Limnerslease: The Artists' Home
In 1889, seeking a winter retreat from their Holland Park house and studio and wishing to escape the smogs of London that caused George's bad health, G F and Mary Watts stayed with friends in Compton. They quickly decided that this picturesque village nestled in the Surrey hills would make the ideal location for their own autumn/winter residence.
The Wattses' home and studios, Limnerslease, was designed by the great Arts & Crafts architect Sir Ernest George and was completed in 1891. On Saturday 18 July, the Wattses took possession. The 'little house', as they called Limnerslease, grew into a source of inspiration and a place of great productivity and tranquility for them both.
Mary notes in her diary:
We stopped the cabs & walked up from Bolter's cottage, Signor stepping in by the drawing room window to take possession, & I following, the blessing hand of the ceiling was over our heads in an instant – then hard work began, & went on all day & by five o'clock we had something like order, last week's van load in the Hall was unpacked & put in its place, & today's unloaded & unpacked - Darling May came - & we planted the gentians & had tea in the drawing room – she went home & sent back some flannel – spirit for the lamp & promise of long ladders for putting up the blinds - About seven Andrew came – dear old fellow – welcoming us & almost hugging Signor in his arms, he kissed my hand & I kissed him; the beginning & end of all our reason for building and rooting here – they have been like the dearest children to Signor.
Limnerslease was very much an artists' home. Its name comes from 'Limner' — the Old English word for artist — and 'lease' — to glean hope for the future. Mary was not the only one who found new inspiration in Compton; George set up a new studio designed with his large canvases in mind and desire for good light, a place where he was able to work on the many pieces that he had been meditating on throughout his career.
As the years passed, time spent at the little house grew, taking precedence over their London residence, New Little Holland House. Free from the interruptions of London society that George's fame attracted, the couple were able to work uninterrupted while becoming a celebrated part of the Compton community. The couple welcomed a number of well-known artists and figures of Victorian society, to Limnerslease including the great violinist Joseph Joachim and the young Vanessa Bell.
Following George's death in 1904, Mary made Limnerslease her permanent residence. She became a recognised figure within the local community as both an artist and the keeper of her husband's legacy in the form of Watts Gallery and The Annals, the biography she published on the life and thoughts of her dear husband.
Following Mary's death in 1938, Limnerslease became separated from the Watts Gallery Trust estate. In the 1950s, it was divided into three separate residences and considerable changes were made to the east wing where George's and Mary's studios had been.
Watts Gallery Trust has now secured the east wing of Limnerslease and has transformed it into Watts Studios, a new museum that has reinstated George's studio and has a dedicated gallery to the work of Mary, also telling the story of the Wattses' time in Compton.
Watts Gallery Trust continues to fundraise to save the rest of the house and preserve it for the future.
Access to the main house, Limnerslease is currently by guided tour only, Tuesday to Sunday. Click here to book a place on a Limnerslease Tour.
With grateful thanks to Surrey County Council.
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