Experience the History of Wilton's Music Hall
It's hard to believe that we got married in a landmark venue that got its start even before the United States was a thing! Not to mention the fact that the space has been used for the majority of its lifespan as a vibrant music hall and incredible performance space — clearly bringing the two elements of creativity together that define both of us: music and theatre. Our guests experienced the magic and history of the space first hand, and they (along with us!) were simply mesmerised.
On this page, you can view a gallery of images taken by Lisa Jane Brown on our wedding day, which highlights the gorgeous details of Wilton’s Music Hall and features how the venue was transformed into an enchanted wedding chamber. Further below, you can read about Wilton’s fascinating and illustrious history, and see additional photos from their archive. Tap on the images below to see them in full resolution.
Take a Walk through Wilton's History
Originally built in the 1690s, Wilton's Music Hall has a colourful and exciting history. Throughout its 300 year story, its had various alterations, reconstructions, and purposes. To help our guests get acquainted with the venue, we've gathered and paraphrased some of its rich history in the summary below. Not only can you read about the venue and learn more about Wilton's on their official website, you can also head on over to their History page to learn all about its glorious story and past!
1690 – 1859
The largest house (the Auditorium, see image above) was an ale house dating from the first half of the 18th century, serving the Scandinavian sea captains and wealthy merchants who lived in neighbouring Wellclose Square. From 1826, the ale house was also known as The Mahogany Bar, reputedly because the landlord was the first to install a mahogany bar and fittings in his pub. In 1839 a concert room was built behind the pub and the building's life as a venue began. In 1843 the ale house was licensed for a short time as The Albion Saloon — a saloon theatre, legally permitted to stage full-length plays. John Wilton bought main building in 1850, enlarged the concert room three years later, and replaced it with his 'Magnificent New Music Hall' in 1859.
1859 – 1956
Towards the end of the 19th century, the East End had become notorious for extreme poverty and squalid living conditions. Religious organisations tried to help. In 1888 Wilton’s was bought by the East London Methodist Mission. The Methodists renamed the building The Mahogany Bar Mission and for some time considered it ‘Methodism’s finest hall’. During the Great Dock Strike of 1889, a soup kitchen was set up at The Mahogany Bar, feeding a thousand meals a day to the starving dockers’ families.
1956 – 1964
The Mission remained open for nearly 70 years, through some of the most testing periods in East End history — including the 1936 Mosley March and the London Blitz. After heavy wartime bombing, many local businesses and residents left the East End. The Mahogany Bar congregation was much reduced and the Mission closed in 1956. The building was then used for several years by a rag sorting warehouse. In the early 1960s the London County Council drew up plans for demolition and redevelopment of the whole area, including Wilton’s. A campaign was launched to save the building in 1964 and Wilton’s was spared. The Greater London Council bought the building and agreed to leave it standing.
1964 – 1997
The building remained empty, suffering more structural damage and decay. However, the campaign to save Wilton’s gathered steam with articles in theatrical and variety journals and in 1970 the BBC produced The Handsomest Room in Town — a star-studded recreation of a night at Wilton’s Music Hall, filmed in the hall itself. A first phase of essential urgent repairs was completed in 1982 when the first charitable trust, The London Music Hall Trust, was formed. Further building work was carried out as funds became available between 1983 and 1989.
1997 – 2004
Although the building remained in a state of dereliction, artists began to make use of its undeniable atmosphere. The building was used for film and video shoots including Karel Reisz’s "Isadora", Richard Attenborough’s "Chaplin", Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s "Relax", and Annie Lennox’s "No More I Love You’s." In 1999, Broomhill Opera obtained the first artistic residency, opening Wilton's more regularly to the public. Their mission was to provide performance opportunities for talented young singers and musicians supported by celebrated opera directors, such as Jonathan Miller, Elijah Moshinsky and Netia Jones. The Wilton’s Music Hall Trust was formed and in late 2004 the building was fully open to the public with an intent to present a wider arts programme.
2004 – 2011
Over the next decade, the Wilton’s Music Hall Trust worked tirelessly to bring the building back to life, increasing audiences, creating a new artistic program and doing everything possible to stop the building falling down. In 2011 the large debt the trust had was paid off. Although restricted by problems left over from the previous years of dereliction, Wilton’s began to grow into a thriving arts and heritage venue. News of Wilton’s spread and it began to flourish, entertaining thousands of people each year through a programme of diverse arts.
Although Wilton’s was becoming increasingly popular, it was still a building at risk. For decades, rooms had remained derelict and unsafe for public access and large areas had been subject to damp, rot, subsidence, crumbling walls, unsafe flooring, leaking roofs and failing brick and mortar. Fundraising for a capital project was launched to carry out all necessary repairs. This project would mean opening up previously unused spaces that made up 40% of the building, providing new opportunities for venue hire and a wider range of community and learning activities.
2012 – Today
In 2012, and thanks to tremendous and generous donations, enough money was raised — just over £1 million — to carry out part one of the capital project to repair the auditorium. In 2013, with generous support of Heritage Lottery Fund and other donors, Wilton’s was able to raise the £2.6 million needed to begin part two of the project. The project was completed in September 2015 when Wilton’s became structurally sound for the first time since the renovations of music hall days and after half a century of passionate campaigning.
In carrying out the building work, a policy of conservative repair has been followed, which means "retaining genuine historic fabric and avoiding misleading restoration, so that future generations can interpret the significance for themselves in their own way, based on the physical evidence." The work has been lovingly carried out by Fullers and William Anelay under the careful direction of Tim Ronalds Architects. The capital project has won a RIBA London Award 2016, RIBA London Conservation Award 2016 and RIBA London Building Of The Year 2016 and has been named 'Highly Commended' in the 2016 RICS Award, London, for Building Conservation.