Posts Tagged ‘Surrey Hills’

I sat, listening with what I hoped was an interested expression, to one of my (on the Spectrum) students as he earnestly explained, in the utmost detail, the intricacies of his Pokémon Go game. This downloadable App swept our nation (and most likely the entire planet) at the start of the summer and is the sole reason that more children than ever were walking around during the holidays with their eyes fixed firmly to the screens of their mobile phones, obsessively collecting virtual cartoon characters. I suppose it at least got them outside in the fresh air and with any luck gave them some insight in to map co-ordinates – but I’m not holding out much hope on the latter. Frankly I just don’t see the attraction of these crudely drawn fantasy figures with their over large eyes, flat colours and lack of detail. I was about to say it’s probably an age thing but our local TV news ran a feature on a man – yes, people, an ADULT, who apparently was the first reported person to have finished the game and was offering help to others for a FEE. How low can one stoop.

As my student launched into a second phase of enthusiastic explanation, the like of which he never displays in any lessons, I felt myself glazing over and for the first time in my life was thankful to hear the bell ring indicating the start of maths. Then, as I sat trying to absorb what my teaching colleague was saying about simplifying expressions so that I’d stand half a chance if any of the students asked me for extra help, I realised that I could have been guilty of a similar useless obsession during my own summer holidays.

It began last term when a friend arrived at work one morning waving her phone at me and asking whether I’d seen the life-size blue cow at the traffic lights.

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She’d managed to snap it while waiting for the green light to prove that she wasn’t going mad. A few neural cogs chugged around and I vaguely remembered my niece (the arty one), mentioning something about a Cow Parade.

So, on further investigation (OK, I Googled it: isn’t that what we all do these days?), I discovered that The Cow Parade reckons it’s the world’s largest public art event, providing artists and chosen charities a chance to benefit from the scheme. Anyone can sponsor a cow – from individuals, to schools to local businesses or multi million pound companies. Each cow is painted – either by an amateur or an established artist and then auctioned to raise money. There have been Cow Parades in different cities across the world since 1999 and over £2.5 million raised for worthy causes. This year the Cow Parade was coming to the Surrey Hills.

From this point on, my friend – I shall refer to her as WF1 (Work Friend 1) and I were on a mission. To see how many cows we could find over the summer, either by ourselves or by meeting up for a walk which would invariably end in a tea shop and doing a bit of cow-spotting on the way.

We started off enthusiastically enough.

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Here’s one looking nicely out of place at the top of Guildford High Street while this mother and calf greet shoppers at the entrance to the Friary Shopping Centre.

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WF1 was better at it than me and would arrive in the staff room with reports of yet another sighting. We met up for a walk across beautiful countryside ending at the Watts Gallery where a couple of painted cows were grazing, one of which had allegedly been decorated by Sir Peter Blake, designer of the Beatles iconic Sergeant Pepper album cover.

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I think what had really happened here was that he’d allowed his signature to be used. I refuse to believe that one of our foremost pop artists would have been content with simple colour blocking when we could have had something fantastical. And those awful plinths! Whoever attached these sculptures to their bases certainly wasn’t over flowing in the imagination department, were they? A little green paint may have helped, or even a yard or two of Astroturf, which to be fair, I did spot a few days later as I spied a cow in the middle of a round-a-bout outside one of Guildford’s Park and Ride facilities.

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But by this time, WF1 and I were becoming a bit bored by the whole thing. Once you’ve seen one painted cow, you’ve seen them all. I was much more taken with this wooden sculpture which I discovered near the Park and Ride when I stopped to photograph the one on the round-a-bout. Although I must have passed it hundreds of times in the car, the  view was always obscured  by a hedge.

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Called ‘Farm Talk,’ the farmer and his bull were sculpted by Jo Wood in 2004 as part of the Wey Valley Rural Art Project.

The Cow Parade cows are due to be auctioned off on Thursday 20th October at a grand bash at Sandown Park. Tickets are from £10 (standing) or £65 for a three course dinner. It’ll be interesting to see how much these vibrant bovines fetch…and even more interesting – what do you actually do with one, once you’ve bought it?

 

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The Easter break has arrived, the work-related course is finished, my completed portfolio with every T crossed and every I dotted is winging its way to be moderated.  The pressure of homework has lifted and I’m feeling a little sense of freedom, unlike my students who should be furiously revising for their forthcoming exams. Time to roam with camera in hand and appreciate some local sites while the sun’s out and the wind is blowing.

