WILTON'S MUSIC HALL SPECIAL EDITION
THE PAUPER, THE THIEF AND THE CONVICT By Thomas Archer, 1865 Chapter 6 The Never Silent Highway The clock is now striking ten, and as I turn out of the main thoroughfare I ﬁnd that Jack, for whom so many evil disposed people are waiting, is all alive; as much alive, that is, as he can be in smoke-dimmed public houses, the heated atmosphere of rooms with sanded ﬂoors, and a crowd of people perspiring under the ﬂare of hissing gas. At the great music-hall round here, near Wellclose Square, he is in great force, and a score of ﬂashily-dressed women, hard of feature and unﬂinching of eye, are waiting about the lobby at the top of the stairs. Strange as it may seem, however, I ﬁnd myself making comparisons in their favour between these Polls and Nancys and Sues of Wapping and Ratcliffe, and their wretched sisterhood at the night haunts of the western end of London. They are mostly distinguished by less sickly looks, and by an absence of that horrible attempt to assume a languid and fascinating manner which in the harlots of the Haymarket alternates with the lowest degradation of language and the most offensive
suggestion of immorality. There is, perhaps, more of the brute about some of these girls, but they are so much the better for it, as the brute is better than the utterly perverted and listlessly abandoned human being. I notice few such wheedling tones and shameful seductions as anybody may witness in the streets and public places west of Temple Bar, and what there is of coarseness, is, I cannot help thinking, more endurable than these. One other peculiarity I observe, which in a faithful description should scarcely be mentioned. Many of these women seem to be waiting for certain rough-looking fellows of whom they take undisputed possession, and those best acquainted with the habits of these "unfortunates" know very well that the sailor coming home after a long voyage will often return very faithfully to that partner of his dissipation, who has established a property in him, and who will remain with him sometimes even after "his money is all spent". Just now the gallery is tolerably full, and the tobacco smoke almost obscures the stage where the usual music-hall entertainment is in progress, and the two fellows who have danced a "break down", and mutually played on each other's violins in all sorts of
grotesque attitudes, give way to that inevitable comic singer, who, in a melancholy burlesque of fashionable attire, endeavours, for the ﬁve thousandth time, to infuse a little sprightliness into a performance of which it is difﬁcult to say whether he or the audience are the most weary. The "respectable people" who occupy the lower part of the hall, from which the disreputable portion of the upstairs company is excluded, sit there silently smoking, or eating and drinking, and seem to have a notion that they are enjoying it; but upstairs Jack sits, for the most part, in a not very lively condition, and his more or less fair companions pay but little heed to what is going on beyond the occasional humming of the tune which is being played, and which they have heard over and over again, these many nights. Some of their number, too, are continually passing in and out and joining the party in the lobby, where, when their conversation becomes too loud, it is immediately hushed by a tall, muscular, quick-eyed watchful attendant who stands near the door without a coat, and in a remarkably clean shirt, evidently ready to take action for the immediate repression of any improper conduct, or undue disturbance. I am bound to say that the women on the stairs are ready to make way for anybody going in
and out, and that, beyond their ordinary bold and half-deﬁant, though often wistful looks, there is nothing in their manner to which the visitor need take objection.
A projection of new sound interventions at Wilton’s Music Hall
Me and my Shadow Loretta Bosence & Elizabeth Haven Thor Mcintyre-Burnie & Chris Watson Duncan Whitley Five artists have been commissioned to create a new series of sound interventions. Played sequentially, each work aims to transform the atmosphere of the auditorium in subtle, unexpected and compelling ways. The show includes historical material written by John Earl, and interviews conducted by Sarah Gudgin from the Museum of London.
