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glazing the windows of an imposing new building of unusual proportions
in what was then Great Surrey Street, later re-named Blackfriars Road.
This building, the Surrey Chapel, was erected for Rowland Hill, the famous
preacher, on a vacant piece of land immediately north of what is now Union
Street but which was then called Charlotte Street. For many years, large
and fashionable congregations were attracted to the chapel by the
impassioned, inspired and eccentric preaching of Rowland Hill.|
From the corner of Charlotte Street, stretching
southwards as far as the next turning, Surrey Row, a block of three-storey
houses had been built six years earlier in 1777. They were known as St.
George's Terrace, the house on the corner opposite to Surrey Chapel, Number
23, being in the occupation of Thomas Noble. He was the first in an unbroken
line of ironmongers who occupied the premises for a hundred and sixty years.
Behind the terrace lay a square of superior houses
in one of which Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet, live for some time. Later,
the square was re-named Nelson Square in honour of the hero of Trafalgar.
At the other end of Charlotte (or Union) Street was the more ancient part
of Southwark where Marshalsea Prison, the rowdy hostelries and public houses
and the rough and tumble of a busy market had reduced what remained of the
residential part of the neighborhood to little more than slums.
Great Surrey Street and it environs had been laid
out spaciously without the handicap of existing buildings and conflicting
freeholds. Until the middle of the eighteenth century, on its site there
had been rural gardens and orchards where merchants, tradesmen and artisans
had brought their wives and families on Sundays for a pleasant walk by the
river. It was a place of recreation popularised by Shakespeare's Bankside
theatre and the old Bear Garden. Access to the other side of the river, to
fashionable Westminster and the City itself, was by ferry-boat or London
The first pile of the new Blackfriars Bridge driven
into the river bed in 1760 was also the first nail in the coffin of the