I fancied writing a post on Surrey’s hidden churches. There are a couple of cute little chapels I vaguely know about, hiding down local country lanes.
But then, I thought, no, not hidden churches, but hidden “treasures”. Because Watts Chapel, in the small village of Compton, near Guildford, is quite the hidden treasure, not known to as many as it should be.
The tiny chapel has been hailed an Arts & Crafts masterpiece of national significance. And, as I love a bit of Arts & Crafts, I dragged Mr Muddy and the mini muddies for a look around.
The chapel, round in shape and red of brick, sits on a hill just outside Compton, in Watts Cemetery, home for eternity to the Huxley family, including Aldous Huxley, the great writer.
It may not be a Brave New World (see what I did there?), but Watts Chapel is pretty unique in England with it’s fusion of Art Nouveau, Celtic, Romanesque and Egyptian influence.
But, for me, the most extraordinary thing about this chapel is that it was designed and built by a woman in the 1800s and the local village people – not by a team of great artists as you might expect if you get up close and check out those intricate details.
This amazing woman – Mary Watts – was a craftswoman, designer and social reformer in her time, and the second wife of eminent painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts, who funded the project.
Mary believed that anyone with an interest and enthusiasm could be taught how to make beautiful decoration. And so she encouraged everyone from the village, regardless of their social status, to learn clay modelling. This chapel is a labour of love, and a true gem of the community.
Mary taught the local villagers how to model tiles with clay that had come from a seam in the grounds of the Watts’ house, Limnerslease. The first class was held at Mary’s house on 18 November 1895. The chapel exterior was finished in 1898, although the elaborate decoration on the inside took until 1904.
Pottery classes are still run today at the Artists Village.
If you’re interested in architecture, or just want a to nosey around a unique and amazing building, it’s definitely worth a look.
The chapel is managed by the Watts Gallery Artists Village (you can read more about that here), a little further along the road. The chapel is open free to the public daily, and locked up at night. Remember it is still the village cemetery chapel and is sometimes in use.
Watts Chapel, Down Lane, Compton, near Guildford, Surrey GU3 1DQ