Wilton's Music Hall

Coordinates: 51°30′38″N 0°04′01″W / 51.510680°N 0.066930°W / 51.510680; -0.066930

Wilton's Music Hall is a grade II* listed building, built as a music hall and now a more general-purpose performance space in Grace's Alley, off Cable Street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is one of very few surviving music halls in its original state.


Originally, the Prince of Denmark Public House (1828, also known as the Mahogany Bar, from c.1839) owned by Matthew Eltham.

The Mahogany Bar came into the ownership of John Wilton in about 1850. The Music hall was built for him in 1858 by Jacob Maggs, on the same site, as the former concert room of the public house. The bar itself was retained as the public entrance, and the hall was built in the area behind the existing block of houses. This was common practice at the time, as 'street frontage' for music halls was very expensive.

The music hall passed into the ownership of George Robinson (1870), to George Fredericks in 1874, and then in 1877 to Henry Hodkinson. The hall was rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1877, by J. Buckley Wilson of Wilson, Wilcox and Wilson of Swansea, when a raked auditorium floor and proscenium arch were introduced and re-opened as Frederick's Royal Palace of Varieties. In 1880, John Wilton died, aged 60.

The theatre is an unrestored example of the 'giant pub hall'. In the theatre, a single gallery, on three sides and supported by 'barley sugar' cast iron pillars, rises above a large rectangular hall and a high stage with a proscenium arch. In its heyday, a 'sun-burner' chandelier of 300 gas jets and 27,000 cut crystals, illuminated a mirrored hall. Today, charring is still visible in the rafters, where the chimney exhausted the heat of this massive device. The hall would have had space for supper tables, a benched area, and promenades around the outside for standing customers.

Wilton's was modelled on many other successful London halls of the time, including the second Canterbury Hall (1854) in Lambeth, Evans Music-and-Supper Rooms (1856) in Covent Garden, and Weston's (1857) (later known as 'The Royal Holborn'). Wilton's remains the only surviving example.

Wilton's became a mission hall in 1888, and by 1963, it had become a rag sorting depot. The building survived use as a church, fire, flood and war intact, but virtually derelict. After a campaign in 1964 led by Sir John Betjeman to list the building, and save it from demolition, the hall was finally purchased by the GLC in 1966 and transferred to the Music Hall Trust. Wilton's was returned to performance by Broomhill Opera in 1999, and is currently used for both opera and theatrical productions. It is now owned by the Wilton's Music Hall Trust - who are attempting to raise money for the stabilisation and restoration of the building. In June 2007 the World Monuments Fund added the building to its list of the world's "100 most endangered sites".

George Leybourne, known as Champagne Charlie appeared here, and the first ever Can-can in London was (reputedly) performed here, and promptly banned.

Wilton's was given the protection of Grade II* listed building status in April 1971.


2 photos

Building Activity

  • Kiril Pavlov
    Kiril Pavlov activity.buildings_person.create
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com