Wilton's Music Hall, Grace's Alley, Wellclose Square, Whitechapel, London
Formerly - The Prince of Denmark public house / The Mahogany bar / The Albion saloon / Fredericks royal palace of varieties / Beulah Gospel mission / The Old mahogany Bar Mission
See also in this area: The City of London Theatre, Bishopsgate - Hoxton Varieties, Shoreditch - The Hoxton Hall - Britannia Theatre, Hoxton - Shoreditch Theatres and Halls - The Royalty / Brunswick Theatres, Whitechapel - The Garrick Theatre, Whitechapel - The Goodman's Fields Theatre, Whitechapel
Above - Wilton's Music Hall in August 2011 - Photo M.L.
Wilton's Music Hall, in Grace's Alley, Wellclose Square, Whitechapel, London, opened on Monday the 28th of March 1859 with a music hall company consisting of many different performers (See Article Below). The Hall was built by Thomas Ennor under the supervision of Charles Aubrey for John Wilton, and designed by Jacob Maggs of Bath.
Right - A period photograph of Wilton's Music Hall in its heyday.
Wilton's Music Hall is one of very few surviving music hall buildings today and is said by the Theatres Trust to be 'the most important surviving early music hall to be seen anywhere and (although altered) is now the only representative of the new generation giant pub halls of 1850s London.'
Although Wilton's opened in 1859 the site had already been a place of entertainment for several decades previously. Originally on the site was a public house called 'The Prince of Denmark Tavern' which is said to have been the first in London to have Mahogany counters and fittings, and by 1839 it was often referred to as the Mahogany Bar rather than its actual name. The Tavern was situated in the centre of a row of terraced cottages in Grace's Alley of which the main entrance still exists today. By the 1840s a concert room had been built behind the pub and in 1845 the name was changed to the Albion Saloon by the then licensee Matthew Eltham.
Left - The Foundation Stone of Wilton's Music Hall in a photograph taken in August 2011.
John Wilton rebuilt the concert hall in 1853 but then managed to purchase the adjoining properties so that he could also gain control over the land at the rear of the cottages. Something which allowed him to rebuild the old concert hall into a much grander and larger music hall on a different axis to the former, and opened it as Wilton's Music Hall on Monday the 28th of March 1859. There is still in place today the inscribed foundation stone which was laid between the pub and the hall, although it is now in a passage between the entrance foyer to Wilton's and the hall itself (see photo above left).
Above - The bar in Wilton's Music Hall in August 2011 -The bar itself is actually part of a set used in the film 'Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows' which was partly filmed at Wilton's and generously donated by the production Company.
Shortly before the opening of Wilton's new Music Hall the ERA printed an advertisement for the 'Grand Opening Night' in their 27th of March edition saying: 'Grand opening night, on Monday, 28th March, with the following talented and powerful company of vocalists, viz Mis McGregor, Soprano; Mrs. Brennan, Mezzo Soprano; Mr. Whitnet, Tenor; Mr. Caster, Baritone; Mr. Brennan, Baritone; Mr. St. Clair Jones, Basso, together with the following splendid array of comic talent viz; - Mrs. Lawrence, the celebrated characteristic vocalist; Sam Collins, the Inimitable Irish Gem; Mr, and Mrs. Randall, the best Duologists before the public; Mr. Joe Holbrock, Buffo Vocalist (his first appearance in London); Messrs. Dempsey and McGuinness, the popular comic singers and dancers; Mr Charles Sloman, the only English Improvisator; and Mr. W. H. Harvey, the Burlesque Singer and Dancer. Doors open at half-past six, commence at Seven Musical Director, Mr. C. Sloman. Tickets of admission are now ready. N. B. - The entertainments, every evening, will be under the personal superintendance of the Proprietor, to whom all letters upon business matters must he directed.' - The ERA 27th March 1859.
Above - The foyer of Wilton's Music Hall in August
The ERA also reported on the building itself and the opening night in their 3rd of April 1859 edition saying: 'A very important addition to the places or amusement at the eastern end of the metropolis has been made by the construction of Wilton's New Music Hall and Supper-rooms, Wellclose-square, Whitechapel, which, in its present form, exhibits an extent and magnificence that will surprise those who are only familiar with the building that occupied its site.
Above - Wilton's Music Hall in August 2011.
The hall, which is exceedingly commodious, and enriched with tasteful decorations, was built by Mr. Thomas Ennor, under the supervision of Charles Aubrey, Esq., surveyor, from the design made by Jacob Maggs, Esq., of Bath.
A brilliant sun-light, from the well-known manufactory of Defries, irradiates the interior; and the enrichments of the walls, by Messrs. White and Parlby, and the rest of the ornamentation, by Mr. Holman, are indicative of much liberality on the part of the proprietor and taste on that of the executants.
The opening night, on Monday last, exhibited an increase of the vocal company engaged, which evinces a proper recognition of the advance made of late years, in the musical taste of the people. The vocalists now include. Miss M`Gregor, soprano; Mrs. Brennan, mezzo-soprano; Mr. Whitney, tenor; Mr. Brennan, baritone; Mr. H. Castor, baritone; and the old favourite, Mr. S. Jones, the basso.
Right - The Stage of Wilton's Music Hall in August 2011.