Rather than use the busy A3 road when I drive to Guildford, I take a shorter, more rural route which was probably the old original way, weaving as it does from the village of Compton up to the Hogs Back. It’s called Down Lane but as I’m approaching it from the bottom end, so to speak, I always go up Down Lane which never fails to amuse me. I’m easily pleased.

However, there is something rather special about Down Lane. A local treasure nestles here amongst the Surrey Hills, surrounded by fields and partially hidden by high hedges. I drive by frequently, have visited several times and marvelled but I’ve never taken pictures until now. This place should be shared, after all.

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Built from local red brick and completed in 1904, The Watts Chapel is approached from a lych gate along a twisty, uphill cobblestone path sheltered by giant yew trees. It’s an unusual, almost incongruous building, in a village where so many of the houses date back some five hundred years. Drawing nearer it is apparent that this little chapel is a testament to Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts Movement.

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It was the brainchild of Mary Seton Watts, wife of the Victorian painter George Frederic Watts (more about him later) who designed and decorated the chapel with the help of around seventy eager Compton villagers: a true and very early community art project.

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Detail of brick work on the arch above the oak door

The outside is adorned with intricate stylised brick work, each finished by a local hand, probably an attendee at one of Mary’s Thursday evening pottery classes. The faces on the stone work are all different; the feeling that this was a collaborative effort is reinforced. Either side of the main entrance are two curved stone benches in Art Nouveau style, the mossy patina only enhancing their design.

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But it is inside the small circular chapel where the extent of Mary’s mission can be fully appreciated. I’d defy anyone not to gasp as the full impact of her vision comes into view as light floods in through the tall narrow windows throwing rainbow beams across the heavily decorated walls.

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It is here that Mary has brought together angels of darkness and light, heaven and earth intertwined by the tree of life with its roots at the bottom and the branches curling ever skyward to embrace the angels nearest to heaven.

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The centre of the ceiling with four angels pointing heavenwards

Many of the floral decorations around the mid rail were created by children under Mary’s guidance; her tree was fashioned from chicken wire and covered in plaster then painted in the same vibrant jewel colours that we can see today.

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The altar carries an inscription and dedication from Mary to the people of Compton. Today the chapel is used for funerals – there is a lone bell reserved for such an occasion. The tolling of the iron bell…

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Outside in the cemetery, the chapel is surrounded by gravestones old and new, some of which follow the Arts and Crafts design. George and Mary Watts are buried here, in front of the magnificent Cloisters. A simple gravestone marks the place.

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The Cloisters

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The gravestone of George and Mary Watts. He died in 1904 just as the chapel was completed; Mary died in 1938.

 

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Detail of iron gateway to the Cloisters

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Headstone in typical Art Nouveau style

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Arts and Crafts headstone among spring flowers

 

Mary and George Watts had settled in a house, Limnerslease, just across the hill from the chapel in the early 1880’s. George Watts was already an established Victorian painter so he was able to fund the building of the chapel for the village of Compton by selling commissioned portraits.  He opened his own gallery – The Watts Gallery (as it is known today) – in Down Lane to display his paintings. Mary concentrated on her pottery – she had been a student at the Slade school of Art and was already forging her own style before she met George.

The gallery, which was recently the subject of complete restoration thanks to some lottery funding, is a testament to George’s prolific output as a painter. He was heralded in his lifetime but was never part of any one particular group or movement. His paintings are typical of the period – stern looking portraits, Italianate landscapes and dead animals. Not my particular cup of tea but definitely worth a look.

So, Down Lane is more than just my shortcut into town – it conceals this beautiful legacy to the Arts and Crafts Movement as well as a gallery full of noted Victorian paintings.  Imagine my horror then, the last time I took this route, when confronted with these hideous carvings.

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The residents of Down Lane have clearly let their association with the Watts’ go to their head. These hastily fashioned paintbrushes are, I presume, a nod to George. To me they look more like a left-over from one of those chainsaw competitions where tartan-shirted lumberjacks have to carve something recognisable within thirty seconds. And two more things about this irks me: part of an old hedge has had to be removed to make way for these monstrosities and the ghastly over-sized metal green sign is depicting Down Lane as anything BUT quiet. It looks monumentally busy, with children aimlessly wandering or cycling the middle of the road.

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I‘m just off to make as much noise as possible and drive as recklessly as I can in the designated restriction free zone.

