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a life in architecture - sandi toksvig

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Comedian, broadcaster, writer and traveller Sandi Toksvig names the Watts Chapel at Compton near Guildford, Surrey, as her favourite building. She says: 'It is a wonderful, personal expression of art by one woman and her builder.'

That woman was Mary Watts, wife of the artist George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), and the builder was the villagers of Compton. Mary Watts designed it and worked on the construction herself.

The chapel, built of glowing red brick and terracotta made from local clay, is sited on a hillside near the Pilgrims'Way. On the exterior are a mixture of Italian Romanesque motifs and ornaments derived from Celtic manuscripts.

Inside the chapel, the scheme is decidedly Art Nouveau, with elongated angels and cherubs' heads, and all the decoration executed in gesso (see picture).

The guidebook describes the building as an 'exquisite example' of the marriage between Celtic and Art Nouveau styles. Ian Nairn, who wrote the entry on the chapel for the Surrey volume of the Buildings of England, was not so enthusiastic: 'It is a very startling and effective room, though not a pleasant one because of the intolerable torpor and weariness of the motifs.'

Citing her least favourite building as London's National Theatre, Toksvig singles out for praise that staple of contributors to 'A Life in Architecture'- the Chrysler Building in New York.

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