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”
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.
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.
Source: Watts Cemetery Chapel booklet