Wilton’s Music Hall Graces Alley, off Ensign St. Sat 14th – Wed 18th May 2005 Open hours 12-7pm www.measure.org.uk
the era – WILTON'S MUSIC HALL SPECIAL EDITION
The Development Of Music Halls By John Earl The basic elements which were to come together to produce music hall entertainment were all in existence at the latest by the mid-eighteenth century but music hall, as the term is now understood, did not emerge fully ﬂedged until the end of the 1840s. Few taverns of any size were by that time without a 'singing room' or club room in which friends could meet informally for a sing-song. With a magistrate's music and dancing license, pub proprietors could provide more formal entertainments in the form of harmonic meetings or concerts. 'Convivials', 'free-andeasies' and 'song clubs’ were chairman-led informal gatherings where the company at tables were both the performers and the audience. In their simplest form, as private meetings, they did not need to be licensed at all and they called for nothing in the way of architectural provision. A room with a table and chairs was all that was needed. 'Open' meetings and tavern concerts were a more developed form where most of the performers were likely to be professionals or at least semi-pros, and where the majority of those attending were effectively members of an audience, rather than participants. The distinction between private meetings, open meetings and concerts was at ﬁrst not clear cut, but it became accentuated with the emergence in the ﬁrst quarter of the nineteenth century of a new breed of peripatetic artistes, 'room singers', performing wherever and whenever they could. The presence of accomplished room singers, paid in cash or kind and sitting at the head of the room alongside the chairman, was encouraged by proprietors, who adapted their rooms to accommodate as many drinking patrons as they could. The provision of a little platform to the side of the top table was the next inevitable development in the move from open meeting to concert. Songs were written by and for concert room artistes, who normally sang with at least a piano accompaniment, (the earlier tradition was for unaccompanied glees and solos) and some actually dressed 'in character' to suit the song. No dramatic entertainment as such could legally be given at a tavern concert. The evening had to consist of a series of turns. Anything more overtly theatrical would have triggered action by jealous theatre proprietors and the Lord Chamberlain. The catalyst that accidentally started the music hall on its way was the Theatres Act (often incorrectly called the
Theatres Registration Act) of 1843. This terminated the dramatic monopoly of the patent theatres (the Theatres Royal of Covent Garden, Drury Lane and the Haymarket) and regularised the position of the many 'minor' theatres which had sprung up in the previous half century to meet growing demand. The legal position of the minors had been precarious, but from 1843, the Lord Chamberlain could issue licences for dramatic entertainment to such persons and places as he considered suitable. This did not lead to an immediate rush to open new theatres – in fact, there were already enough in existence and the mass public had learned to enjoy the kinds of quasi-dramatic musical entertainments the twilight theatres had been able to present legally in the prohibition years. No completely new drama houses were built in London for twenty-ﬁve years following the passing of the Act. There was, however, an immediate and not altogether foreseen effect for those tavern proprietors who, in one way or another, were already providing entertainment. They fell into two main types: those who had saloons and those who ran concert rooms. Saloons were effectively minor theatres, sometimes quite ambitious buildings, sometimes ramshackle structures, but always attached to pubs. Most concert rooms were, by contrast, within the walls of the pub commonly on the ﬁrst ﬂoor (although, as early as the 1830s a small minority took the form of modest additions built over rear yards). From 1843, both types of proprietor were faced with a new choice. The Lord Chamberlain might issue a theatre license allowing them to present plays – at ﬁrst sight, a considerable advantage - but he invariably imposed a condition that there was to be no drinking or smoking in the auditorium. A few saloon proprietors accepted the Lord Chamberlain's restrictions and their irregular theatres became successful drama houses (the Eagle Saloon in City Road, and the Britannia, Hoxton, for example) but for others the loss of proﬁts from drink sales was economically damaging. A number, as a result, went out of business altogether. Some publicans with concert rooms also opted for a regular theatre license. They, however, almost without exception discovered after a short time that they had lost rather than gained, since their establishments were essentially bars or supper rooms with entertainment, dependent for their proﬁtability on the sale of liquor. It was still possible, however, for any enterprising proprietor to adopt (or return to) the simpler style of non-dramatic concert entertainment. This
