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Wilton’s Music Hall: The City’s Hidden Stage

Wilton’s Music Hall: The City’s Hidden Stage

Wilton’s is the oldest surviving Grand Music Hall in the world and belongs to the first generation of public house music halls that appeared in London during the 1850s which, only fifty years later had all but disappeared.

Located in Graces Alley between Cable Street and The Highway, Wilton’s is about a 10 minute walk from Wapping [...view map]

The City’s Hidden Stage

Originally 5 terraced houses, John Wilton opened Wilton’s Music Hall in 1858. Since then it has been home to the missionaries, survived two world wars, been a rag warehouse and unfortunately become derelict.

Wikipedia gives more information on the history of this unique building which is literally is on our doorstep here in Wapping.

Wilton’s Music Hall: What’s On

Up to date listings and times can be found on the Wilton’s website www.wiltons.org.uk/#Listings

The Music Hall itself is only open when shows and tours are scheduled so check the schedule but the bar is open every Monday to Friday from 5pm – 11pm. There are a great variety of performances and it’s worth pointing out free Monday Night Music is every Monday in the bar from 8pm. No booking needed.

Residents Review of Wilton’s Music Hall

Wapping residents David and Nicole have kindly agreed to let us reproduce a review of Wiltons taken from their blog, The Critical Couple. Here’s what they had to say:

Unexpected finds can often provide as much (or more) pleasure than life’s big set pieces. The discovery that Wilton’s Music Hall, the oldest surviving grand Music Hall in the world is on our doorstep (and that it has a liquor licence) has today given us great joy.

Wilton's Music HallThis place is just amazing and steeped in history as you might expect. The music hall was built in the back yard of five terrace houses that date from 1720. A pub from 1828 (Prince of Denmark), The Music Hall itself dates from 1859 when top acts from Covent Garden would run across town to perform on John Wilton’s stage in a hall that would hold up to 1,500 people. It wasn’t a music hall for long and variously became a Mission, a safe house for East Enders protesting against Mosley and Fascism at the 1936 Battle of Cable Street and a shelter during World War II for those made homeless by the Blitz bombing. Saved from demolition in the 1960s by Sir John Betjemen, the hall once again sees live entertainment performed in a truly original setting.

The Music Hall itself feels alive with the history and totally original only missing perhaps the original ‘sun burner’ chandelier of 300 gas gets and 27,000 cut crystals that has now gone but which must have been a sight in its day. On stage meanwhile, George Leybourne known as Champagne Charlie performed, dressed in top hat and tails, gloves, cane and scarf waving a bottle of vintage Moet & Chandon, swigging from the bottle as he sang. Here too it is reputed that the first ever can-can was performed in London.  Roll forward and Hollywood’s in town as the Music Hall plays host to Robert Downey Jr’s Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream.

Don’t expect though to find the place pristine – it reminded me of Cuba’s Havana: beautiful decay. Sadly this has been a much neglected building but in part, here lies the charm. The layers of history are seen in the peeling paint work and the original but historically neglected ornamentation. If most theatres invite you to ‘think when we talk of horses that you see them’, Wilton’s, through its being, turns this on its head and invites you to think of the performers and the crowds; here the story is the Hall, everything else is secondary.

Wilton's Music HallThe staff are friendly and the bar cosy. The cider was cloudy and cold (yum), they have a bottle of Macallan 10yr on the shelf and there are complimentary nibbles of ham and soft cheese spread on sliced baguette. There’s a jug of water and cups on the bar too which is an unusual and nice touch. Meanwhile, no two pieces of furniture in the bar match. These are some of the many reasons to love the place. On our first visit, we signed up to become ‘friends of Wilton’s’ for this is a beautiful place and should be enjoyed by not just us but generations to come.

While in 2007 the building was placed on the World Monuments Fund ‘100 most endangered sites’, things are improving and the Hall is slowly on the way to recovery as the Wilton’s Music Hall Trust move towards their fund raising target and the necessary repairs to restore this gem to a more enduring condition. Two things then that each of us needs to do: first, go there, it’s good for the soul and really has a wow factor for this is truly a hidden gem. Second, spend some money, have a drink and know that the ‘margin’ is keeping the place alive; perhaps even take in one of their shows, concerts or other events (they have live music in the bar every Monday).

In the world of the generic, this is truly a one off and a complete find. We’re delighted to call ourselves Wilton’s Music Hall’s newest friends. We hope to see you there.

Read more from David & Nicole’s blog www.thecriticalcouple.com

Wilton’s Music Hall and latest listings www.wiltons.org.uk

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  • Ash

    Thanks so much for sharing this as we’d only vaguely heard of it and didn’t realise it was so close. Just stopped off for a quick drink last week and a look around but definitely something worth exploring more and a great one to take visitors. The staff are really friendly and the place has a lovely warm feel to it so looking forward to spending more time there and going to some of the performances.