Stories and announcements

28Jun. 2019.

Announcing The Beautiful Word Campaign

Today we announce our fundraising campaign: The Beautiful Word. On Sunday 15th September we will host a special event to raise funds for the campaign.

The aim of our campaign, led by BAFTA award-winning actor David Suchet C.B.E, is to enhance the acoustics primarily for spoken word and amplified voice, whilst maintaining the current acoustic qualities for classical music and opera. Our Grade II* listed building is home to a year-round programme of exceptional live music as well as diverse and electrifying theatre from around the world. Last year alone we welcomed over 60,000 audience members to see over 320 performances! 

The fundraising event on Sunday 15th September will take the form of an all-star version of the hugely popular London institution OneTrackMinds. The event, itself a wonderful mix of Desert Island DiscsTED Talks and Moth Radio, will see David Suchet and five other fascinating guests share the one song that changed their life. This fusion of music and storytelling is a Wilton’s favourite and will be even more extraordinary with a specially chosen A-list roster. All proceeds from the event will go towards The Beautiful Word campaign. 

David Suchet says ‘Wilton’s is a venue I have known for many years and I adore it – it’s my local! Whilst the acoustics in the Hall are excellent for opera and unamplified music, they are not as good for the spoken word. This has to be addressed and we need everyone’s help to make this historic theatre even more wonderful. To do this, we need to raise at least £750,000 and would encourage everyone to give what they can, however little. I’m very much looking forward to kicking off the campaign in September with our OneTrackMinds event, and hearing some wonderful stories told by the great and the good of the arts world. Together we can celebrate the wonderful history of this East End institution and look towards an even more glorious future’. 
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13Oct. 2016.

The Memory Project

Piecing Together Our History

Pastor James Hanson (known to many as ‘Pop’) was in charge of the Mahogany Bar Mission from 1921 to 1937. Three years ago, his grandson, Chris Hanson, sent us images of photographs from his grandfather's time at the Mission, along with other items from his family collection. It was the picture of Pastor Hanson with children in Graces Alley that prompted Sylvie Richards (nee Georgiades) to write to us, showing once again that Wilton’s history is a story told by many voices. Every memory provides a glimpse of the past and together they bring the past to life. 

Photograph of Pastor James Hanson with children in Graces Alley, reproduced by kind permission of Chris Hanson.

Sylvie wrote ‘My daughter has just emailed me your site. I lived at No.7 Graces Alley prior to the Second World War with my grandparents Alec and Norah Ottolangui and their extended family. I have many happy memories both of life in the Alley, the Mahogany Bar, St Paul’s School and the children who lived and played in Wellclose Square.’ The picture was particularly poignant for Sylvie as it brought back memories of her late cousins, Mary McDonald, the child  third from the left and Mary's sister Shirley, holding Mary's hand. Sylvie thinks that the child on the tricycle in the second picture may have been herself 'I certainly had a little bike and those horrible ankle-strap shoes which I always hated.'

‘My Grandparents and their extended family lived at No. 7 Graces Alley and most of my childhood between the age of four and seven was spent there.  The Mahogany Bar as it was then known was a really important place in the life of myself and my cousins, who also lived at No. 7.  In fact three families lived there, all related, one on each floor.  It was an amazing and lovely childhood, although a bit crowded.  

The Mahogany Bar was a Mission in those days and most Sundays a slide projection show was held which was, of course, religion based and no doubt meant to influence the children attending. Prayers were also included. This would be followed by afternoon tea consisting of jam sandwiches, bread and butter, cakes and soft drinks.  We were also given little goody sweet bags.

My cousins and I were Jewish as were many of the other children but this didn’t stop us going there.  In spite of sometimes being terrified by the slides which included pictures of Jesus on the Cross and God depicted as an old man with white hair and angels and clouds around him, we were definitely not going to miss out on the tea and sweets!

The Mahogany Bar was also used as a social centre with Shows being produced for and by the local community and also what was probably the equivalent of Jumble sales.  To my young eyes, it was all hugely glamorous and a wonderful experience.

