This red brick and terracotta chapel is perched atop a hill within a cemetery, where it sits surrounded by mossy old graves. Hidden behind the bright bricks is a strikingly somber interior covered with dark, Celtic-inspired artwork.
The Watts Cemetery Chapel is a dazzling hodgepodge of Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, Romanesque Revival, and Celtic Revival architecture. The unique building was designed by Mary Fraser Tytler, a notable designer and craftswoman, and funded by her husband, the Victorian painter George Frederic Watts. Besides being an artist in his own right, George was pivotal in establishing both the Tate Britain and National Portrait Gallery in London.
Fraser Tytler rounded up nearly everyone in the village to bring her artistic vision to life. Passionate about bringing arts and crafts to the community, she ran evening terracotta classes, where she taught the locals how to create clay tiles using the various patterns she had designed for the building.
The final result of their efforts is a strange and intense work of art that sits not quite at ease in the Surrey countryside. It seems to have more in common with, say, a Rossetti portrait of Jane Morris than with the Watts’ more conventional art (which you can see at the nearby gallery devoted to their work). The darkly rich colors and designs that fill the interior create a beautiful blend of Art Nouveau and Celtic revival styles, all enhanced by Fraser Tytler’s personal taste.
Starting at just above eye level, there are a series of angels. As with most churches, there is a hierarchy as one’s eyes travel up toward the ceiling. The angels just above the gold band that circumvents the room are standing back to front in an alternating fashion. In their hands, they are holding medallions. These are representations, both positive and negative, of life’s activities. From birth to death and from labor to rest.
Both Fraser Tytler and her husband are buried in the surrounding cemetery. And though the chapel’s many builders are long gone, it still remains a working church today.
Also buried in the cemetery is Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World.
Know Before You Go
The chapel is open daily. On Monday though Friday it's open from 9:00 to 5:00, and on Saturday and Sunday it's open from 10:00 to 5:00. This is still a functioning church for the community, so it may be in use for services at various times.
There is no parking lot adjacent to the grounds. Would suggest parking at the nearby Watts House and Gallery and walking the short distance along a paved path. There is a bus service from Guildford, but it only operates once an hour.