The awards tally continues to grow; Wilton's recently won a NLA Award in the Conservation & Retrofit category
In contrast to our recent restoration we previously looked at the first, failed scheme. Following the initial planning a dispute arose between the Trust for the Restoration of Wilton's and the GLC who still owned the building. Whilst the Trust expected the lease to be granted to allow for restoration the GLC considered other proposals and it was announced, though it is not clear whether a decision had been officially made, to grant the lease to the Half Moon Theatre Company. The Trust deemed the Company to be too 'political' and the dispute caused friction between the GLC but also within the Trust.
By 1978 a new Trust, the London Music Hall Protection Society had formed and with new management came new ideas, and a new plan for restoration.
The ideas drawn up in the second scheme were smaller in physical scale, restricted to the existing buildings on the Wilton's site, but far more dramatic in terms of the interventions planned for the structures. A controversial move proposed and sketched was altering the proscenium arch and stage itself to give an impression of old time music hall, but one not accurate to the history of Wilton's. As with most schemes 17 Wellclose Square holds the support functions for the site. Catering is still central to the restoration of the Graces Alley buildings with a proposed restaurant in a similar position to our current cocktail bar. The major is difference is an extension of the current building up to the music hall boundary, which would be 'pierced' to allow direct access from the auditorium.
The entire balcony of Wilton's would be given over to catering, with booths and tables installed in an inversion of the Victorian music hall, where tables were available on the ground floor; the balcony provided seating for sailors and 'single ladies'. Wilton's today is a flexible space and can incorporate live performance as well as catered events, such as weddings. The permanence of the booths suggests the planners were aware that catering would be an important, if not primary source of revenue. The programming proposed is strictly variety, unlike the broader productions we offer today. Ironically by maintaining Wilton's exclusively as a music hall required a greater alteration of the actual Wilton's Music Hall!
The idea of replacing the most iconic design element, and the only original feature of the first music hall before the fire, is astounding today. Construction and conservation techniques have progressed substantially. Unfortunately at the time the buildings were already in a poor state of repair and the decade delay in beginning structural works had increased the underlying problems. Despite being listed in 1971 the plan proposed 'the top story of the buildings in Graces Alley would need to be removed and the whole of these very dilapidated structures roofed in up to the flank wall of the hall itself.' The result would substantially alter the exterior appearance of Wilton's. The solution was to construct a replacement wall to hold a colossal sign for Wilton's Music Hall, shortly after it was decided the name, and sign, would become 'Wilton's Grand Music Hall'. As these spaces are the area which contains both the archive storage and my desk, I am grateful that demolition did not begin.
Work on this scheme did actually commence in the early 1980s, with essential repairs to the hall roof and piecemeal projects when sufficient funds were raised. It is probably the restoration guideline used for the longest period until the current restoration, and the one with the most coordinated and integrated plans for artistic programming and very public campaigning.