The area around Wellclose Square was mainly Jewish and Irish.  Doors were never closed or locked and everyone got on with their neighbours.  Children played together beautifully. The Square was our playground and the lamp-post at the bottom of the Alley (almost outside the Mahogany Bar) was our Maypole.  We used to tie long skipping ropes to the top of the post and swing round it. Wonderful!

St Paul’s School is still there and I attended for a short time before the war.  I last visited the area a few years ago, it has changed dramatically.  But it was great to see the Mahogany Bar re-emerge as the original Wilton’s Music Hall, thanks to all those dedicated people who restored this wonderful old building for a new generation.’

- Sylvie Richards

Do you have a memory or photo of Wilton’s from before 2004 or know someone who does? Maybe you were part of a film shoot or your family grew up in the area. We are collecting stories and would love to hear from you.

Email our Historian, Carole, on memories@wiltons.org.uk.

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13Sep. 2016.

Peter Honri (1929-2016)

Wilton’s is saddened to hear of the passing of Peter Honri. Peter was one of Wilton’s chief campaigners who worked tirelessly to save Wilton’s Music Hall.

Born in 1929, Peter was a natural performer, and in 1951 formed jazz band the High Curley Stompers. An accomplished musician he inherited his grandfather’s talent on the concertina, above pictured with Mary Honri and Roy Hudd. He was the fourth generation of a line of renowned variety performers. His grandfather, Percy Honri, performed with his parents as the Royal Thompson Trio. When appearing in Paris a spelling error of Percy Henry birthed the name ‘Honri’ which stuck throughout his career. Peter’s father formally changed the family name, with Peter becoming the first to be born ‘Honri’.

Peter joined the fight for Wilton’s in 1972 and was part of the first Trust for the Restoration of Wilton’s. As a member of Equity and with his network of industry friends, Peter wrote tirelessly to the leading lights of variety entertainment to build support for the struggling Wilton’s. Along with Marius Goring he fought against the GLC’s granting Wilton’s lease to the Half Moon Theatre Company, believing this threatened to turn the populist music hall to an overtly political theatre. Their success raised plans for a National Centre for Variety Entertainment.

In 1978 Peter became the founder-director of the newly formed London Music Hall Protection Society; the group tasked with restoring Wilton’s and named after an 1860 organisation established by John Wilton himself to oppose a bill preventing music halls from any form of spoken performance.  As Artistic Director, Peter prepared ‘An Artistic Blueprint’ for Wilton’s. Based on a return to classic music hall format, proposed shows such as ‘Wilton’s Varieties’ aimed to discover and encourage new talent in variety performance.

The campaign launch took place at All Hallows by the Tower after the granting of the lease to Wilton’s for a peppercorn rent. In reference to the historic Knollys Rose Ceremony, a symbolic rent tradition dating back to 1381, Peter placed a rose on the altar cushion. That preserved flower is now held as a treasured item in the Wilton’s archive.

After a series of fundraising events work was finally commenced on the restoration of Wilton’s, with work replacing and restoring the hall roof begun in the early 1980s. Peter’s interest in the history of the hall, as well as his concern for the future of the building, lead to his research into the life of John Wilton and the acts who performed on the Wilton’s stage. He compiled his findings and imaginings of the era into his book ‘The Handsomest Room in Town’, written as a diary of Wilton’s founder.

Funding to continue building work could not be sustained and Wilton's remained derelict until the recent conservation and repair. Throughout the years Peter Honri remained an enthusiastic champion of Wilton’s. His belief that Wilton’s could be restored and become a viable and popular performance venue has borne out. Peter returned to see the completed Wilton’s and is seen here performing in the hall with Christopher Beeching as Champagne Charlie.

Passion and commitment like Peter’s, as much as stone and steel, has supported Wilton’s rescue and repair. Having been brought into a wreck of a building it was a proud moment that Peter was able to sign on the lease ‘return to original use’.
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20Jul. 2016.

Magnificent Music Hall Characters!

