After being cooped up in the flat with a nasty cold, my boyfriend and I decided to get into nature and combine a visit to the Watts Chapel and Gallery in Compton, Surrey, with a walk along the North Downs of the Surrey Heathlands.
With the Time Out Country Walks, Vol. 2 guidebook in hand, it was a short train ride to Guildford.
With my boyfriend striding along down the trail, and me dawdling yards behind, looking for ‘fairy doors’ and peering into rabbit burrows, I had visions of Keith from the 1975 Mike Leigh film, "Nuts in May" (link to film below), bellowing “Come along, Candice Marie” to his straggling wife who, like me, delights in small natural wonders.
The Watts Chapel and Gallery is along the way.
The Watts Gallery opened in 1904 to display the works of the Victorian painter, philanthropist and social reformer G. F. Watts (1817-1904). The Gallery houses paintings, sculpture, drawings, and memorabilia and was built near the winter home of Watts and his wife Mary (1849-1938), also an artist.
There was an exhibition of the Russian Arts & Crafts artist and designer Elena Polenova, whose fairy-tale paintings and folkloric furniture I had never seen before.
Down the road is the Watts Cemetery Chapel. It is a little gem with an odd combination of Byzantine, Art Nouveau and Celtic elements. Around 1900, Mary Watts founded The Potters’ Arts Guild in Compton. Prior to that, she held Terracotta Home Arts Classes for local villagers in Compoton. Following her designs, they created the reliefs for the Chapel.
The interior is encrusted with angels on a background of sinuous vines and trees. I couldn’t photograph the Chapel to do it justice, but you can watch a 2-minute video to see the incredible detail.
We didn’t have time to explore the cemetery around the chapel. I would have loved to see more of the tombstones, like this one, made by the Compton pottery.
We had to hurry if we didn’t want to be finding our way in the dark. Fortunately the last leg of the trail was straightforward.
By then, it was 4pm and the moon was already shining in the sky (and being reflected in the canal). At the end of the trail, we sat at a picnic table in the dark and ate our better-late-than-never packed lunch before catching the train home.
It was great to learn more about G. F. Watts. He commissioned a memorial to everyday men and women who had lost their lives helping others.
The memorial, built in 1900, is located in Postman’s Park, just down the street from my boyfriend’s flat.
Doulton tile panels tell tragic tales of Victorian heros and heroines.
Not great quality, but you can watch the entire "Nuts in May" film on YouTube. It was also on UK television recently.