Monthly Archives: April 2019

Watts Chapel at Compton

Visit to the remarkable Watts Chapel at Compton in Surrey. Tucked away around the country there are these unique, idiosyncratic buildings, reflecting the particular tastes or visions of the people who built them, not really fitting in with any architectural or artistic categories (“other”) and surprising you with their prescience or strangeness. So the Watts Chapel takes you aback with its richly decorated interior, ¬†and its Greek / Moorish / Egyptian / Celtic mix of styles. Lots of signs, symbols and mysterious scenes, referencing legend and universal beliefs (nature, the tree of life)… In the centre of the ceiling, God is portrayed as a circle – that’s quite radical. 95% of the characters depicted are women – indeed the architect and designer of the Chapel is Mary Watts, wife of the Victorian painter G.F.Watts. Lots of local villagers and children were involved in making the interior – it’s made of terracotta and a kind of papier-mache; Mary ran evening classes in the village so this must have been a huge project that everyone worked towards. I liked some of the details especially – the sweeping gesture of the angel fishing, the enthusiastic angel shouting “Yay!” accompanied by ringing bells; the amazing red bob haircut of 1896.


PS Straight Outta Compton: Compton in Surrey and the Compton in LA might be quite different…

PPS In the grounds of the big house, where the Watts’s lived and worked – the best loos absolutely ever, like a Finnish cabin, I didn’t want to come out!



Piano radar

On a mission to find all the accessible pianos in Totnes & surrounding areas… There are a lot of them! In the pubs, churches, community centres, not to mention people’s homes. Rumour has it that there’s a room in Dartington full of pianos, harpsichords and other keyboard instruments – I will investigate! Meanwhile in London, extremely happy to sit down at this lovely one again – Airlie’s Steinway upright, it’s very unassuming and a working piano, but it’s a Steinway, really it plays itself… What wonderful things are musical instruments…


Book of rambles

The quote about it not being possible to have an emotional experience at Stonehenge anymore came from a book by Peter Wright called ‘Mendip Rambles’; he’s really saying that whatever conditions of entry there are to big national monuments, the most fun and meaningful places are sometimes those that we stumble across ourselves – odd corners, little clues, curious shapes in the landscape: “deep in the quiet countryside, some insignificant or secretive relic can rock you”. He goes on to say “the loss of any of these places diminishes us, for they [like folk-songs] are our folk-memory”.

Anyway it’s a lovely old-school, completely personal book of walks (pub. Ex Libris Press, 1989), with excellent, funny writing, bubbling with enthusiasm (though not terribly good maps). You get the idea that Mr Wright would be a brilliant walking companion. Here’s an extract:

“…On your left, opposite the white house, is a stile – don’t hesitate – climb over it. Now a steady rise alongside the wood, over a stile, and continue alongside the fence; notice the old boundary of thorn trees – they are what gnarled means! Another stile! Up and ever onwards, keenly observing in the stream-bank how you no longer walk on grey limestone, but crunched-up Old Red Sandstone. Just one more stile, to find yourself on a clear, if muddy, track. Here is where the sheep and the goats separate; the fainthearted or weary may turn right, to totter desultorily towards the two radio masts; those with high-fibre characters will go left, through the wooden gate to march sturdily up the obvious track which leads to the top, the summit of Black Down, the highest point of the Mendips, 325 metres; 1068 feet.

The triangulation column is set on a tumulus, the only green one among many heather-clad, I wonder why? If the number on the column is not S1516, you’re somewhere else. Don’t panic, just take the opportunity to think of eight gramophone records… Oh look, there’s Chew Valley Lake, and the Quantocks, the Pen Hill mast – grand views from here. There is heather, and I have seen grouse here…”

What fun!