Last week, we unveiled a fantastic new display as part of our Heritage Lottery Fund schools project. If you've been to see a show or popped into the bar since the end of last week, you will have spotted the fun, lively and colourful characters dotted around the building. If you scroll through this post, you can see all 30 of these works of art, which were created by neighbouring Shapla and St Paul's schools with artist Daniel Lehan.

Each represents a real or fictional character from music hall history, including performers, typical audience members and people associated with the Mahogany Bar, shops and houses. The exhibition will be on display for around six months, which gives you plenty of time to come along and inspect at your leisure, over a drink or two, whilst taking in a show. Meanwhile, here's a little gallery to give you a taste...

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4May. 2016.

Celebration Time!

We're cock-a-hoop today because, last night, our building conservation project won not one, not even two but (drum roll) THREE ROYAL INSTITUTE OF BRITISH ARCHITECTS AWARDS! Yes, we feel that deserves upper case all the way. Most important of all, we captured this initial reaction to the news from Site Mascot, Bailey.

The awards in question are: RIBA London Award 2016;  RIBA London Conservation Award 2016; RIBA London Building of the Year 2016. You can find out more and see lots of Hélène Binet’s beautiful photographs here

Please join us in offering a heartfelt congratulations to everyone who played a part in phase One to repair the auditorium and Phase Two to repair the front of house buildings:

Tim Ronalds Architects
Fullers Builders - Phase One
William Anelay Ltd - Phase Two
Cambridge Architectural Research - Structural Engineers
Max Fordham LLP - M&E Engineers
EC Harris - Quanitity Surveyor, Phase One
Bristow Johnson - Quanitity Surveyor, Phase Two
Carr & Angier - Theatre Consultant
Ramboll - Acoustic Engineers
All Clear Designs - Access Consultant
John Earl - Conservation Plan
The Wilton's team

Photography: Hélène Binet

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4Feb. 2016.

Anyone for Ad Hoc Heritage?

When we all lead such pressured lives and quality time is in short supply, how rewarding it can be to steal an hour or two to lose ourselves in pursuing an abiding passion or discovering new and revelatory subjects and activities. Thanks to support from Heritage Lottery Fund, we're offering people the opportunity to do just that and to learn about an aspect of Wilton's history at the same time.

David Graham, our Learning and Participation Manager, has already organised three of our Ad Hoc Heritage events and is now planning many more between now and the late summer. They cover a fascinating range of subjects, are led by experts and are all completely free.

You may have read our post about the first of these - Building Manager Jon Freeman's Wilton's Inside Out tour as it is now titled - back in August. Initially devised to familiarise staff and volunteers with the intimate history of the bricks and timbers of Wilton's, this was so well received that we opened it up to the public to launch our Ad Hoc series and there may well be more of these to come.

Next came a tour of Museum of London's Archaeological Archive and Research Centre, home to objects and information from nearly 8,500 archaeological sites investigated in Greater London over the past 100 years, including our own collection. In 2012, it was officially recognised by the Guinness World Records organisation as the largest archaeological archive in the world. LAARC is usually open to visitors only for research purposes so this was a very special offer and the limited places were snapped up quickly. The diverse range of collections held there is astounding and our lucky participants were able to see the original Andy Pandy puppet, the prototype of the very first British telephone box and Buckingham Palace's first telephone switchboard. They then learnt about the way LAARC catalogues and manages the collection as well as seeing, handling and hearing the history of Wilton's archaeological objects.

The most recent event was inspired by the large collection of clay tobacco pipes found under the auditorium and other floors here at Wilton's. Archaeological finds specialist, Chris Jarrett, revealed the stories of who made these pipes, who smoked them where they came from, drawing in examples from many other theatres from as far back as Shakespeare's day. His audience included clay pipe experts and enthusiasts (who would have thought there were so many just in East London?) as well as Wilton's volunteers who used pipes to create archaeology displays for the John Wilton Room.

