Walking in Surrey

November 9, 2015

It has been noted by a friend of ours that most of my recent posts – and I use the term recent in the loosest of senses – have been about graveyards. So you probably won’t be surprised to learn that our recent excursion into Surrey saw us visiting two nice country cemeteries as well. In our defence, it ought to be noted that at least the first of these visits wasn’t actually planned: The plan was simply to take the train to Guildford and then walk to the nearby village of Compton to visit the Watts Gallery and the Watts Mortuary Chapel. The thing is, in order to get from Guildford station to the edge of town, our walking guide book suggested a route that steers clear of busy roads and leads through back-streets and footpaths instead. As it happened, one of these paths was right through Mount Cemetery.

Not that we minded, of course. It really is a beautiful old cemetery with a nice Victorian chapel, and the colours of its autumn trees added to the atmosphere while squirrels were busy gathering their winter supplies. Much to our surprise we found that Mount Cemetery also holds the grave of one Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his nom de plume Lewis Carroll.

On we went, not down the rabbit-hole, but rather past gently sloping hills and meadows and finally through pleasant woodland.

Some of the narrow forest paths were overgrown with branches and brambles and looked like something out of a fairy-tale. It was only fitting then that upon our arrival at Watts Gallery in Compton we found that there was a splendid special exhibition dedicated to Victorian ‘fairy painter’ Richard Dadd, best-known for the amazing The Fairy-Feller’s Master Stroke which was also on display.

Watts Gallery (pictured above) was purpose-built around 1900 (it opened in 1904) to house the works of the painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts who lived nearby with his artist wife Mary Watts. To be honest, we weren’t too impressed with the art of G. F. Watts, but then again, we hadn’t come to Compton to look at his work anyway. What we’d come for was Watts Mortuary Chapel in the nearby cemetery, designed by Mary Watts:

Begun in 1895 and completed in 1904, the chapel’s rich decoration is perhaps best described as a fusion between the Book of Kells and art-nouveau, its symbolist iconography focusing on the hierarchies of the angels.

The terracotta decorations on the outside of the building are a testimony to Mary’s preferred artistic medium, pottery, while the colourful interior has a more painterly aspect to it. Even here, though, the designs are executed in flat relief which lends a unique and fascinating texture to their overall appearance.

In typical arts-and-crafts fashion, Mary Watts paid attention to every last detail of the chapel and its furnishings such as the iron door-grills or the elegantly curved benches both on the inside and on the outside.

And speaking of the outside, the hillside cemetery surrounding the building is every bit as beautiful as the chapel itself, at least at this time of the year when the trees are in their autumn beauty and the ground is strewn with fallen leaves…

The Surrey trees tell me that it is November already, and I realise with amazement that it has been more than a year now since I last visited here, since I last posted a project, and since, in fact, I last allowed myself the time to idle away knitting. But this time, I had [maybe] a good reason:

A year ago, my PhD project was – more or less – abruptly interrupted by an amazing job opportunity at my favourite London museum ever. Privileged as I am, I have spent the last twelve months or so learning about medieval textiles and their history, about needles other than knitting needles, stitching fantastic stories in velvet and gold. I have learnt how to adapt to the challenge of working day to day outside my native language, I have met amazing new people from all over the world, and I have travelled to places I have not been before.

But while I really, really enjoy every bit of this adventure, it also means that the writing up of my dissertation now eats up a lot of my free time, in the mornings and evenings that otherwise, would have been devoted to knitting, reading, writing and other endeavours of the creative mind. I am not complaining at all, don’t get me wrong, but I have to admit that these days, I sometimes miss the balance.

So thank God that over the last months, some of my closest friends and colleagues have embarked on exciting adventures of their own. These have helped me to find my way back to the meditative powers of yarn and needles:

Pattern: Meredith Baby Cardigan by Ruth Maddock
Yarn: Quince & Co Chickadee [colour: Birds Egg]
Needles: 3.25mm
Buttons: Textile Garden
[More project details on Ravelry]

Here in London, my friend [g] gave birth to a lovely little baby girl, for whom I thought this pattern would be the perfect fit. [g] loves playful clothes with feminine details, so I suspected she might like the lovely lace detail around the yoke [which for me, on the other hand, was great fun to knit]. Instead of the pattern’s three buttons, I opted for seven, as I think it is a good option to be able to close the cardigan top to bottom.

Meanwhile, little boy [e] was born in Vienna, and since his mum has a fondness for donkeys of all shapes and sizes, I struck gold when discovering these amazing buttons:

Pattern: Little Coffee Bean Cardigan by Elizabeth Smith
Yarn: Mirasol Yarn Llama Una [colour: 8212]
Needles: 5mm
Buttons: Textile Garden
[More project details on Ravelry]

The goal was to knit a subtle background for the little donkeys. This clean-shaped cardigan does the job, I think. That the yarn is gorgeous fluffy llama-stuff, is a great bonus!

So, back to (slightly) more knitting it is. A winter baby is on its way, and there is something for me on the needles as well. Here’s to autumn and tiny humans for restoring life balance!


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