Landmarks: Watts Mortuary Chapel

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The Independent Culture
Set on a hillside, peeping out through the trees is the Watts Mortuary Chapel built between 1896 and 1897. It was donated to the village of Compton by the wife of the Victorian portraitist, George Frederic Watts, and she also allegedly designed the building with the help of local craftsmen. It is essentially a small circular chapel with four small transepts, like alcoves, and apparently represents the circle of eternity with a cross running through the centre.

The outside consists of red brick and incredibly detailed terracotta. It's a mixture of celtic and art nouveau styles, and the whole thing is totally symbolic. There are friezes of doves holding olive branches, evangelists, guardian angels, owls (symbolising wisdom) and the letters 'I am' (symbolising God). The main doorway appears to be Norman but is surrounded by art nouveau heads and there is a litle Byzantine campanile above the south transept, like a little dovecot. The red of the building is very vivid set against the green hillside.

The interior is covered with gesso relief work, known colloquially as 'glorified wallpaper'. You have everything from winged messengers to archangels and the art noveau Trees of Life, the whole walls are covered with an unbelievable richness of colour, predominantly gold and silver. It's very extravagant and every detail delights the eye.

One feels a tremendous sense of peace there associated with English country churchyards but the beauty of the chapel comes as an amazing surprise.

David Rolfe is a director with Rolfe Judd Architects, London SW8

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