Following the success of the opening of the South London Art Gallery, Passmore Edwards readily agreed to fund the building of a Lecture hall and reading room.He was later to fund an associated Technical Institution.
Born the son of a portmanteau maker, in 1831, William Rossiter advanced his education by attendance at the Workingmen’s College to the extent that he became at teacher at the College. In 1868 the South London Workingmen’s College opened with Rossiter as the manager. This was later extended, in 1878, to include a Free Library, the first in South London and within months Rossiter had borrowed pictures for the library walls where exhibitions were held during the summer months. Over the years the “Gallery” became more prominent and was moved first to Battersea and then to Camberwell, described at the time as the “very heart of the great intellectual desert of South London”.
In 1889 Rossiter bought the freehold of Portland House, an impressive building on Peckham Road, for £2400 in which he was to live and to construct a small gallery in the grounds. The gallery opened in 1891 under difficult financial circumstances. One of the features of the gallery was that it opened on a Sunday, when working men could visit and it was mainly for that reason that, at the first AGM Passmore Edwards offered £3000 to fund a new lecture room and library. Not only was the gallery open on Sundays but it was free to enter and children were not only welcomed but were given free instruction and recreation.
The new building, designed by Maurice Adams was opened on 21 March 1893 by the Prince of Wales, (King Edward VII).