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…

As many of you will be aware, here in Vienna we’ve had the kind of summer that makes umbrella vendors happy but everyone else miserable. Last week, though, there were two whole days of glorious sunshine, so I decided to seize the opportunity and go for a walk in the park, knowing that the lovely weather wouldn’t last (and, indeed, it didn’t).

Those who know me and/or have been following this blog for a while won’t be surprised to hear that when I say park I really mean cemetery. But as you can see in the photos, Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof [Central Cemetery] really is both and it has long been one of my favourite hangouts.

I dare say that by now I know the cemetery quite well, but it’s actually so large that I still discover new things on almost every visit. For instance, until last week, I’d never really noticed this particular tomb monument, sculpted by one Georg Burgstaller at the beginning of the 20th century:

To be honest, from today’s point of view this monument seems almost absurd, ridiculously Victorian in a way, by appearing to give a practical demonstration of the desired behaviour in a grieving widow. But while the sculpture itself seems terribly dated, I believe the nice art-nouveau lamp next to it holds up pretty well.

Another, perhaps even more fascinating sighting was this:

I knew, of course, that there was a considerable population of deer in the cemetery and on previous occasions I had sometimes caught a glimpse of deer from far away, but this was the first time I saw these fine creatures from such vicinity. I have to add, though, that the above photo was still taken with a zoom lens, so they weren’t actually quite as close as the picture may suggest. And soon enough they trotted off among the tombstones and the undergrowth…