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7th February 2004
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Property Name
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Contact

Stefanie Huter or Christine Rodgers
Wilton's Music Hall
1 Graces Alley
Wellclose Square
London
E1 8JB

Tel: 020 7702 9555

Web
www.broomhill.demon.co.uk

WILTONS MUSIC HALL, South East
VOTE - 0901 077 5010

  • Listing: Grade II*
  • Date of building: 1853

       The first incarnation of the building we see today dates from 1828 when Matthew Eltham first held the licence for the Prince of Denmark pub. By 1839 Eltham held a licence for public music and dancing in a concert room built at the rear of the ground floor. John Wilton took over in 1850 and turned the old saloon back into a concert room. By 1853 - 58 he had enough backing to build his ambitious and big music hall - Wiltons Grand Music Hall - which is pretty much what we see today.

       Wiltons Music Hall belongs to the first generation of giant pub halls that began to appear in London in the 1850’s and grew and thrived during the crucial period of 1850-1870, but had almost all disappeared before 1900. The vacant building eventually came into the hands of the London Wesleyan Mission. They purchased the building in 1888. In 1889 it was used for dispensing free meals to families during the Dock strike. The Methodists used the building for over 70 years, longer than its life as a music hall, and left in 1956. Wiltons narrowly escaped demolition when the whole neighbourhood was cleared after 1963. It was then used as a rag-warehouse. It remained vacant until the Broomhill Opera Company took it over.

       The working classes in the mid 19th century were worse off than either their grandfathers or their grandsons. They were caught midway between the ‘holy days’ of earlier centuries and the new, industrial society, when a week or a fortnight was given as holiday pay. It’s hardly surprising that leisure activities, as we understand them, did not flourish in London except among the comparatively rich.

       The pub, and latterly, music hall were the only entertainment outlets for the working classes. The appeal of Wiltons was, in the early years of the hall, almost exclusively to the local community. However, attempts were made by John Wilton to compete with the West End theatres by fitting the hall with private boxes and carpeting and he made a point of bringing acts to the East End that were currently successful in the West End, keeping up with the latest fashions so that his patrons need not go further a field for the best entertainment. Prices between the East End and West End would not have varied enormously.

       Wiltons is the only building in the UK where the physical nature of a giant mid-Victorian London music hall of the 1850’s/70’s can still be experienced and studied. Little has happened to the hall itself in the last 120 years to change or reduce its value and interest in this respect except that the floor is now slightly raked and the columns are sunk completely into the floor. Restoration would give this testament to social and cultural history a new injection of life.

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