Wilton’s Music Hall is an unique survivor in London’s theatrical history.
Amazingly just a few streets away from Tower Hill Underground Station, and the Tower of London itself, hidden in a little dimly lit back street called Grace’s Alley, is an often-overlooked jewel of London ‘s theatrical history – Wilton’s Music Hall.
Dating back as far as 1743, it was first a pub and then improved and enlarged over the years. John Wilton bought the venue in 1850 and set about building his grand music hall which opened in 1859.
Sadly short-lived, the building changed owners in the 1870s and fell victim to a devastating fire in 1877. An eight-year reconstruction culminated in the building being acquired by the Methodist Church who created a Mission in the building, as such becoming an important community asset for the impoverished local communities. The Methodists left the building in the 1950s. As the whole area was scheduled for demolition in a widespread slum clearance, little hope was held out for its survival. However, a campaign was started to save the building with support from celebrities such as Sir John Betjeman, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. After much campaigning, Wilton’s was given the protection of Grade II* listed building status in April 1971 and was bought by the Greater London Council who preserved it until 1999.
Wilton’s reopened in 1997 as a theatrical venue, however it was practically derelict and in need of much work to bring it back from the brink. In June 2007 the World Monuments Fund added the building to its list of the world’s “100 most endangered sites”. Many grants, fundraisers and appeals later, the venue was preserved in what is now generally accepted as a state of arrested decay, with no artificial recreations of previous appearances.
As such, a visit to Wilton’s like walking into a time capsule. The attractive long and high hall with its candy-twist columns supporting a slender gallery is a joy to behold. And performances there are greatly enhanced with the ambiance of almost 150 years of history.
If you haven’t visited, I strongly suggest you do so. There are so many interesting corners, nooks and crannies to explore. The extensive programme of activities and performances is very varied and the building, now owned by a Trust, is lovingly cared for.
Anyone who wants to explore this unique survivor from top to bottom is heartily recommended to book a tour which you can do through the venue’s website.
There are two different tours- the first, a full historic tour of the building which you can book here
There is also a film tour which concentrates on the venue as it has often been used in film and TV since the seventies. You can book the film tour here
London is blessed with unrivalled architectural history, and when you discover this little jewel tucked away in an unprepossessing little side street, you’ll be hungry to share it with your friends too.