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

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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. Isn’t it a beauty? I am so glad that Jenny sent me in this direction. I should have got some close-ups of the altar but it was very dark in that spot.

    1. It truly is. I’m not sure I have ever seen an Art Nouveau headstone quite like some of these. As for the Chapel… 🙂

  1. This is amazing! So detailed and elaborate! I’d always wondered where the set designers on Lord of the Rings got their start.

  2. Oh, Jude, once again I choose a new favorite. Every inch of the interior, exterior and gravesites deserves minute inspection and reflection. To think you might have continued to pass it by! I am saving this one to revisit often.

    I am always curious what it must have been like for townspeople to work on such a masterpiece. If they were lost in the hardships and monotony of hard labor or if they were able to understand what lasting, spiritual beauty they created for centuries to come.

    1. jenny’s post goes more into the creation of the chapel and the fact that it was a collaboration with the village, both adults and children so I get a sense of joy about this. I am sure they were aware of the beauty they were creating together. I recommend reading her post.

  3. Jude, I’m so jealous, what an amazing place to visit and I’ve never heard of it. I love the arts and crafts movement, the attention to detail is exquisite and here the symbolism is fascinating as well. A great post, one of my favourites and thanks for showing me x:-)x

    1. All thanks to Jenny for pointing me in the right direction. I also adore the arts and crafts movement and Art Nouveau style. I could spend hours studying this place, inside and out. In fact several people came and went whilst I was still there.

  4. How beautiful these images have captured the craftsmanship of the sacred place.. Wonderful carvings.. Such richness and detail.. Thank you so much for sharing I lingered long over them xxx Sue

  5. Ah now I see what you mean about the villagers from Jenny’s post. Such a tranquil yet luscious place for a visit or eternity. I had to chuckle at Jenny’s closing rant and am glad she raised a ruckus going up Down Lane. 😘

    1. Thing is it WAS on my doorstep! passed it every time I went to Guildford, RHS Wisley and my daughter. Never even thought to see what it was 😦

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