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
The Ballad of Maria Marten
True crime is given the theatrical treatment in this spine-tingling retelling of the Red Barn Murder of 1827.
Details: 15th – 19th February | £12.50-27
Phantoms: A Triple Bill
The award-winning Mark Bruce Company return with their signature brand of ‘cinematic dance-theatre’ inspired by old folk tales and gothic stories.
Details: 24th February – 5th March | £15-28.50
Hackney Colliery Band: Explorations
HCB have a rich and illustrious history. You might know them from a little thing called the London Olympics Closing Ceremony. And now they’re coming to Wilton’s with a boisterous brass programme, celebrity guests and some ‘cutting-edge tech of various varieties’…
Details: 8th – 12th March | £13-25
Sasha Regan’s All-Male H.M.S. Pinafore
This award-winning company take on the classic Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, set below deck on a WWII battleship.
Details: 16th March – 19th April | £6-32
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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