Watts Gallery's Perdita Hunt on her perfect Surrey weekend

As director of Watts Gallery in Compton, which is currently undergoing a multi-million pound restoration and set to reopen next year, Perdita Hunt has plenty on her palette. When she does get a moment to herself, however, she can often be found swimming lengths at Charterhouse (she recently swam the Solent), chasing chickens in the garden or enjoying a glass of fine wine at The Squirrel in Hurtmore

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2010


I know the weekend has started when the curator pops his head in to my office (the former clay store for Mary Watts’ pottery studio and part of Watts’ house and studio in Compton, where we are currently residing during the restoration of the gallery itself) and says: “I think I have had enough of Mr Watts and all his works for one week.” Then Marmalade, the gallery cat and anti-pestilence policy, comes in for one last stroke, and off I go home.

I am usually lucky enough to find my husband, who is a master at Charterhouse, already there, so then we plan our evening. Recently, I spent a lot of time training to swim the Solent in aid of the Watts Gallery appeal, so we often visited the Charterhouse Sports Club to get in a few lengths. Usually, though, depending on how energetic we feel, a drink at The Squirrel in Hurtmore is high on the list. We love going there because my husband, who is French, can actually choose a good wine, and in summer we can watch the hot air balloons leaving, which is really dramatic. Sometimes, we bump in to friends who have walked their dog there, or a few of our sons’ teachers from their previous school, Aldro near Godalming, will be engrossed in the crossword. Even some of the waitresses are known to us as they might be ex-Charterhouse students.

Chasing chickens Saturday is a chance to catch up on sleep, if my younger son doesn’t wake me because he can’t find some part of his sports kit. The three chickens that we own have to wait rather a long time for their food and water on a Saturday, but there is no better start to a weekend than a warm egg fresh from Daphne, the most fruitful hen! If my daughter is staying with us for the weekend, a must is a visit to the charity shops in Godalming. There is always a good find to be had. 

Saturday afternoons are taken up with watching my son play football or cricket, and Saturday evening will either be supper at Prezzo in Godalming, where we really like the architecture of the old building, or a takeaway from the excellent Indian, watching one of our Love Films deliveries!

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Sunday is an opportunity either to go for a run round the grounds at Charterhouse, or take a favourite walk from The Withies Inn to Watts Gallery in Compton. I feel so lucky to be working on a project to bring life back to such a magical and special place. It was founded on such a philanthropic and powerful vision of offering art for all to the rural community.

I was introduced to the Watts Chapel by a friend when our children were young, and as the shadows lengthened at the end of a hot summer’s day, our children ran up and down the cobbled path and the chapel burned deep red in the sinking rays of the sun. I have never forgotten that experience. 

The chapel, the gallery, the pottery and now the artist’s house and studio, make Compton a very special place.

A wonderful way to end our Sunday is to attend evensong at Guildford Cathedral. Coming out from the service in the summer to see the sun setting, and the red brick of the cathedral (where I bought a brick when I was six) glowing in the warmth of the light, or the lights of the town on a cold November evening, is really uplifting and inspiring for the week ahead. 

It is interesting to hear people say that Guildford Cathedral is one of the last Arts & Crafts buildings when the Watts Cemetery Chapel was probably one of the first. Both play a powerful role in the community that is in keeping with Watts’ commitment to art for all.

Find out more about Perdita’s swim across the Solent, the gallery’s restoration and how to be come a friend of Watts Gallery at www.wattsgallery.org.uk

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