English Heritage adds Compton Cemetery to the Register of Parks and Gardens at Grade II*
Mary Watts was an unusual woman for her time: breaking into the male dominated world of Victorian art which was only just opening its doors to female artists. She later became the founder of the nationally renowned and commercially successful Potters' Art Guild. She designed Compton Cemetery close to the home she shared with her husband George Watts, the world famous Victorian painter and sculptor.
Considered innovative and visionary for its time, Mary Watts conceived and laid out the cemetery between 1895 and 1898, with the help of Compton Parish Council and inspiration and financial support from her husband. Today the landscape forms the setting for a nationally significant group of historic Arts and Crafts buildings, including the Watts Gallery, which opened in 1904 and houses a permanent exhibition of George Watts' work. The cemetery was extended in 1950-2.
The cemetery's setting high on a hill with sweeping views across the countryside is an important part of its design. Its focal point is the Grade I listed Watts Memorial Chapel, designed by Mary Watts and built in 1896 with exterior terracotta friezes and moulding by her and volunteers from the village. The original layout survives intact along with the Bargate stone paths, Watts-designed lychgate, and carefully planned planting. There are a number of beautiful Arts and Crafts style buildings in the cemetery including a Grade II listed red brick Italianate cloister, terracotta graves and ornamented well head.
Mary Watts' craftsmanship and artistic ideals were strongly rooted in the traditions of the Arts and Crafts movement, and she was committed to the notion of social improvement through creative endeavour. These ideas flow through Compton Cemetery and Watts Chapel, built by local craftspeople, using local materials: red brick and tiles made in Guildford and Puttenham and ironwork from the Compton blacksmith. The terracotta headstones, kerbstones and crosses were created by artisans of the Potters' Arts Guild, who had been trained by Mary.
The planting and landscaping were carefully planned to enhance Compton's design. It has sombre cedar and yew to evoke mourning and contemplation, and with its meandering pathways and native trees Compton has the air of an ancient churchyard.
Veronica Fiorato, Designation Team Leader at English Heritage said: "We are delighted to add this exceptional site to the Register. It is very unusual to find a holistic group of Arts and Crafts buildings and gravestones of such quality. Compton Cemetery conveys a freedom of spirit and character which spring from its talented creator Mary Watts and the villagers of Compton. It's a very special place."
Fiona Curtis, Chair of Compton Parish Council said: "The term 'hidden gem' was recently used to describe the Chapel and Cemetery and this short description portrays both places rather well. It is wonderful news to hear that the merits of this special place have been recognised by English Heritage. A visitors' book is kept in the Chapel and it is clear to see that the quiet elegant design and serene rather than sombre grounds are appreciated as much today as they were 120 years ago, when Parish Council via the Cemetery Committee, which included Mary Watts, took on responsibility for its upkeep.
"In order to conserve this very special place, rather than simply maintain it, Compton Parish Council have approached Watts Gallery Trustees who intend to lease the Chapel & Cemetery on a long term basis in order that this 'hidden gem' can be appreciated by generations to come, which is what we believe Mary Watts would have wanted."