As dedicated supporters of The Home Arts and Industries Association, set up in the 1880s under the presidency of Earl Brownlow to encourage handicrafts among the working classes, the Chapel was the Watts’ contribution to this characteristically Victorian preoccupation with social improvement through creative enlightenment. Mary Seton Watts (née Fraser Tytler) was born in November 1849 in the family’s home on the shores of Loch Ness. She studied at the South Kensington Art-Training School and at The Slade and received tuition in clay modeling from the French sculptor Aimée-Jules Dalou.
She passionately believed that anyone with a real interest and enthusiasm could be taught how to produce beautiful decoration. If in the process it kept them away from the ‘gin palaces’ of Guildford this was surely a good thing. With this belief firmly in mind she encouraged the entire village, whatever their social status, to come to the house, Limnerlease, for instruction in clay modeling. The clay came from a seam that was discovered in the grounds of their house, apparently not unusual for this area. Taking this as a sign, Mary embarked upon the project with her usual determination.
The first clay modeling class took place at Limnerlease on Thursday 14th November 1895. All were welcome, from the local Lady of the Manor to her farm boys. After a few weeks of learning how to handle clay and modeling simple decorations, they would begin to make clay tiles from the plates Mary Watts had prepared. The Chapel is a unique fusion of Art Nouveau, Celtic, Romanesque and Egyptian influence with Mary’s own original style. It is impossible not to admire the work and inspiration that lies behind this beautiful building.