#WattsWednesday: Watts and Tennyson

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Posted 1st August 2018

Watts and Tennyson

If you are visiting the Isle of Wight this summer make a point of going to see Farringford at Freshwater, one of the island's most important historic estates, restored to its nineteenth century splendour.

Farringford was the home of the Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, his family and their descendants until 1945. George Frederic Watts was a close friend of Tennyson and visited Farringford with both Ellen Terry and Mary Watts on different occasions.

Of course, we are all very familiar with Watts's statue of Tennyson located in the precincts of Lincoln Cathedral, Monument to Lord Tennyson, the cast of which is in on permanent display in the sculpture gallery here at the Artists' Village.

Tennyson died in 1892 and his wife Emily passed away in 1896. Mary Watts then had a sundial made in their memory at the Compton Pottery. The four sides of the pedestal bear the names 'Alfred, Emily, Hallam and Audrey'. Hallam was their eldest son and Audrey was his wife. Veronica Franklin Gould, art historian, believes that it was probably designed and made in 1896.

After the end of the Second World War, in 1945, Farringford was purchased by the holiday operators Butlins and Pontins. The extensive gardens were used to install holiday chalets and a swimming pool, and the house itself was altered to become a hotel. The sundial was moved and was reported, on one occasion, to have been stolen.

I visited the site in June this year and the situation has now greatly changed for the better. Since 2010 Farringford has been in private ownership and a full restoration of the house has been undertaken, removing traces of its recent past (including a galvanised iron water tank that had been put on the roof).

The project continues. The gardens are being lovingly recreated by a couple of gardeners trained at RHS Wisley and familiar with Compton and Watts Gallery – Artists' Village. And the Mary Watts sundial? It has been beautifully restored to a prominent position close to the greenhouse and is shown on the plan of the grounds given to visitors as “Watts' Sundial."

No actual plans of the original gardens exist but paintings by, amongst others, Helen Allingham, are being used as sources of inspiration.

The thatched cottage visible in the photo was the subject of one of Allingham's popular watercolour paintings. The house can only be visited on a pre-booked guided tour, but entry to the grounds is only £2.50 and dogs can be taken in on a lead. Farringford has holiday cottages in the grounds that can be rented. If you go to Freshwater, Julia Margaret Cameron's home, Dimbola, is also nearby.

John Petty

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