The Mystical and Extraordinary Watts Chapel
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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That is really a unique piece of architecture. From the images the inside looks a little eerie.
Ken, it definitely is unique. The inside did not feel eerie at all, although the limited light may give that effect in photos. In real life, it was stunning and overwhelming,
What a beautiful and atmospheric story. You had me yearning for the English countryside and the antiquity of beautiful places like Watts Chapel.
Jo, Watts Chapel is quite extraordinary. Atmospheric is a good word for the place.
What an incredibly unique building! I’ve never heard of the Arts & Crafts with Celtic influences style but it does look like a very spiritual place. The medallions and cherubs look especially beautiful!
Michele, the designs are beautiful. One could easily spend a long time looking at and interpreting them all.
Such beautiful illustrations. Very Art Nouveau and from a time where spiritualism was flourishing.
Elaine, the chapel was indeed beautiful.
Love the look of the chapel. Funny, first thing l thought was the shape was celebrating womanhood 🙂 . I love the architecture and detailing.
Kemkem, there is so much detail in the designs.
What a great find, Donna. Grade I is pretty special. Red brick is outstanding for the exterior and the interior with such rich art work makes it most special. Makes this place of rest eternal!
Carol, it is a special place. I’m glad we found it in our travels.
You seem to have found a lot of places in England that I’ve never heard of! I love those Arts and Crafts interiors so I’ll have to look out for Watts Chapel.
Karen, Watt’s Chapel (and Watt’s Gallery) are well worth visiting if you are in that part of England.
Did they provide any background on Mary? I like that a woman designed this and that it was built!
RoseMary, I don’t recall there being a whole lot of information about Mary at the chapel, but you can find out more about her at Watts Gallery and Watts Studios down the road (the topic of my next post).
What a great story and the photos brought it to life. . .felt like it would be a great backdrop to a novel of some sort! Loved this one.
It would be an interesting backdrop to a novel!
I saw Watts and Crompton and, being a girl who grew up in Los Angeles, I thought you meant the city of Watts and meant also the city of Compton, without the “r”! However, I like your Watts chapel in Crompton a whole lot better than what I was originally thinking of. What a beautiful building. I’d love to visit it one day.
Carole, you caught a typo (now corrected) that made it through several copyedits! It is Compton. I have not heard of Compton, California before, but I have had the experience of seeing a place name in a blog heading or description and thinking it was about a different place with the same name. It is a good reminder to be specific about where a place is when writing about it.
Watts Chapel is beautiful! I usually expect that kind of detail and workmanship in earlier buildings: baroque or renaissance or medieval. Not the Victorian period! No wonder it’s listed Grade I!
Rachel, it certainly is unique and easy to understand its Grade I listing.
I love the Celtic knot detail!
Wendy, there was so detail it was impossible to take it all in.
What a beautiful chapel. Exactly the type of place I would also like to visit.
Rose, it is certainly beautiful.
Beautiful building and the symbolism is so interesting. I imagine you could spend a lifetime writing dissertations on the topic!
Sandra, I imagine you could spend a lot of time writing dissertations. I was surprised to discover there were a number of books devotedly solely to the symbolism in the chapel, but given the amount of detail I probably shouldn’t have been surprised.
Have a look at this book if you can, THE WORD IN THE PATTERN. a Key to the Symbols on the Walls of the Chapel at Compton by Mrs.GEORGE FREDERICK WATTS…….it’s fascinating!
Thanks Nicky. It sounds like a very interesting book. I wish I’d had it with me when I visited the chapel.