Wilcoxs Music Hall, 221 Whitechapel Road, London
Formerly - The Royal Oak Music Hall
Wilcox's Music Hall was situated at 221 Whitechapel Road in London and was attached to the Royal Oak Public House which is still standing today, although it is now in other use. Zebedee Wilcox took over as the Licensed Victualler of the Royal Oak from its previous Licensee, William Young, in November 1868, and had soon set about converting an upstairs room into a Music Hall. Zebedee Wilcox was a ginger beer and soda water manufacturer, who lived just down the road from the Royal Oak at 215 Whitechapel Road, but with an eye for entertainment he could obviously see the profit in attaching a Music Hall to his new premises. The Music Hall, which was situated near the Pavilion Theatre, first opened as the Royal Oak Music Hall in a room above the pub in May 1869, managed by W. Winningale, but before long Wilcox had bought property behind the pub and had begun work on building a new dedicated Music Hall to house what was already becoming a successful venture.
The ERA reported on the Royal Oak Music Hall and Wilcox's planned extension in their 11th of April 1869 edition saying:- 'This Music Hall is situate in the Whitechapel-road, midway between the East London Theatre and the London Hospital. The house itself has been long known, and having an excellent room on the first floor, the proprietor, Mr. Z. Wilcox, conceived the idea of opening a Music Hall, and with his well-known enterprise engaged Mr. Winningale as chairman, who does the duties admirably, and a staff which would do credit to a place of much greater pretensions.
He has the funny Costa, most excellent in the comic line, as the "original carpet bug man" - not the tallyman be it remembered - who is really a clever and painstaking singer; Mr. Joel Simmonds, the laughable eccentric; Mrs. and Miss Bevan, the admirable duettists, the latter of whom acts as accompanist most capitally throughout the evening; Mr. Vincent, and many others, who all add their quota to the entertainment of the patrons.
We were given to understand that Mr. Wilcox has secured a site of land at the back of his house upon which it is his intention to build a commodious Music Hall as soon as the surveyor and architect shall have prepared the necessary plans, and we wish him every success in his new undertaking.'
The New Music Hall at the rear of the Royal Oak opened on the 26th of December 1871, and by June the following year, 1872, the ERA was reporting on what was now known as 'Wilcox's New Music Hall' with great enthusiasm saying:- ' Standing as it does with its doors opening on to the chief thoroughfare of the most densely populated district of our huge, teeming, ant-hill of a city, or aggregated town, this place must, one would think, do well if it is properly managed. It is judiciously conducted, and it does thrive. Large audiences are attracted, and the people appear to be so much pleased with the proceedings that there can be no doubt that they spread praises of the place throughout Whitechapel, Stepney, Mile-End, Bethnal-green, Shoreditch, Spitalfields, Aldgate, or wherever else they dwell or go...
...Mr. Vivian Lynton, previous to taking the chair, when we last looked in, cheerily sang "Let's be gay" and "What do you think of her now." Miss Julia Sutherland, who always puts us in mind of sunshine when we see her, appeared smartly dressed, and warbled "As I promenade Trafalgar-square" and "There's nobody knows how ashamed I was." Finally she sang of the pleasures of a roundabout at a country fair. The people were delighted with her as they could hardly fail to be, for she is an exceedingly pleasant lady and a clever artiste. Mr. and Mrs. Will Blewitt, who are good vocalists and delineators, performed sketches representing a country lass and her lover and a costermonger and his missis. Mr. Louis and Miss Marion danced in a variety of styles very quickly and cleverly, and sang a little. Mr. Harry White gave a good vocal and Terpsichorean entertainment of the Negro kind, which he supplemented with an amusing burlesque acrobatic performance. A conjuror called Professor Hameronia executed various feats expertly. Madame Julia Santa contributed well-sung strains of the serio-comic class; and Mr. Alexander appeared as an Irish singer and dancer.
Mr. Frederick Mackley, the Manager; Mr. Wareham, the leader of the band; Mr. Z. Wilcox, the Proprietor; and his ample and active staff of assistants, evidently do their best to promote the prosperity of the place, and have the pleasure of seeing it progress satisfactorily.'
Just a year and a half after the ERA's glowing report above was published Zebedee Wilcox died, on the 16th of December 1873. The Pub continued in business while a buyer was sought but the Music Hall itself doesn't appear to have continued after Wilcox's death. The Royal Oak was put up for sale by auction the following year, in July 1874, and the ERA carried a notice for the auction in their 7th of June 1874 edition saying:- 'ROYAL OAK, Wine and Spirit Establishment, situate and being No. 221, Whitechapel-road, together with the unusually spacious premises in the rear, admirably adapted for the conduct of a wholesale trade.
The propriety of erecting the present colossal building has been the subject of severe criticism by the trade, opinions of all shades being hazarded and conjectures of all descriptions indulged in; but the satisfactory results of the outlay have silenced all detractors, the returns having exceeded £700 per month, and are still progressing. Experience has proved that position is not always the crucial test, but vast capabilities, exceptional attractions, and superiority of management give an impetus to business which alleged superiority of position often fails to impart. Hence the secret of the prodigious success attending the above, and as it is certainly unapproachable by its rivals in all the before-mentioned qualities, so will it also be in regard to trade so long as it has a proprietor worthy of its importance.
Held by Lease for a long term of years at a ground rent. May be viewed, and printed particulars obtained on the premises; at the place of sale; of T. W. Flavell, Esq., Solicitor, 21, Bedford-row; and at the Auctioneers' Offices, 21, Hart-street, Bloomsbury.'
Despite the gushing auctioneer's notice above the Royal Oak failed to sell at that auction but did change hands later many times, and would be put up for auction on various other occasions over the ensuing years by various proprietors, always with glowing notices of its business. However, the Music Hall itself was never reported as reopening and the space was probably used for warehousing or other purposes.
Zebedee Wilcox left an estate of just under £4,000 at the time of his death, so despite his short time as a Music Hall Proprietor he seems to have done pretty well for himself over the years. His son Henry Wilcox was one of the Executors of his Will and was stated at the time to have been a Soda Water manufacturer, like his late father, so must have carried on that business at least.
The Royal Oak itself was in business for many years, a photograph of it in 1986 can be seen here. However, the building is no longer in use as a Public house today and has been converted into shops and apartments. But it does still exist and is a is Grade II Listed Building, and remarkably still bears the 'Royal Oak' name on its facade even today.
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Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.
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