mature trees and weathered gravestones, the red brick chapel looks picturesque from a distance. Up close, the works of art on its exterior and interior walls are amazing.
Watt’s Chapel in Compton near Guildford in the Surrey countryside is a Grade I listed Arts & Crafts style building with Celtic influences. It was designed by Mary Watts and consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester in 1898. It remains a working village parish to this day.
Note: In England, Listing marks and celebrates a building’s special architectural and historic interest in order to protect it for future generations. There are 3 grades of listing. The majority of listed buildings are Grade II and are of special interest. Grade II* buildings, particularly important buildings of more than special interest, make up 5.8% of listed buildings. Only 2.5% of listed buildings are categorized as Grade I, considered to be of exceptional interest.
Mary Watts was a potter and designer married to the famous British painter G F Watts. They moved to Compton in 1891. In 1895 she began to run evening classes at their residence and studio to teach local villagers how to model tiles from local terracotta clay with the symbolic patterns she had designed to decorate the walls of the chapel. Her husband, renowned Victorian artist G F Watts, financed the building of the Chapel through painting commissioned portraits.
The circular shape of the building represents the circle of eternity with a cross running through the centre. Panels on the exterior contain friezes symbolizing hope, truth, love, and light.
The designs inside and out are full of symbolism, so much so that several books have been written about the symbolism in Watts Chapel. I wished I had read more about this symbolism before visiting to better appreciate it and seek out specific items. But, prepared or not, there is much to see and discover in the designs.
Inside the dark circular room, every inch of the walls and ceilings is stunningly decorated and rich with symbolism. Heaven and earth are intertwined by the Tree of Life. There are angels of darkness and light carrying symbols of truth. There are over a hundred medallions and winged cherubs.
Mary Watts dedicated the chapel to “the loving memory of all who find rest near its walls, and for the comfort and help of those to whom the sorrow of separation remains.” Both she and her husband rest in Watts Cemetery.
Watts Chapel is located on Down Lane in Compton, Guildford, Surrey. It is open to the public daily free of charge. It is locked up at night. The chapel is Parish property and remains the village cemetery chapel, so there may be times it is in use.
Watts Gallery, a gallery displaying the works of G F Watts as well as temporary exhibitions of other artists, and Watts Studios, a museum space showcasing the studios of G F and Mary Watts in the east wing of their former home, are a short walk down the lane and well worth visiting. I will write about them in my next post.
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