Mary Watts and Compton
'I want Compton to be an example of what God's acre might be.' — Mary Watts, 23 February 1906In 1886, at the age of 69, Watts second marriage to Scottish potter and designer Mary Seton Fraser-Tytler took place in Epsom Surrey. A few years later they leased land at Compton and commissioned Arts & Crafts architect Sir Ernest George to build their home Limnerslease. The move to Compton in 1891 marked a transition in Mary's art, as painting and fine art were left behind, and she began to focus on design and architecture.
Compton also gave Mary the opportunity to expand her philanthropy, which had begun prior to her marriage when she taught clay modelling classes for shoeblacks in London's East End. Mary was appointed to the Committee of the Homes Arts and Industries Association, an organisation founded on Ruskian principles to further teaching of craft skills for the greater good. She established evening classes in terracotta pottery, held in the drawing room at Limnerslease — now the Mary Watts Gallery — which were attended by as many as 70 local villagers.
These evening classes culminated in the creation of Watts Chapel, designed by Mary Watts and created by Mary and the local people of Compton. Watts Chapel is recognised as one of the most original and fascinating buildings in Britain, a fusion of art nouveau, Celtic, Romanesque and individual style.
Galvanised by the success of her chapel project, Mary went on to establish the Compton Potters' Arts Guild, a local pottery cooperative that gained contracts from Liberty & Co. and commissions from the most important architects of the era including Edwin Lutyens and Clough Williams-Ellis. The Guild would provide employment in the village of Compton until 1956.