2014 - Watts Gallery & Loseley Park

The Watts Gallery (Photo: Nick Withers)

June 2014: Watts Gallery & Loseley Park

Members and friends of the Oxted & District History Society enjoyed glorious weather for their summer outing to the Watts Gallery at Compton, a village just south of Guildford and nearby Loseley Park, organised by Kath McCarthy.

The Watts Gallery contains many paintings by G.F. Watts (1817-1904), who by the 1880s was considered the greatest painter of the Victorian Age. After coffee and biscuits, the History Society visitors enjoyed a guided tour of the Gallery, opened shortly before Watts’ death in 1904. It contains many of his greatest paintings and sculptures by his wife, Mary, herself a significant artistic figure.

After a major restoration project, the Gallery reopened in 2011 and visitors can now experience the Watts Collection at the Gallery, now restored to the original decorative scheme. Over 100 works by G.F. Watts are on permanent display, covering the period when he painted them from the late 1830s until shortly before his death in 1904. Besides portraits, landscapes and sculptures there are large allegorical paintings, some of them controversial at the time they were painted. There is currently an exhibition of Watts’ greatest paintings of Ellen Terry, the actress, whom he married in 1864 when she was 18 but they were together for less than a year. This exhibition is open at the Gallery until 9 November. The History Society visitors were also able to visit the nearby beautiful Arts & Crafts Watts Chapel. Although Watts’ popularity quickly declined after his death, with the advent of the various artistic movements of the 20th Century, he remains significant as a great Victorian painter.

The party then proceeded to nearby Loseley Park, the home of the More-Molyneux family since 1508. The original medieval manor house was not grand enough for Elizabeth I and her court to visit, so the present Loseley House was built in the 1560s. This was significantly larger and able to accommodate Elizabeth I and her court on her two subsequent visits. After an enjoyable lunch, our group enjoyed a guided tour of Loseley House, still lived in by the More-Molyneux family. The house has a homely feel as the rooms open to visitors are reoccupied by the family during the winter, evidenced by recent portraits and photographs. The Great Hall contains painted panels transferred from Nonsuch Palace and there are several other reception rooms with paintings, furniture and an original fireplace made from hard chalk. The bedrooms visited included those used by Elizabeth I and James I when they came to stay.

Loseley Park is set in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It extends to 1400 acres and there are large areas of lawn in front of the house which compliment its grandeur. The estate is much used for weddings and other social events and there was a wedding party there when we visited. The formal gardens with walls and hedges are divided up into the Rose Garden, with 1000 rose bushes, the Flower Garden, the Herb Garden, with a wide variety of herbs next to the Estate greenhouses, the White Garden, in which all the plants and shrubs have white blooms and the Vegetable and Cut Flower Garden. These are very impressive and well worth a visit. The garden tour was led by the Head Gardener, who has transformed the gardens since his arrival 20 years ago

Photos: Nick Wither & Peter Shipley