required only a magistrate's license permitting the sale and consumption of drink during the performance. This historical turning point came at a time when London's population was growing rapidly, creating an almost insatiable demand for diversions. Within three or four years, the pub concerts, which had always operated in the shadow of the ﬂashier fare of the saloons and minor theatres, were enjoying increased popularity and new proﬁtability. Popular singers began to attract big audiences (more than the old pub concert rooms could accommodate) and, after little more than a decade, the music hall was on its way to becoming big business. Richard Preece, at the Winchester Tavern in Southwark in 1846, Edwin Winder at the Mogul Tavern in Drury Lane in 1847, James Mullet at the Edinboro' Castle in Stepney in 1849 and Charles Morton at the Canterbury Arms in Lambeth in 1852, were the (presently identiﬁable) pioneers of the new movement. Charles Morton made the ultimate, and daring, breakthrough in 1854, when he rebuilt his Canterbury Hall to the then unprecedented dimensions of 93ft long and 45ft wide, to accommodate 1500 people, for whom he provided ﬁrst rate, fully professional entertainment with accomplished artistes from the worlds of theatre and opera. His comic character singers and female 'serios' were the best in the business. Morton's hall (further enlarged with an art gallery in 1858) immediately became the model for all the most ambitious proprietors. Buying up the back land of adjoining properties, they created sites for giant halls, much larger than their parent pubs, but nearly always totally concealed by their frontage buildings. Weston's in Holborn, 1857, Evans's new Music and Supper Room in Covent Garden, 1855 and Wilton's, 1859, all paid architectural homage to Canterbury Hall. By 1860 the new breed of big music halls had spread to the West End. The Oxford, the Alhambra and the London Pavilion entered into direct competition with the theatres. Over the ensuing 25 years or so, from the 1850s to the late 1870s, around 400 London pubs were licensed for entertainment. They tended to call themselves music halls, but in so doing many of them were simply adopting a newly fashionable name. Even where a new room had been built on space at the rear (rather than created within the walls), it was quite likely to be a modest provision which, in the 1840s, would have been called a concert room. Substantial, wholly professional halls probably numbered in total no more than 100 over this period, while not more than 35 were big music halls
with perhaps a little more than half of that number approached the scale of the Canterbury or Weston's or Wilton's. The typical Canterburystyle hall was a rectangular room, usually with a roof light and/or windows in the ﬂank walls, a high stage in the form of an open platform with an architectural background, a balcony on three sides and bars opening into the auditorium. The ﬂoor was ﬂat, covered with ranks and ﬁles of tables for the service of food and drink, with a benched area at the back and an encircling promenade under the balcony. A top table, backing on to the stage, was occupied by the chairman and a few patrons who felt honoured to sit next to him, despite the fact that they were in a singularly poor position to see the performers. The chairman usually viewed the proceedings in a tilting dressing mirror. An evening-dressed corps of resident singers provided a backbone to the bill, with songs in the English glee, catch and ballad traditions, plus operatic selections and solos. During the evening, a variety of character singers, serio-comics and occasional speciality acts (jugglers, acrobats, etc) would appear. The presence of the chairman, the way the room was set out and the varied nature of the musical offerings all derived from the style of the old harmonic meetings, but the architectural setting was grand and the bills were exclusively professional. There was no expectation that those seated at the tables and on the balconies or standing in the promenade would be called on to contribute anything but extra volume for choruses. The ﬁrst music halls were closer in character and atmosphere to pub than to theatre. Members of the audience arrived and departed at will as they would in a pub bar, meeting and chatting with friends and pausing to listen to the turns. It was not necessary to occupy a single seat and sit for the whole evening, hearing a programme from beginning to end. There was value and enjoyment in a stay of any duration. The architectural development of the music hall over the following forty years, during which the resident corps of eveningdressed singers faded and the comic element became dominant, was typiﬁed by ever closer moves toward regular theatrical conditions. Scenic proscenium stages and orchestra pits were introduced, replacing concert platforms and making it possible to present ballets and other spectacles. The supper tables retreated to a small enclosure near the orchestra until, in the end, the whole of the audience was seated in rows, as at a theatre. All of these processes were accelerated by ofﬁcial controls aimed at making music halls safe
the era – WILTON'S MUSIC HALL SPECIAL EDITION
incase of ﬁre (most of the pre 1880 hall were potential death traps) and a simultaneous political movement which was determined to separate drinking from entertainment. These later developments are only marginally relevant to Wilton’s which, even today, exhibits most of the architectural features of a mid Victorian drinking hall. It is relevant to add to this condensed account, that in music hall, as in many other theatrical developments from the 16th century onward, Britain led the world. Elements of the Parisian cafe concert were absorbed into the London halls, but the fact that the common French term for music hall is not ‘vaudeville’ (the style adopted in the USA) but ‘musichall’ tells its own story. Wilton’s is, in fact, an entertainment building of outstanding historic signiﬁcance in world terms.
