Saturday, September 10, 2016

Wilton's Music Hall

London The Unfinished City
Last of the Grand Music Halls.
Saturday September 10, 2016.

It was a damp afternoon as I wandered around the Tower Hamlets area of the Unfinished City, looking for interesting architecture and hidden gems, and boy did I find one. It was just as the rain started to pour, that I stumbled upon this true piece of East End history. And, to my great relief, it was open. So, inside I went. 

A multi-million renovation had just been completed on the building, which had been suffering from damp, rot, a leaky roof, subsidence and more irksome things.

Brief History

Wilton's Music Hall is actually five houses; 1-4 Graces Alley and 17 Wellclose Square, which were built in the 1690s. Wilton's Music Hall itself, which was built across the backyards of the Graces Alley buildings, was completed in 1859. In 1878, the Music Hall went through a refurbishment, in which John Wilton installed the best heating, ventilation and acoustics. On its completion it was heralded as the grandest of all Music Halls.

However, in 1888, the hall was bought by the Methodists, to be used as a mission, and was renamed The Mahogany Bar Mission. It would remain a mission and soup kitchen, uniting the people of the East End, through World War II, before the Methodists sold it to the Coppermill Rag Warehouse, in 1957.

In 1964, London County Council had plans to tear down the area and redevelop it, but they hadn't reckoned on how many friends the Music Hall had. These friends included John Earl, a theatre historian, and John Betjeman who both spoke at a public meeting, where they persuaded London County Council to save the Music Hall from demolition.

Wilton's Music Hall was Grade II listed, in 1971, with a Trust being formed the following year to look after the Music Hall. The following 25 years were spent fundraising the necessary capital to restore Wilton's to its former glory.

During this time the Music Hall was still in use and was also used for filming, notably Chaplin (1992) and for various music videos.

In 2004, the Wilton's Music Hall Trust was formed and, in 2012, restoration proper began. It would take until 2015, with a total capital cost of £4m, to complete.

The philosophy of the 'conservative repair' was;

'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.'

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