Entertaining the East through the ages

Wilton’s Music Hall

Within walking distance of the Loom, is Wilton Place: The oldest music hall in the world. Wiltons first opened its doors to the throng of the masses in 1858. Today, it stands in all its former glory after a long restoration campaign and lengthy fight to save it from demolition.

Built on a site that dates to the 1690’s Wiltons started life as 5 separate houses, 1-4 Graces Alley and number 19 Wellclose Square. Number 1 Grace Alley, stood as an alehouse, serving alcohol from as early as 1700, to the wealthy Seaman and merchants of the area. During 1826 the alehouse reopened as ‘The Mahogany Bar’ thought to be the first of its kind to be furnished with the wood. 

John Wilton purchased the site of all 5 houses only to combine them and refit with the finest decoration of the time, including chandeliers, extensive paintwork and decorative elements. Eventually selling up in 1868, Wiltons remained as a Music Hall for 30 years until being damaged by a fire.  It was then rebuilt only to be bought by The East London Methodist Mission in 1888. Wilton’s remained in the possession of the Mission for 70 years, and in that time was utilised for the continued development of the area, offering sanctuary to its many residents, including acting as a safehouse during the Battle of Cable Street in 1936.

After the Blitz and the damage caused, the local authority aimed to demolish the area entirely to allow for regeneration but Wiltons, still standing and beloved by many, was to be saved by the many faithful visitors from the years of its tenure. John Betjeman headed a campaign with comedian Spike Milligan also bringing awareness to its plight. Eventually patronised by King Charles in 1970, Wiltons began its long road to the Hall it is today. 

During the 70’s and 80’s, although derelict, its charm brought musicians and performers back to its stage with several high profile musicians choosing to use the space to film. Among them were the infamous ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood’ that was banned by the BBC and Annie Lennox’s huge hit, ‘No More I Love You’s’.

As the Hall remained damaged and in dire need of restoration, another lengthy process began to raise funds, which eventually led to the 2012 restoration project. The successful remodel restored features long lost and was kept as close to the original 1858 building as possible. The work won several awards from the Royal Institute of British Architects and is a site to behold.

When entering the building today, one gets the sense of the history, the atmosphere drips from the decorative balconies where the dockers and ‘single women’ once sang to the foreground where the well-to-do gents doffed their caps to the performers. 

If you’re looking for an original evening of eclectic performance,  in a building that’s steeped with history, Wilton’s is the place.

Why not sip an ale after work, where eclectic performers take the stage and over a 100 years of history beams from every corner. Oh and don’t forget to ask the staff about the mystery staircases that lead to nowhere!

Image credits:

Box office and staircase at entrance of wilton’s music hall – (c) Wiltonsfan, via Wikimedia CC

Wilton’s Music Hall in Grace’s Alley, London Borough of Tower Hamlets © K. Thompson, , via Wikimedia CC

Dan Auerbach, guitarist of the Black Keys plays the Mojo club night at Wilton’s Music Hall, East London – – (c) Simon Fernandez, via Wikimedia CC

Nate Ruess, Wilton’s Music Hall, London  – (c) Drew de F Fawkes, via Wikimedia CC.

Helen Masters plays Lady Magdalene Danvers in ‘Into Thy Hands’ at Wilton’s Music Hall in 2011. – (c) Conrad Gibbons, via Wikimedia CC.