In the comic department we have Mrs. Lawrence; Sam Collins, the Irish, vocalist; Mr. and Mrs. Randall, the character duologuists; Messrs. Dempsey and MGuinness, the imitative lyrists; and Mr. Holbrook, of provincial celebrity; whilst Mr. Charles Sloman, under whose experienced supervision the musical department is placed, assists with his well-known improvisatorial talents. There is a good band, and the whole arrangements are highly creditable to the enterprise and good taste of the proprietor, Mr. Wilton.
The new sunburner by Messrs. Defries and Sons, of Houndsditeln is the chef d'oeuvre of that enterprising firm. It is a solid mass of richly cut glass in prismatic feathers, spangles, and spires, brilliantly illuminated by 300 burners, besides the new sunlight of 100 jets which, we believe, is the largest ever made.
The fact is scarcely credible that the glass covering contains 27,000 pieces of cut glass, the dazzling effect of which is unequaled. It is the most finished piece of glass work we ever saw, and the construction of it is so simple that the glass work can be lowered for cleaning without disconnecting the gas - the first time that desideratum has ever been accomplished.
Left - Wilton's Music Hall in August 2011.
There are also three shafts, which is one more than usually made with the sunburner, as two are required to carry off the heat of the gas, Messrs. J. D. and Sons have added an outer shaft, which carries off all the heat of the room, so that however crowded the room may be, as it was on the opening night, not the least inconvenience is felt from the heat, although there are nearly 500 lights in the room. This is a great thing for concert-rooms, and cannot be too publicly known, as hundreds are frequently spent for ventilating rooms without effect.' - The ERA 3rd of April 1859.
Wilton's was one of the most successful music halls in London right from its opening, and all the great names of the day appeared there including Arthur Lloyd who performed in the Hall on many occasions including a Benefit for John Wilton himself on April the 10th 1867 in which the press later said: 'Arthur Lloyd treated the company to his interesting song of: The Circus Master - and excited universal admiration by the splendid costume in which he appeared as a Japanese beau.' And another reported: 'Mr. Lloyd knows his audience and is thoroughly familiar with the popular feeling both as regards royalty and politics... The Song Of Songs is received with unabated delight.'
Above Left - Arthur Lloyd's Song Sheet for 'The Song of Songs.' And Above Right - Matthew Lloyd, Great Grandson of Arthur Lloyd, standing on the stage of Wilton's Music Hall in August 2011, some 144 years after the John Wilton Benefit performance by Arthur Lloyd in 1867.
A major fire ravaged the Hall in 1877, but it was rebuilt in 1878, with a new raked auditorium floor, thought to have been completed by J. Buckly Wilson of Wilson, Wilcox and Wilson, of Swansea. Although rebuilt the new hall was on very similar lines to that of the former, although it now had a proscenium stage instead of the earlier apsidal platform. But ten years after this, in 1888, the building was converted into a mission hall and its music hall days were over and it then went on to have a longer period as a mission hall than it ever did as a music hall. However, by 1963 it had become a rag sorting depot and warehouse.
The Theatres Trust says of the now Grade II Listed building today that it is: 'Typical of its kind and period, the hall was originally completely landlocked by the surrounding property and it therefore had no external elevations apart from that of its parent pub, through which it must still be entered. The face brickwork, where it is visible, shows signs of hurried execution and the staircase in the entrance lobby, (to take one obvious element) is of extraordinary makeshift construction. The hall, nevertheless, fully merits the contemporary epithet, handsome'. Entered through the paved lobby, it is an astonishing survival. A big, rectangular room with an apse at the back and a high stage. Single balcony on three sides with bombe carton pierre front, supported on unusual helical-twist (barley sugar) cast-iron columns, whose bases are progressively overtaken by the rake of the floor. Side walls with paired arched recesses above the balcony, the arches supported on alternating piers and ornamental brackets. Elliptical vaulted ceiling with ornamental fretted ribs, originally with a lantern skylight and gas chandeliers. The former presence of a hot sunburner flue has left charring on some of the roof timbers. In its post-fire 1878 state, it still exhibits the essential attributes of a first generation classic grand music hall, with space for supper tables, benched area and encircling promenade. A bar previously opened from the pub into the hall at stage left. An unelaborate but profoundly evocative room.' Text in quotes courtesy the Theatres Trust.
Above - The Upstairs lounge at Wilton's in August 2011 - Photo M.L.
In 1966 the building was acquired by the Greater London Council (GLC) and then transferred to a trust for its preservation. Between 1987 and 1989 the building's north wall was strengthened and a number of other major repairs were carried out by Peter Newson. Later, in 1999, the opera company 'Broomhill Opera' took a long lease on the building and it was once again in use as a home to theatrical entertainment.
Left - Detail of the surviving plasterwork beside the main entrance of Wilton's in 2004. M.L.
Right - Part of Wiltons which isn't normally seen by the public showing how some of the building is in need of urgent repair and integration with the rest - Photo M.L. August 2011.
In 2003 Wilton's was featured in the BBC's first 'Restoration' programme but although it reached the finals, unfortunately it didn't win.
In 2011 Wilton's applied for Lottery Funding of £2.25m so that it could make the building safe and stay open to the public but was turned down, once again this Music Hall, the oldest survivor in the Country, was yet again at risk of closing down and its future uncertain. However, the building gained so much publicity after it lost the Lottery bid that a great many people and organisations donated funds for its survival and happily it is now in a position to carry out some renovation work and carry on operating for at least another year, although it is still in need of major funding if it is to continue operating into the future.
Photographs on this page were taken by Matthew Lloyd in August 2011 with the kind permission of Wilton's Music Hall whose own Website can be found here.
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