The History Of Wilton’s Music Hall By John Earl
Wilton's Music Hall is the product of that historically crucial period, 1850 to 1870, during which the ﬁrst 'classic' music halls emerged. It was, until comparatively recent clearances, totally concealed behind what was once the Prince of Denmark pub in Graces Alley, leading from Well Street (now Ensign Street) to Marine Square (now Wellclose Square) At Wilton’s Music Hall Commencing Friday May 13th, 2005
For one week only Bosence & Haven present
“SING US AN OLD SONG!” Songs to Learn and Enjoy In which will be heard a sound-recording of
ST. HILDA’S PENSIONERS PROJECT Performing Musical Novelties for your Contemplation and Delight “I can’t get my winkle out” “Two lovely black eyes” “I love you” Commencing on Friday 13th May in the Old Mahogany Bar for the Beneﬁt of many Gentlemen and Ladies we humbly bid them to partake in “A SING-ALONG” with piano accompaniment of these Songs and Other Notable Musical Entertainments Doors open at 6pm
The land which was to be laid out with Marine Square and its approaches was purchased from the Crown in 1682 by Nicholas Barbon. Building leases of terms 'not exceeding 61 years' were granted to a variety of lessees from 1683, but progress seems to have occurred slowly over the next 10 years or more. Although seventeenth century artifacts have been found on site no fabric of this ﬁrst period of building is now recognisable. What is seen today is probably the result of rebuilding when the ﬁrst leases expired in the mid-eighteenth century, followed by modiﬁcations and improvements in the nineteenth century. Straight joints between the facades suggest that the eighteenth century rebuildings were sequential rather than simultaneous. The name of the pub is unlikely to have been inspired by Hamlet, but rather by the presence of Scandinavian merchant families who attended the Danish church in the Square and by the importance to the local economy of the Baltic timber trade. Small, low grade pub concert rooms and dance halls, designed (like the local gambling houses, opium dens and brothels) to attract sailors and part them from their money, were to be found at close intervals along the Highway and other dockside streets. In 1828, when Matthew Eltham ﬁrst held the license, the Prince of Denmark was no more than a three-windows-wide building between party walls in a row of otherwise two-bay premises of domestic scale. The neighbours were, at different times, a pastry cook, an importer of leeches, a hairdresser and a tobacconist. The Wellclose Square area was, at that time, socially mixed, with the houses of well-to-do timber merchants a short step away from distressed and dangerous warrens in which one of the principal industries was providing for the entertainment and exploitation of the thousands of seafarers who came to the Port of London from all parts of the world. The City reaches of the East End had had a strong theatrical tradition. In 1741, David Garrick made his ﬁrst London appearance in Odell’s Goodman's Fields theatre in Alie Street, a few hundred yards from the Square. The Garrick Saloon theatre in Leman Street was active from 1831 and the Whitechapel Pavilion, a little farther away, from 1828. The theatre site which was actually nearest to the Prince of Denmark was that of the Royalty, built in 1787, but this had been replaced in 1828 by the short-lived Royal Brunswick which fell down in that year and was never rebuilt. Eltham's lease was long enough to justify some investment in what might have been seen as one of the better locations in a
Mr John Wilton. Picture from John Wilton’s Music Hall by Peter Honri.
