Wander down the wrong alleyway by Tower Bridge, and you may end up in The Thames.
But head down the correct one and you’ll stumble upon the crumbling glory that is Wilton’s Music Hall…
A public house since 1725, it’s said that visiting sailors (who had never even heard of St. Paul’s Cathedral) knew exactly where to find The Mahogany Bar.
Beautiful, eerie and charmingly ramshackle, you can still visit the bar whenever you like. And after years of local campaigning and painstaking refurbishment; the original Victorian music hall itself has been lovingly restored and now plays host to a vast range of live entertainment, from theatre and music to comedy and cabaret.
THE HISTORY OF WILTON’S MUSIC HALL
Wilton’s occupies a space that was once five separate buildings on a cramped terrace, the largest of which was the original Mahogany Bar (so-called because it was supposedly the first alehouse to have a mahogany bartop installed). Unsurprisingly for such a high-falootin’ establishment, the pub was extended to include a concert room in 1839, which a few years later was fully licensed as a pub theatre.
In around 1850, John Wilton bought the pub, tore down the concert room, and replaced it with a grand music hall. Nine years later he tore that down and replaced it with his ‘Magnificent New Music Hall’, replete with chandeliers, mirrors, ornate plasterwork and the latest heating and lighting equipment. From there, it was unstoppable, playing host to some of the finest variety show artistes of the era… until it was stopped by a huge fire in 1877. Though it was rebuilt a year later, it was deemed structurally unsound and eventually closed in 1881.
After that, it was used for decades as a Methodist Mission Centre, dedicated to helping the poor and needy of the East End and operating as a soup kitchen during the dock workers strikes of the late 19th century. Postwar, it became a makeshift rag sorting centre, before falling into complete dereliction. In the early 70s, locals and performers including Spike Milligan started campaigning to restore Wilton’s Music Hall to its former glory, saving it from demolition – unlike all the other buildings that once surrounded it – and scoring it a Grade II listing. It’s thanks to over half a century’s efforts that the building’s finally become completely usable again. Which brings us to…
WHAT’S ON AT WILTON’S MUSIC HALL
Paul Marc Mitchell
Harry Hill: Experiments in Entertainment 3
Following on, we presume, from Harry Hill: Experiments in Entertainment 1 and Harry Hill: Experiments in Entertainment 2, this new show is a test drive of the vividly offbeat comedian’s new material. And he’ll be in the bar after for you to share your candid feedback with…
Details: 20th Sept – 24th Sept | £10 – £23
Only An Octave Apart
Only An Octave Apart combines the vocal talents of Justin Vivian Bond (an acclaimed singer-songwriter, actor, and cabaret artiste par excellence) and Anthony Roth Costanzo, who is a globally revered countertenor (that’s right, amongst the rarest of all the operatic ranges – the one with the hiiiiiigh notes). Together, the pair have an easy rapport, clearly revelling in one another’s company, as they take their audience on a musical journey combining the theatricality of cabaret with the power of opera…
Details: 28th September – 22nd October | £21 – £40
A Dead Body In Taos
A Dead Body In Taos starts with someone finding a dead body. In Taos. It’s an alternative living community, and the ambitious show is described as ” part sci-fi epic and part love story”…
Details: 26th Oct – 12th Nov | £13.50 – £28
Lively, buzzing and warm, the Mahogany Bar is the oldest part of the building, still sporting that original bar top, peeling plasterwork and rickety looking reclaimed furniture. The menu boasts a wide range of unique, locally sourced beverages, as well as tapas-styled bites, pizza by the slice and tubs of Hackney Gelato to finish.
It’s what the sailors would have wanted.
NOTE: Wilton’s Music Hall hosts regular performances – you can find out more and book tickets HERE. The Mahogany Bar is open on show days from 5.30pm (or 1pm matinees, drinks only) – no reservations needed, just turn up.
Wilton’s Music Hall | 1 Grace’s Alley, E1 8JB
Last Updated: 9th February 2022 | Main image: Paul Hudson/Flickr
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