The Building of the Gallery
Before 1903 Watts had commissioned a number of leading architects to design buildings for him: Frederick Pepys Cockerell (1833–78) had created his home and studio, new Little Holland House, while George Aitchison (1825–1910) had produced its gallery extension; Philip Webb (1831–1915) had created The Briary, his house on the Isle of Wight; and Ernest George (1839–1922) had designed Limnerslease, his house in Compton. With the Watts Gallery, the artist selected a relatively unknown architect Christopher Hatton Turnor (1873–1940), who was living within a mile of Compton with his parents. Watts’s choice of Turnor reflected both his and Mary’s Arts and Crafts ethos in supporting a local man as well as an architect who would follow very clearly Watts’s ideas for the building. Turnor later recalled: ‘Dear old Signor asked me to build the picturegallery at Compton, & to keep it a simple & rural type of building.’ It was constructed in rendered concrete and Surrey tiles, and its foundation stone, a beautiful terracotta block, was laid by Watts on his eighty-sixth birthday, 23 February 1903.
The building was originally named the Hostel, referring to the
accommodation at each end, although the central section was consistently called the Watts Picture Gallery, a name adopted for the whole building when it reopened in 1906 after the addition of an extension. In 1904 the Surrey Advertiser wrote:
A little building in Compton which has been given the name of The Hostel… was designed to serve a double purpose: to provide a home for some of the young men and lads engaged in the terra-cotta pottery which Mrs Watts has successfully established at Compton.