Palestra House (Transport for London)

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Located on: Blackfriars Road

Walking time from St George’s Circus: 6 minutes

Completed in 2006, Palestra House is a notable commercial building in London’s Blackfriars Road. It’s modern design emphasizes sustainability, featuring energy-efficient systems like solar panels, advanced insulation, and energy-saving lighting.

The building’s name, “Palestra,” is derived from ancient Greek, referring to a public space used for sports and training. This name reflects the building’s modern and dynamic character, fitting into the lively and ever-evolving urban landscape of London.

The building was previously used by the London Development Agency, but is now used by Transport for London (TFL) and Arriva.

The Surrey Chapel

The Surrey Chapel, an independent Methodist and Congregational church, was established on Blackfriars Road in Southwark, London, by Rev. Rowland Hill on 8 June 1783. Its circular design with a domed roof was set initially in open fields, which soon transformed into an industrial area marked by poverty and wealth. The chapel, known for its innovative round shape to prevent the Devil from hiding in corners, also served as a venue for various community and religious activities, including music and charity meetings.

Its founding pastor, Rowland Hill, was a proponent of inoculation and established an effective vaccination board at the chapel. He was initially buried beneath the pulpit and later re-interred at Christ Church, Kennington Road. The chapel’s inclusivity allowed it to host figures from different denominations and became a key venue for the London Missionary Society, dispatching missionaries like Robert Moffat and John Williams.

Over time, the chapel expanded its services, accommodating the growing needs of Southwark’s industrial poor. However, by 1859, the congregation moved to a larger complex in Westminster Bridge Road and Kennington Road, leading to the repurposing of the original Surrey Chapel for various uses, including as a boxing arena known as the Ring. The original building was eventually replaced by the modern office block Palestra, housing the London Development Agency, with Rowland Hill House, a council flat block, named in honour of the chapel’s founder, located opposite.

Rowland Hill

Rowland Hill, an influential English preacher and advocate of smallpox vaccination, founded the Surrey Chapel in Blackfriars Road, London. Opened in 1783, and built using funds from an inheritance through the death of his wealthy father, this independent chapel was not formally part of any denomination, reflecting Hill’s nonconformist stance. He personally preached there to large audiences and supported various benevolent institutions in the area, including early Sunday schools.

The Surrey Chapel played a significant role in the religious and social life of Southwark, London. It attracted preachers from diverse denominations and provided facilities for non-religious meetings, operating under a Congregational form of management. Hill’s successors, James Sherman and Christopher Newman Hall, continued his work, with the chapel’s Sunday school enrollment reaching over 3,000 children by the 1860s.

Hill died in London on 11 April 1833 and was initially buried below the pulpit at Surrey Chapel. His legacy continued through the Religious Tract Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the London Missionary Society, all of which he actively supported. His coffin was eventually moved to the Lincoln Memorial Tower at Westminster Bridge Road. A portrait of Hill, painted in 1828 by Samuel Mountjoy Smith, hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.