Coming later this month, we have two workshops led by a member of the Magic Lantern Society with lantern shows, talks and slide making sessions. One of these workshops has been designed for adults and the other is for families and combines with a Children's Book Swap and shadow puppet making.

a Victorian cookery workshop inspired by an 1875 menu from Ellen Wilton's kitchen. Mrs Wilton would have catered for the music hall's clientele from her basement kitchen, using the range pictured below. If you fancy trying your hand at making one of her pies 21st century style in our shiny new kitchen, book a place on this mid-March event.

Also lined up for the coming months, we have a Victorian magic workshop where you can learn card and rope tricks and mind-reading effects plus a musical story-telling trail for families led by a musician who runs similar events at The National Gallery. And, shhhhh, don't tell anyone yet but there are whispers of an insight into female cross dressing on and off the music hall stage, featuring the work and story of Burlington Bertie creator Vesta Tilley, and even an adult-themed talk from a well known cultural historian who is an authority on London's music halls and knows how the Victorians really felt about sex.

These Ad Hoc Heritage events are entertaining, informative and eye-opening insights into the many layers of Wilton's world. They're for people who want to investigate something completely new, pursue their existing hobbies and interests, learn, make, or simply wind down after a hard day. David is particularly excited by the wealth of potential topics conjured up by the Wilton's story and determined to create unique events that inspire people to learn and do more: 'Its such a pleasure to be able to hold events like this and make them open to everyone because they're free. Places have been limited up to now but we're already looking into using bigger spaces around the building so that we might be able to accommodate more people'.

Places on our Ad Hoc heritage events can be booked in exactly the same way as tickets for shows and the Victorian Cookery Workshop will be open for reservations next week so keep an eye on the What's On page of our website. We hope to see you.
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28Jan. 2016.

A Day to Remember

Yesterday we were visited by Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall who officially re-opened the building to mark the completion of our repair and conservation project supported by Heritage Lottery Fund and other donors.

The day began with an early start to make sure every last detail was in order. We thoroughly enjoyed working with members of the Clarence House and associated teams as we eagerly awaited their arrival.

The Prince and The Duchess arrived shortly before 10.30am and were met by Acting Chairman George Marsh, Interim Executive Director Holly Kendrick, Development Director Kate Bierman and Architect Tim Ronalds. Then came the moment that had been giving Kate nightmares for weeks as her two and a half year-old daughter, Clara, presented a posy to the Duchess of Cornwall. She needn't have worried because Clara rose to the occasion and was nothing short of a star. Within an hour or two, she had made her debut in the nationals and we fully expect to find her gracing the news channels. Bless her.

The Royal Party began their visit with a tour of the building, chatting to staff and volunteers, including people who created exhibits in the John Wilton Room. They were then treated to a performance of music hall songs by pupils from Harry Gosling Primary School before joining parents and children from St Paul's and Shapla primary schools for a craft session in the AAPL Studio - where the Duchess helped to make bunting!

The tour finished in the auditorium where they joined our guests for a short variety performance which The Prince of Wales later described as The Simon Callow Breakfast Show. Despite a tight schedule and traffic jams, Simon managed to make his way here to compere a show featuring those spiffingly magical chaps Morgan and West, Gwyneth Herbert and Frances Ruffelle performing a song from Springtime for Henry (and Barbara) and the bill was topped in true music hall style by father and son duo Bob and Barry Cryer.

After a few heartfelt words of thanks from George Marsh, The Prince of Wales closed the event with an informal, impromptu speech, recalling his first visit as Patron in 2006, when the building was largely derelict and the rescue mission was still in its early stages. He paid tribute to all those who have contributed in every way to the success of the campaign to save Wilton's and was clearly delighted to be with us to celebrate our landmark achievement and to look forward to a bright and exciting future. The Royal Couple also signed a commemorative document which will be framed and hung in the John Wilton Room.

What a day!

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12Nov. 2015.

The John Wilton Room

As previewed a few weeks ago, our dedicated history and heritage room has now been launched. The room is currently open to the public from 2pm to 6pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and we aim to increase these opening hours gradually during the course of next year. You will also visit the John Wilton room as part of our regular Monday evening History Tour or if you book a private tour for 15 people or more.

