"Don't judge by appearances." Music Tip by planxty

Music, London: 24 reviews and 33 photos

  Wilton's Music Hall, East London, UK.
by planxty

Let's be honest here. Have a look at the photograph accompanying this tip and you will probably think I have gone mad and included a tip about a condemned building in imminent danger of being demolished for the public good. That is OK. If I didn't know better, I would agree with you. What you are actually looking at is the oldest surviving grand music hall in the world, Wilton's, which is situated in an almost invisible back alley in a not particularly salubrious area of the East end of London.

A little of the history supporting this claim is, I think, in order here. The very look of the place, even to this day, suggests it's origin as five terrace houses bought by one John Wilton and opened as a music hall in 1858. The music hall was an odd phenomenon of entertainment aimed primarily at the less well off and had a brief but important heyday of only about 50 years although some of them managed to struggle on until the mid 20th century. For non UK readers the terms vaudeville or burlesque may give some idea of the types of entertainment provided. Most London music halls were basically extensions to public houses (bars) where you either paid for entertainment in the bar or paid to go into a seperate entertainment room. Wilton's was one such. Food was often supplied as well. The inner East End of London, traditionally a poor working class area, had more than it's share of such establishments.

Wilton's only lasted a brief 22 years when the licence could not be renewed. It was then taken over and became another East End institution, a religious mission, in this case Methodist. It continued in this role until 1956 when it went sadly into decline. Fortunately it is now running again, although on a somewhat hand to mouth basis, and relies as much for use as a film set as a working venue for revenue. I know, for example, that there have been several heavy metal music videos filmed here. I know this as a rather large friend who does film extra work, was dressed up as some sort of "monster" here a few years ago!

True to it's history, there is a bar here called the Mahogony Bar, reflecting the origins of the place. Even if you are not going for a show, it is an OK place for a drink, if just to soak up the atmosphere. I must confess I have not seen a show here, a situation I intend to rectify soon, but I have seen the interior, many years ago, and it really is breathtaking.

Wilton's is one of those generally undiscovered places that only locals really know about. I was tempted to put it into the "off the beaten path" section, and it is certainly worthy of that title as it is a real pain to find, but I hope my directions are useful. If you do have a little spare time in London, go and have a look.

Address: 1 Graces Alley, London, E1 8JB.
Directions: OK, here we go. From Tower Hill tube, walk along East Smithfield (the road leading away from the City), turn left into Ensign Street and then, near the top of the street, go right into the little alleyway just past the school. It is on the left.
Phone: +00 44 (0)207 702 9555
Website: http://www.wiltons.org.uk/

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Nov 15, 2010
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