Afterlife idyll. Following a rainbow north through Surrey to Watts Memorial Chapel

Words & pictures by Rufus Knight-Webb

Returning to London, following a rainbow to the north. I stopped at Watts memorial chapel in Surrey, a truly romantic Fin de Siecle, Art Nouveau building. Built as a shrine to the Victorian artist George Frederick Watts and designed by his wife Mary a brilliant designer, creator of ceramics and portrait painter. Always a magical spot, I have stopped here many times over the past 30 years, often when the evening light is inviting. On this journey a vivid rainbow appeared as I drove over the Hogs Back and drew me off course toward Compton and Watts Chapel.

The chapel with its arrangement of trees, headstones, mausoleum and curved cobbled paths is an expression of deep love or deep friendship. Perhaps only love could have inspired a memorial with such a romantic vision as this sculptural landscape of the afterlife. In this sense the chapel is a miniature Taj Mahal. Many of the graves are beautifully designed in bas relief ceramic form by Mary, and I wondered whether the graves inhabitants could actually afford these elaborate headstones, or whether they were subsidised in order to complete Mary’s vision. Aldous Huxley is buried here under quite a plain 1960’s grave, along with his final injection of LSD (an intriguing deathbed request, administered by his wife).