Popular Music Hall star Champagne Charlie
used to frequent Wilton's in it's heyday.
Spike Milligan began an archeological dig under the stage in the 70s.
"This is the most important surviving early music hall to be seen anywhere......It is of outstanding architectural and archaeological significance" The Theatres Trust
Wilton’s produces imaginative, distinctive work that combines all art forms and spotlights new talent. Situated at the heart of the historic East End within easy walking distance from The Tower of London, the River and the City, it is a focus for theatrical and East End history, as well as a living theatre, concert hall, public bar and events venue.
From Ale House to Concert Room (1743-1843)
Wilton’s is a unique building comprising a mid-19th Century grand music hall attached to an 18th Century terrace of three houses and a pub. Originally an alehouse dating from 1743 or earlier, it may well have served the Scandanavian sea captains and wealthy merchants who lived in neighbouring Wellclose Square. From c.1826, it was also known as The Mahogany Bar, reputedly because the landlord was the first to install a mahogany bar and fittings in his pub. In 1839 a concert room was built behind the pub and in 1843 it was licensed for a short time as The Albion Saloon, a saloon theatre, legally permitted to put on full-length plays.
The Concert Room Becomes the Music Hall (1850-1880)
John Wilton bought the business in c.1850, enlarged the concert room three years later, and replaced it with his ‘Magnificent New Music Hall’ in 1859. He furnished the hall with mirrors, chandeliers and decorative paintwork, and installed the finest heating, lighting and ventilation systems of the day. Madrigals, glees and excerpts from opera were at first the most important part of the entertainment, along with the latest attractions from west end and provincial halls, circus, ballet and fairground. In the thirty years Wilton’s was a music hall, many of the best remembered acts of early popular entertainment performed here, from George Ware who wrote ‘The Boy I love is up in the Gallery’ to Arthur Lloyd and George Leybourne (Champagne Charlie) two of the first music hall stars to perform for royalty.
Methodism’s Finest Hall (1888-1956)
Towards the end of the 19th Century the East End had become notorious for extreme
poverty and terrible living conditions. Religious organisations tried to help. In 1888
Wilton’s was bought by the East London Methodist Mission, renamed The
Mahogany Bar Mission and for some time considered ‘Methodism’s finest hall’.
During the Great Dock Strike of 1889, a soup kitchen was set up at The Mahogany
Bar feeding a thousand meals a day to the starving dockers’ families. The Mission
remained open for nearly 70 years, through some of the most testing periods in East
End history including the 1936 Mosley March and the London blitz. Throughout
that time the Methodists campaigned against social abuses, welcomed people of all
creeds and ethnicity, and gave invaluable support to the local community,
particularly the needy children of the area.
Wilton’s for the future
Wilton’s survived the slum clearance schemes of the 1960s and was grade 2*
listed in 1971. It reopened as a theatre and concert hall in 1997. In 2012 thanks to
the generosity of SITA Trust, Phase 1 of Wilton’s Capital Project will begin.
Wilton’s is still seeking 2.1 million pounds to complete phases two and three of
its project to secure the fabric of the building for future generations.
To find out more about the history of Wilton's Music Hall come to one of our
regular guided tours: see the What's On section above or call the Box Office
on 0207 702 2789 for upcoming dates.
There are lots of ways to support Wilton's. You can become a friend, be a patron,
donate online (no amount is too small) or just come along to our shows and our
bar and have a drink for charity! For more information see Support Wilton's.