An Arts and Crafts Masterpiece

I can’t begin to imagine how many times I have driven past the sign to Watts Chapel along the A3 near Guildford in Surrey. Not knowing that this little gem lay hidden close by in Down Lane, Compton. Jenny of CharactersFromTheKitchen introduced me to this architectural delight a few months ago and I knew I would have to make the journey next time I was down in Surrey.

(Please click images to enlarge – there is an awful lot of detail in these images)

This morning, before the rain arrived again, I made my way to Watts Cemetery Chapel to the bright red brick of this Arts and Crafts masterpiece. Designed and decorated by Mary Seton Watts this example of Art Nouveau was completed in 1904. She dedicated it:

“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”

A steep, slippery cobbled pathway meanders through ancient yew trees

The Exterior: The Sign of Eternity

The Chapel’s shape is reminiscent of  Byzantine architecture, the entrance Celtic-Romanesque with 15 angels forming an inner arch ‘looking up in hope and down in sympathy‘ whilst outer arches depict peacock feathers and heart-shaped crosses. The pillars show people learning from the book of life about resurrection in nature.

The outside of the building is made up of four large friezes which represent in turn Hope, Truth, Love and Light. Symbolic birds are represented by the peacock (Hope), the owl (Truth), the pelican (Love) and the eagle (Light). Surrounding these are attendant spirits depicted as angel heads holding symbolic discs.

Light - Eagle
Light – Eagle

All this before you step inside. Where I promise you will gasp in awe.

The Interior: The Dome of Heaven

The interior is richly decorated with hand-painted gesso, forming an elaborate symbolic scene. The symbol of God is the eternal circle and is at its apex. Radiating from this are the angels closest to God; cherubim with babies heads and seraphim in rich red bless those below. Light and dark or positive and negative are represented and the whole is linked by the tree of life.

A golden terracotta girdle circles the interior with a series of flowers created by the village children. The altar gleaming in the gloom. More than 70 villagers worked alongside Mary Watts to create the tiles to help decorate the Chapel.

Please visit jenny’s site for further information as she has an excellent post about it.

Meanwhile we will have a wander around some of the unusual Art Nouveau headstones in the cemetery, including that of Mary Watts and her husband, artist George Frederick Watts which is actually very simple. Unfortunately it has begun to rain heavily now, so the light is poor. I may have to revisit this unusual place again.

The gravestone of George and Mary Watts. He died in 1904 just as the chapel was completed; Mary died in 1938.
The gravestone of George and Mary Watts. He died in 1904 just as the chapel was completed; Mary died in 1938.

Source: Watts Cemetery Chapel booklet

Published by


I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

63 thoughts on “An Arts and Crafts Masterpiece”

    1. I love the Art Nouveau architecture and was so pleased to learn about this little gem from a fellow blogger. The blogosphere certainly opens up opportunities. I thought I had explored this area when I lived down here but obviously not enough!

  1. Such a fabulous building and grounds Jude. Again it is your attention to the detail that steals the photography show. Gorgeous!

    1. Ah, so much detail there Sue, difficult to know what to pick. I could spend hours there discovering gems. So glad you enjoyed the photos. Thank you 🙂

    1. More like pelting than pattering, but thankfully the trees provided some protection outdoors so I could capture some of those incredible headstones.

  2. Wow, what a great place: makes me want to hop on a plane to England (I don’t think you can manage to send the chapel on a tour of America).

    I’d not heard of Mary Seton Watts, but in the article at

    I found that she was associated with the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, whom I do know about. I also noted from the article that Mary Seton Fraser Tytler married the painter George Frederic Watts when she was 36 and he was 69. I guess that qualifies as a May–November romance.

    1. I love the way you research things 🙂
      I shall read the article, thanks for the link. And sorry I can’t send the Chapel to you 😉

      1. The Internet facilitates things. In the Wkipedia article about George Frederic Watts I found that he had once before robbed the cradle, though that time the cradle swung back: “In the 1860s, Watts’ work shows the influence of Rossetti, often emphasising sensuous pleasure and rich color. Among these paintings is a portrait of his young wife, the actress Ellen Terry, who was 30 years his junior – having been introduced by mutual friend Tom Taylor, they married on 20 February 1864 just seven days short of her 17th birthday. When she eloped with another man after less than a year of marriage, Watts was obliged to divorce her.”

  3. Thanks for sharing your pictures of this precious place. I don’t get down that way too often (I have an aversion to the M25) but you’ve made it very tempting! I’d love to revisit RHS Wisley too.

    1. Doesn’t everyone have an aversion to the M25? I loathe travelling along that route, but needs must sometimes. Wisley makes it worthwhile though and this little gem is just the icing on top 🙂

Comments are closed.