 As well as our lovely history banners, the room is now home to a fascinating selection of displays, installations and objects, each of which explores an aspect of Wilton's heritage in its own distinctive style.

Our five volunteers created four displays inspired objects from our archaeology collection: an original footlight found under the auditorium; clay pipes and gun parts discovered under the floors; moulded plasterwork from different parts of the building; and a fragment of wallpaper still clinging to a piece of the wall.

There is also an intricate model of each of the three floors of the Wilton's building created using 3D printing technology and an interactive audio/visual installation to transport you back to the world of Wilton's Music Hall in the 1860s.

To mark the opening of the John Wilton Room, we held a special launch event and were fortunate to have among our guests direct descendants of John Wilton himself  and of other people who lived and worked in the shops and houses in front of the hall.

John Wilton's descendants examining old family photographs with our Historian, Carole

The exhibits also proved very popular during our Magic of Music Hall Scene in Time weekender:

Do come and visit - we look forward to seeing you there!

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22Oct. 2015.

All Change Backstage!

Invisible mending may have been the rule in the auditorium and front of house but it's a very different story backstage. 

We invited one of our regular artistes to take a sneaky peek at our all-singing, all-dancing new dressing rooms just as they were nearing completion so that she could give us her reactions.

Who better to cast an appraising eye over the progress than Resident Magician Extraordinaire, Katherine Rhodes. Here's what she had to say:

Admiring Delroy's handiwork

Q: What's the worst dressing room you've ever had to use and what was so terrible about it?
K: It was a toilet. Literally. And there's been more than one of those.

Q: Have you had any particularly memorable moments here in Wilton's dressing rooms?
K: Being the last performer to use the old ones and standing in the middle of the second floor one with absolutely nothing in it, just before it was closed for the last time.

Loosening up her vocal chords in one of the new showers

Q: What WON'T you miss about our old dressing rooms?
K:The way they seemed to double up as Wilton's storage rooms!  Trying to keep my own stuff separate from everything else in there so it didn’t get mixed up or left behind. Then there was the overpowering heat from the boilers (I’m assuming that’s been fixed!).

Worshipping the posh new backstage stair carpet - we call this staircase the Delfont Mackintosh Suite

Q: What are you looking forward to most about using the new ones?
K:Obviously, the fact that they are purpose built to be proper theatre dressing rooms so will be a joy to use. But also the fact that being able to use them at all means that the conservation work on this amazing building is complete -  it's no longer in danger and will be around to be enjoyed by many generations to come. 

Kate and her Mrs, photographer Michelle Robek, loving the new secret backstage porthole

You can see Kate in action this weekend at our special Scene in Time weekender, The Magic of Music Hall. Kate will be performing on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons and it's all free so do come and say hello!
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6Oct. 2015.

Showing off our Heritage

We're getting ready to launch the John Wilton Room - our dedicated history and heritage space supported by Heritage Lottery Fund.

If you've dropped in over the last couple of weeks, you may already have spotted our lovely new banners in the ground floor room formerly known as the Library.

Each describes an aspect of Wilton's history, from contemporary newspaper reports describing the splendour and atmosphere of John Wilton's magnificent new Music Hall to the most popular stars on stage in its heyday and typical profile of the audiences who came here to watch them.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be installing more, multi-media displays to illustrate Wilton's heritage. This will include a 3D representation of the building, an immersive and interactive audio-visual installation to draw viewers into the world of Wilton's Past and a special archaeology display curated by volunteers. Deborah, Alan, Jeff, Alison and Roisin are working with our Heritage Trainee, Halema, to create a display inspired by objects from our archaeology collection. Since initial brainstorming sessions and exhibition visits with our guest Curating Consultant, Jacqueline Riding, they've been holding planning workshops and finalising the content of their display.

Their completed work, along with the other installations, will be launched at our Scene in Time, The Magic of Music Hall, on 24th and 25th October so do come along to look, listen, watch, learn, marvel and enjoy!
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