The story is gloriously told in this card from the period that Wilton’s served as a Methodist mission. The Old Mahogany Bar, despite the deceptive title, offered more wholesome activities and provided a place of worship. Much as the raucous music hall of old, it acted as a community space organising events and activities for the local population. Aware that many in the area did not attend the religious services Pastor Ernest C. Willis prepared a programme of social activities in an attempt to ‘bridge the gap’.
Pastor Willis proudly wrote: ‘Whatever might be said of its first thirty years…the hall has now, for over 60 years been indeed a shrine of gentle music, purest mirth, and from which many have experience that quality of sympathy which is divine’. The deteriorating building was vacated by the East End Mission in 1956. It is perhaps surprising considering the above that the church became one of the leading voices, calling for the restoration of Wilton’s as a music hall in the 1970s.
Canon Peter Delaney was vicar at All Hallows by the Tower, one of the oldest churches in London. He strongly campaigned on behalf of Wilton’s and sat on the steering committee guiding the restoration plans of the era. The plans called for the restored Wilton’s to act as a National Centre for Variety Entertainment. So enthusiastic was he for the return of variety entertainment that he organised a gala dinner at the Café Royal in August 1979 hosted by Liza Minelli.
The concerns of the dangers of such spectacle seem to have passed with time but the desire that Wilton’s play an active part in the community remain. '[Canon Delaney’s] anxiety for the music hall to benefit the local area was shared by other members of the Committee’ (Wilton’s Grand Music Hall, Minutes of Initial Steering Committee Meeting; 20 June 1978). The church offered office space to the Wilton’s team as the buildings themselves were in too bad a state of repair and All Hallows played host to the Alberni String Quartet as part of the fund raising efforts.
Today Wilton’s has a thriving learning and outreach programme and an eclectic programme that caters to all audiences. And the former Old Mahogany Bar is once again a bar!