Last August I visited Surrey on an Art Fund tour – Surrey Arts and Crafts. I only managed to write here about the afternoon we spent at the Landmark Trust property Goddards. But we did spend a whole day at Watts Gallery in Compton. The Artists’ Village is fascinating and includes an amazing amount of G F Watts and his wife Mary’s work.
“Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village is a unique Arts & Crafts gem nestled in the Surrey Hills. Discover stunning Victorian paintings and sculpture in the historic Watts Gallery before treating yourself to lunch or a cream tea in the Tea Shop. Wander to the nearby Grade I listed Watts Chapel, taking in the beautiful woodlands and grounds, or find out more about the lives of G F and Mary Watts at Watts Studios before taking a tour of the artists’ home, Limnerslease. In the Pottery Building there is art for sale in the Watts Contemporary exhibition along with a wide selection of gifts, books and homewares in the Shop.” [source]
I bought the guidebook and intend to return for another look. At the back of the Guide is a description of a two and a quarter mile walk. I decided to bring Oliver on the walk on Tuesday morning between showers. The walk notes that follow have been adapted from the printed description, pictures added and my own comments in square brackets.
Cloister and Cemetery
From the Car Park turn right along Down Lane towards Watts Chapel and Cemetery. [This was very much a part of the tour last summer] Continue in the same direction to the end of Down Lane and turn left onto The Street [Sadly, The Street is very busy with fast traffic including enormous lorries] you will see Little Cottage [below] where the 1901 census reveals that James Nicol, pottery manager, first lodged.
Next door but one is Moors Cottage [below], the origins of which go back to the early part of the 17th century. When the Wattses lived at Compton the cottage was a coffee house and the manager expressed pride in having served tea and coffee to clientele from all continents, as the reputation of the Watts Gallery spread far and wide.
Continue until you reach a small antiques shop, opposite which you will see the Compton War Memorial, which was designed by Mary Watts and unveiled in 1922.
The Grade 1 listed St Nicholas’ Church, with origins that date from the 10th/11th century, is just a short walk from here and well worth a visit. The double chancel makes a particularly interesting feature, as do the opening to what was an an anchorite’s cell and the Norman markings next to the pulpit said to have been scratched into the stone by a crusader praying for a safe return.
On leaving the church, continue in the same direction : White Hart Cottage [below] is immediately visible. The cottage originates from the early 16th century and was once a Public House.
Opposite the entrance to Puck’s Oak Barn is the Old Forge. this was once the home of Clarence Sex the blacksmith. Clarence produced the ornate ironwork that forms part of the Watts Chapel doors and the gates to the Watts Cemetery Cloister.
Other village houses along The Street
A little further along the road you will see Compton Village Hall, built in 1934 following a local fundraising effort which raised £2,982, a proportion of which was donated by Mary Watts who laid the foundation stone.
Continue across The Green and over The Common. Turn into Withies Lane and just next door to the 16th century public house, The Withies Inn, you will see four Arts & Crafts style cottages: One to Four Oak Cottages. Ernest George (the architect of Limnerslease [the Watts home]) built these at Mary’s request for members of her Potters’ Guild. Numbers five and six are thought to have been designed by Clough Williams-Ellis, architect of the village of Portmeirion in North Wales. The Compton potter George Aubertin lived at number five until his death in 1970 and former pottery manager James Nicol also resided there.
1 – 4 Oak Cottages
5 and 6 Oak Cottages
Continue up Withies Lane, passing the public house, and turn right onto Polsted Manor (now apartments). Pass the turning to the left and continue on to the next turning which is the Pilgrims’ Way. [This part of the walk was rather confusing. The tarmac lane becomes a sunken public footpath. The accompanying sketch map is equally misleading. At no point was the path taken back to Watts Gallery called The Pilgrims Way, although it definitely is, it’s indicated on signs as The North Downs Way. Much of it is very sandy and it’s like walking on the beach.]
The Sandy Lane/Pilgrims Way
Turn left and this will take you back to Watts Gallery where you will find the Tea Shop for a well-deserved rest and a bite to eat.