Watch a short video on Watts Cemetery Chapel
‘It is no exaggeration to say that the Watts Cemetery Chapel is one of the most beautiful, one of the most extraordinary, original, marvellous and magical buildings in the whole of the British Isles!’- Lucinda Lambton
Designed and built by Mary Watts, the Chapel is a unique fusion of art nouveau, Celtic, Romanesque and Egyptian influence with Mary's own original style. It is impossible not to admire the work and inspiration that lies behind this beautiful little building.
As followers of the Home Arts and Industries Association, set up by Earl Brownlow in 1885 to encourage handicrafts among the lower classes, the Chapel was the Watts's contribution to this characteristically Victorian preoccupation with social improvement through creative enlightenment. Mary passionately believed that anyone with a real interest and enthusiasm could be taught how to produce beautiful decoration, if in the process it kept them away from the 'gin palaces' of Guildford, this was surely a good thing. With this belief firmly in mind she encouraged all from the village, whatever their social status, to come their house Limnerslease for instruction in clay modelling.
The clay came from a seam that was discovered in the grounds of their house, apparently not unusual for this area. Taking this as a sign, Mary embarked upon the project with her usual determination, writing to the Parish Council in 1895 offering to build a new cemetery chapel, as the old graveyard in the village church of St Nicholas was full to capacity. Her offer was accepted. As early as 1888 concerned parishioners had discussed the problem of space and plans were therefore already underway for land to be purchased from the Loseley Estate.
Mary had produced her clay model of the new chapel by August 1895 and later that year the sale of land from William More-Molyneux was agreed.
The first clay modelling class took place at Limnerslease on Thursday 14 November 1895. All were welcome, from the local lady of the manor to her farm boys, as long as there was a genuine desire to learn, Mary was happy. After a few weeks learning how to handle clay and modeling simple decorations, they would begin to make clay tiles from the plates Mrs Watts had prepared.
The design itself is an amalgamation of inspiration, every aspect having symbolic meaning. The Circle of Eternity with its intersecting Cross of Faith is from pre-historic times and symbolises the power of redeeming love stretching to the four quarters of the earth. The dome is traditionally seen as emblematic of heaven, the four panels on the exterior containing friezes symbolising the Spirit of Hope, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Love and the Spirit of Light.
The exterior of the Chapel was finished in 1898, but the decoration of the interior took a while longer. Mary took the most talented of her craftsmen and women and together they created the stunning gesso interior, finally completing it in 1904.
The Cemetary attached to the Chapel has recently been given Grade II* listing status by English Heritage. This will give it protection in the planning system and safeguard it for future generations.
Watts Gallery's Curator Dr Nicholas Tromans commented:
'This listing of the Cemetery is recognition of its very special status as a place where landscape, art and remembrance are blended in a very beautiful way. G.F. and Mary Watts both rest here, as do many other people close to the Gallery at different times over its history. That the Cemetery is now itself seen as a place with a unique heritage that deserves to be protected brings it into an even closer relationship with the Gallery and Limnerslease where the Watts heritage is also preserved and valued, and where it inspires new generations.'
The Chapel is Parish property and is open to the public daily. It is locked up at night.
Please remember that it is still the village cemetery chapel and is sometimes in use.