Chapels and cemeteries are, I find, rather heartwarming places to visit (particularly in the sunshine). When tended well, they seem full of love, care and respect. Watts Chapel in the Surrey Hills, is all that and more.
Watts Chapel is a beautiful and rather magical place. The cemetery has an emotive atmosphere.
How Watts Chapel got built
By 1895 the churchyard of St Nicolas church was full. The local Parish purchased some land on Budbury Hill from the Loseley Estate.
It was Mr and Mrs Watts (George Watts the famous Victorian painter, England’s Michelangelo, and his wife Mary a potter) offered to design, build and pay for a chapel on the site.
It became a community project, particularly encouraged by Mary, with seventy villagers, friends, craftsmen and woman working on the decoration.
The sturdy gate (also designed by Mary Watts) has stood the test of time and the stone beneath has worn smooth into a gently curved hollow.
The Watts cemetery
The charming old brick path leads us up the hill.
Old conifers bulge.
Sunken graves look restful.
Watts Chapel exterior
We reach the Chapel standing proud in it’s terracotta glory. Fair enough, it was dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury and consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester.
Mary’s love for her Christian Celtic art is evident. She added elements of nature and Art Nouveau forms which softened the symmetrical Celtic lines.
Symbolism is used everywhere. There are cards inside full of information and you can have some fun searching for the wise owl (Spirit of Truth), the peacock (Hope), a choir of 15 angels (looking down in sympathy – looking up in hope) and a load more.
The heavy ancient looking door is beautiful. Made of oak encased in chestnut with wrought iron mounts. It represents man’s destiny. It’s just rather lovely really.
The windows look like a pair of eyes peering down to those who enter.
Inside Watts Chapel
It was dark inside, but with the flash of the camera the colours came alive.
The characters depict the ‘Hierarchy of Heavenly Hosts’. So, we have the angels closest to God (figures in red), the general government of the universe is represented in the middle (seven discs with symbols of justice, patience etc) and the lower hierarchy is the angels closest to earth (winged messengers, facing in and out). The angels closest to us humans hold discs showing two sides of one coin: Stability and Change, Growth and Decay, Rest and Labour etc.
But, perhaps the most beautiful thing about the interior is that was Mary’s belief that anyone with a genuine interest in potting could be taught to produce beautiful decoration. So, this interior was achieved by locals of all backgrounds through Mary’s guidance. The local Lady of the Manor to her farm boys were all welcome.
Mary was driven by the Victorian belief of social improvement through creative enlightenment (it might keep the locals out of the ‘gin palaces’ of Guildford!).
Andy is reading out the information cards as I gaze around the interior looking for ’30 gifts of nature’ which were decorated by the children of Compton.
I found the ‘Wreaths of Cherub faces’ on the ceiling vaults which are one of the oldest symbols of the soul.
Watts Chapel Cloisters
Back outside I swot up on the grave yard and Cloisters next (I can’t help myself).
Might have spotted the peacock (might be the eagle or even the pelican). I’ve definitely spotted some wings.
We climb up the hill towards the cloisters passing more sunken graves.
Mr Watts donated the gabled campanile with it’s 31 inch bell. This is the best place to see it from. It’s inscribed with the words ‘Be my voice neither feared nor forgotten’.
A huge tree spreads its branches over the hill top sheltering the graves beneath from the sun and the rain.
The Watts family grave is in the central position of the cloister. Mr and Mrs Watts with their adopted daughter are remembered here.
Watts’s memorial stands proudly on the wall behind.
Click here to learn about Watts Gallery. It’s just a few minutes stroll from this little Chapel and makes for a very interesting afternoon. Besides, there is a lovely cafe which serves a great Welsh Rarebit!
Surrey, GU3 1DQ