Happy Easter All!

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My week started off badly when, on Monday, I ‘mislaid’ my credit card. In a state of abject panic I phoned the provider and cancelled it straight away only to find the wretched thing a day later. So while I wait for the replacement to arrive I’m without funds. It’s half term – I’ve got a week off – what to do?

Be a tourist in my own town, that’s what. Come and join me for a wander around as I take notice of places we normally rush past.

Guildford is my home town and it just happens to be the county town of Surrey. With a plethora of high street and individual shops, cafés and bars it is usually the ideal place for a spot of retail therapy but there’s more, much more here than just shopping.

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From the car park I favour near the Castle, let’s take this path through the churchyard of the Holy Trinity Church. I love this little square of houses. Through the trees you can just see one of Guildford’s many old pubs – The Royal Oak. The path brings us out at the top of Guildford High Street which is a good place to start. We’ll work our way down the cobbled street towards the river Wey.

First though, I want to show you the Royal Grammar School in the Upper High Street. Dating back to 1509, when one Robert Beckingham, a wealthy local grocer left provision in his will to provide a free school in the town of Guildford, the RGS is now a selective independent (fee paying) school for boys.

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There has been a school on this site since the 1600’s, its status and fortunes changing over the centuries. During the 19th century this beautiful building fell into disrepair whereupon a local committee was established and raised funds to rescue it. In 1962 a fire swept through the building causing widespread damage which took over two years to restore. During this time lessons were continued in the newly built extension, on the site of old Allen House situated behind me on the Upper High Street.

Several years ago now, having applied for a place at RGS, the eleven year old son of a friend of mine was duly called for interview. When asked what luxury item he would take with him to a desert island he replied that he’d like a solar powered games console. He didn’t get in which I always thought was rather short sighted. They obviously thought they were dealing with a lazy little toad and not one of life’s natural problem solvers.

From the grammar school we’ll retrace our steps back to the Holy Trinity Church and gaze from its steps at the building across the cobbled High Street.

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The Hospital of the Blessed Trinity or Abbot’s Hospital as it is better known today was founded in 1619 by George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was never intended as a hospital as such, but as a place of shelter for needy folk in the town. A Jacobean Grade 1  listed building, Abbot’s Hospital continues to provide homes for local elderly people who are able to live independently within a supported environment.

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The twenty flats are situated overlooking this courtyard – a stone’s throw from the lively centre of town. There is a waiting list for those over sixties who can prove they are of limited means.

Continuing our stroll westwards down the High Street, we pass Guildford House Gallery.

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This is now home to the local tourist board where you can pick up lots of brightly coloured leaflets which, if you’re anything like me, get left in the car and forgotten about. However, if you carry on through past the information desk, there is a basement café, a gift shop selling jewellery and ceramics as well as the best range of unusual greetings cards in town while upstairs there is usually an exhibition (either art or local crafts) to have a browse around.

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The High Street is linked to parallel North Street by a series of narrow pathways, like this one. North Street houses Guildford’s public library, more shops and is also the site of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings.

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 The name of this particular alleyway has elicited many a schoolboy snigger over the years.

Here’s a view down the High Street, looking towards the Surrey hills. The old clock, projecting out over the road is 17th century and is fixed to the front of the Guildhall.

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The Guildhall is Elizabethan but stands on a site thought to date back to the 1300’s. Used as a court of law it was where the Mayor would regulate the borough’s commerce. In honour of a visit by Elizabeth I, a stained glass window bearing her coat of arms was inserted above the judge’s bench.

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Both the courtroom and council chamber are open to the public and available to hire for meetings and receptions.

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Well, the clock says it’s time for coffee, so I’m heading down to the Angel Hotel. This old building also dates back to the 1300’s: the stone vaulted under croft and part of a spiral staircase can still be seen today. It’s thought that there were originally two buildings which were amalgamated in the 15th century. Apparently it has always been some sort of hostelry – the Posting House was added in the 19th century to indicate that fresh horses were available for hire.

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The restaurant is on the first floor but I’m slipping down through Angel Gate under the archway to Bill’s coffee shop in the courtyard. I’ll sit here a while with an Americano and try to make sense of my scribbled notes. Let’s take a break here – call this Part One. Once I’m caffeined up we can commence Part Two where we’ll have a look at the oldest building yet as well as one of the newest. See you soon.

* From Disobedience by A A Milne

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