Discover Watts Gallery and Memorial Chapel. Nestling at one end of the Hogs Back just outside Guildford, everything looks quintessentially English. There is a village pond with post box by it. Cute cottages line the road and on the hill a chapel looks down on Compton Village. Yet here you will find the only gallery in England devoted to one artist, George Frederic Watts and one of the most exceptional interiors to be seen anywhere.
The Watts Gallery opened in 1904, just three month before GF Watts died. Inside you can see 100 of his paintings and sculptures. It is not often that you see an artists work in the space that he designed especially to showcase it.
The woman you see here perched on the globe is Hope. Depicted a blind woman, in rags, playing a lyre that has all but one of its strings broken … she still has hope despite such a desperate situation. President Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” takes its inspiration from the this painting.
De Morgan Gallery
The Watts Gallery is also temporarily home to the De Morgan collection. With a glorious display of William de Morgan ceramics and paintings by his talents wife Evelyn De Morgan.
At the end of his life G F Watts spent his time creating monumental statues. In the Sculpture gallery you can see the vast plaster maquettes for his statue of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Physical Engery. The bronze case of Physical Energy can be seen in Kensington Gardens but I rather like the raw immediacy of the plaster model.
Watts Memorial Chapel
Watts Memorial Chapel is one of the great buildings of the UK. It is tiny but perfect packed with detail. Mary Watts came up with a mixture of Art Nouveau, Celtic and Romanesque styles to create a stunning building. On the outside the terracotta bricks and richly patterned walls prepare you for the riot of angels inside. The building is tiny, any more than four people and you feel crowded, but every inch of the interior is covered with glowing colours. Angels look down on you.
This is a memorial chapel, designed for the contemplation of the afterlife. Those angels would look after your loved ones. Surrounding the the Memorial Chapel is the Compton graveyard, many of the craftspeople who helped make the chapel are buried here. Several of the tombstones are made using the same terracotta as the Chapel itself. At the top of the hill is a colonnade with the graves of GF Watts and Mary Watts. What beautiful and peaceful place to spend eternity.
Over the road from the Gallery is Limnerslease the house that the Watt’s had built for them. Half house and half artists studio. Today half the house is still a private residence but the studios are open to visit. You will find a recreation of G F Watt’s studio with paints and brushes just waiting for the great man to walk in.
Mary’s studio explores the techniques which she used to create the memorial chapel. Those beautiful angels that you see? They started out as plaster slathered onto a chicken wire base, then shapes of thick felt were affixed onto the plaster and then the whole lot painted and guided.
Fun Fact: Limnerslease was a portmanteau word made up by the couple combining the Old English word Limner meaning painter and Lease meaning hope for the future.
Watts Gallery Online
Unable to visit the Surrey Hills in person? Don’t worry you can still see what Compton has to offer. There are 360° tours of the gallery, Watts Memorial Chapel and Watt’s Artist studio available online. https://www.wattsgallery.org.uk/about-us/360-tour/
George Frederic Watts
George Frederic Watts was widely considered to be the greatest artist of the Victorian era. Some even called him the Michelangelo of England. When he was 47 he married the 17 year old Ellen Terry, he painted many portraits of her but the marriage didn’t last a year. Many years later he married Mary in Christchurch, Epsom (where you can find these beautiful plaques in the belfry)
George was approaching 70 when he married Mary Seton Fraser Tytler. Mary was a talented artist in her own right . Inspired by Ruskin’s theory of teaching craft skills for the greater good she set up pottery classes for the the villagers of Compton. Eventually these grew into setting up the Compton Pottery and building the Watts Memorial Chapel, providing work for local people for many years.
Watts Gallery Cafe
I confess that we have been known to visit the Watts Gallery purely for the cafe. You will find all the usual cakes and coffee served on charming mismatching vintage crockery. What draws the teens time and time again though is the Watts Gallery cafe Welsh rarebit. I prefer mine with mushrooms and tomatoes on the side but the teens and Mr CW always opt for the full Welsh rarebit and sausage combo. Come hungry and come for lunch!
Visiting the Watts Gallery and Memorial Chapel
Driving is best way to get to Compton it is moments off the A3 just outside Guildford. Arriving by public transport takes careful planning … catch a train the Guildford and then make your way to stand 16 of the Friary Bus Station and catch a 46 bus. The bus only takes 10 minutes but there is only one bus an hour. Ample parking is available at the Gallery and Limnerslease. There are a few parking spaces outside the chapel but it is best to walk down from the gallery.
- Watts Gallery, Down Lane, Compton, GU3 1DQ
- Open: Daily 10.30am-5pm Pre-booking online is essential.
- Admission: Adults £12.50, friends free, Art Fund Card holder half price.
- Watts Chapel and Cemetery Monday – Friday 9am – 5pm Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5pm
- Admission: Free