What you need to know about Wilton’s Music Hall:
Wilton’s Music Hall is the oldest surviving grand music hall in the world. This make it one of London’s most unique venues – a thriving mixture of modern programming and lovingly preserved history. Their current programme includes drama, musicals and opera, pantomime, cabaret, family shows and concerts. The gorgeous Grade II* listed building also includes two bar spaces open to both ticket holders and the general public.
Along with performances, Wilton’s Music Hall also works with local schools and other community groups. Projects in the past have focused on the venue as an historic resource, or as a place for participating in the arts and performance.
The venue dates back to the 1690s. It was originally a series of houses, including an alehouse known as the Mahogany Bar (commemorated in the current name of the bar). In 1839 a concert hall was built behind the pub and its long history as a place for performance began. The music hall takes its name from John Wilton, who purchased the business in the 1850s. He later combined the original houses and, crucially, replaced the concert hall with a glorious music hall. The hall was lavishly decorated and – for the time – technologically advanced with high quality lighting, heating and ventilation. Wilton departed for the West End in 1868, but the period marked the heyday of the music hall. A serious fire in 1877 notwithstanding, Wilton’s was a thriving music hall used by the biggest names in the business. It stayed open until 1881.
After closing as a music hall, the venue had many different purposes. The Methodists bought the building and used it for social outreach, such as providing food to starving families and help during the Blitz. The religious group continued to own and use the building until 1956. It was then used as a rag-sorting warehouse and was due – with the rest of the street – for demolition in the early 1960s until a campaign was launched to save it. John Earl, the British Music Hall Society and the poet John Betjeman were all behind the campaign.
A significant moment was reached in 1971 when the building became Grade II* listed. From 1997 onwards, it was gradually used for more performances, but it wasn’t until 2004 when The Wilton’s Music Hall Trust was formed that the modern phase of the building’s life was really set in motion. Since then, a huge amount of work has been done to secure the building architecturally and structurally, but also to make it a popular arts venue once more. Work has been carried out to the auditorium and the adjoining houses. In 2015, the building was declared ‘structurally sound’ for the first time in over 50 years.
Wilton’s Music Hall’s significant regeneration work has not gone unnoticed. The iconic space has won multiple awards including the RIBA 2016 National Award, the RIBA London Award 2016, RIBA London Conservation Award 2016 and RIBA London Building of the Year 2016.
You don’t have to be a history boffin to appreciate that Wilton’s is a beautiful theatre in which to watch a performance. Worth saving? We certainly think so.
Top facts about Wilton’s Music Hall:
- In 2017, Wilton’s Music Hall became only the sixth London theatre to make its entire archive free online via Google’s digital archives. The resource includes historic plans and drawings, plus the opportunity for viewers to see normally hidden parts of the venue.
- Wilton’s holds heritage events including history tours on a regular basis. Tours include a visit to the John Wilton Room, a permanent collection detailing Wilton’s fascinating history.
- Films and music videos shot at Wilton’s Music Hall include Karel Reisz’s Isadora, Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin, Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax and Annie Lennox’s No More I Love You’s.
- In 1997, the venue housed a highly memorable performance of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land by Fiona Shaw. The dilapidated but still standing hall formed the perfect backdrop for a reading of the atmospheric poem.
Key information about Wilton’s Music Hall:
Tube: The closest tube station is Tower Hill (District and Circle lines), which is just over 10 minutes walk to the venue. Alternately use Shadwell (London Overground and DLR), which is approximately 13 minutes walk to the venue or Aldgate East (District and Hammersmith & City lines), which is also approximately 10 minutes walk.
Parking: The closest car park is on the corner of Mansell Street and Shorter Street.
Wilton’s Music Hall is completely wheelchair accessible on the ground floor level, which includes access to the auditorium.
The first and second floors are accessible via a lift, but the venue advises that since it is a very old building, many parts can still be difficult to get into as they are on slightly different levels to each other.
You will find accessible toilets on the ground floor, next to the ladies’ toilet.
To discuss all access requirements and to book tickets, please contact the box office on 020 7702 2789 or email [email protected].
Food is available at Wilton’s courtesy of The Gatherers, serving 5pm – 9pm Tuesday – Saturday. Typical dishes include salads, sandwiches and traditional British puddings. On Thursdays they provide a pizza menu that includes a drinks offer.
If you’re looking for something to drink, Wilton’s has two stylish bars. The Mahogany Bar is located in an historic building that has been serving beer to the thirsty London public for hundreds of years. At one point it was decked out in mahogany with plush fixtures and fittings (hence the name), nowadays it’s a little more vintage chic with a penchant for locally sourced beers and other beverages.
As an alternative, try Wilton’s Cocktail Bar. This one does what it says on the tin, providing a bespoke menu of classic and seasonal cocktails. Wilton’s first created the bar for a 2012 production of The Great Gatsby, but it was such a good idea they kept it permanently and even extended the space that it fills.