visibly declining but heavily populated, hard drinking, fast spending area. He was reputedly one of the ﬁrst publicans to install mahogany counters and ﬁttings. As a result, although the pub retained its old name, it became far better known locally as the Mahogany Bar, a name which was, until quite recent times, still current. The Mahogany Bar was said to have been 'better known on the water fronts of San Francisco than St Paul's Cathedral'. By 1839 Eltham held a magistrate's license for public music and dancing in a concert room recently built at the rear of the ground ﬂoor. It had a stated capacity of 200 and a stage 12ft deep. In 1843, aspiring to saloon theatre status, he became one of the ﬁrst publicans to take advantage of the new Act. He enlarged the stage to take 'vaudevilles and ballets' (one may ponder on what 'ballet' meant in a backyard theatre in such a quarter) and then spent what must have been an uneasy three or four years learning about the disadvantages of holding a Lord Chamberlain's theatre license. The Albion Saloon, as it was known, was not allowed to open before 5pm. Drinking and smoking were forbidden in the auditorium, no refreshment tickets were to be issued ('wet money', with the value of a refreshment ticket being redeemable in drink, was the normal way of charging for admission to concert rooms) and the place had to be given a separate entrance through the rear yard so that patrons would not have to pass through bars or taprooms. It could only be a matter of time before all pretence of running
a theatre was dropped. Eltham returned to non-dramatic, variety entertainment with a concert room licensed by the magistrates, followed up with energy and enterprise by his successor, John Wilton, from Bath. Wilton took over from Eltham in 1850. John Wilton had had some previous concert room experience, having chaired the meetings at Dr Johnson's Tavern in Fleet Street. In 1853 he rebuilt the old saloon as a concert room, 40 to 47ft long by 25 ft wide. This room had a balcony supported on iron columns on three sides and a stage with a light canvas and wood proscenium. It was a more-than-averagely well appointed performance space for artistes and audience, not a mere room for free-and-easies. Dressing rooms were provided under the stage for singers who, Wilton said, would be ‘singing in character'. The new room's location on a totally enclosed site with a 40ft long, narrow entrance corridor passing through the pub, made it, in the eyes of an inspecting ofﬁcial a hideously dangerous place, but there were, at the time, no regulations concerning safety from ﬁre and no legal grounds for refusing to certify the building as ﬁt to receive the public. An ofﬁcial noted that 'though called a concert room, (this) is to all intents and purposes a theatre'. Similar remarks made around this time by inspecting ofﬁcers in relation to other pub additions, mark the emergence of a new building type – the music hall. Shortly after opening, an additional link was built, a corrugated iron covered, woodlined bridge linking the balcony with a ﬁrst ﬂoor 'supplementary refreshment room' in the pub.
Its main purpose was to facilitate drink sales. It had the undoubted merit of being an additional means of escape but its construction, ironically, made it a ﬁre risk in itself. This, John Wilton's ﬁrst hall, whose axis lay across that of the present hall, was run up by Thomas Ennor, a builder. No professional designer seems to have been involved, but in 1855 an architect, S.C. Aubrey of Dalston, was brought in to carry out improvements, providing stone staircases to the balcony and making it deeper at the south end. A Metropolitan Buildings Ofﬁce record of a conference in February 1853 refers to the activities of an ‘architect from Bath' who was building a concert room (unidentiﬁed) in Whitechapel. If this was the Maggs of Bath, credited with having designed Wilton's great hall in 1859, it is at least possible that he was also responsible for this building, which was under construction in March 1853. By this time, Wilton was also the owner of at least one, probably two adjoining houses. An enlarged entrance and stone staircase were formed within No.2 Graces Alley, which had probably been acquired by Eltham some years earlier. It is not clear whether any parts of these works survive today but what is known of the way in which bits of buildings were repeatedly recycled in theatres and music halls (in order to reduce loss of income on closure, as much as to save money on construction) makes it more likely than not that the present state of the entrance derives in part from the 1855 improvements. Wilton enjoyed success with his ﬁrst venture and gambled next on building a hall comparable in scale to Morton's Canterbury Hall in Lambeth and Weston's in Holborn. No record of land transactions has yet been found, but Wilton clearly acquired Nos.3 and 4 Graces Alley, uniting them with the pub so as to gain their back yards. By 1858 he had assembled enough backland to build his big hall. The builder was again Ennor. The architect was said to be Jacob Maggs of Bath, but this was questioned at the time. Maggs's advertisements describe him as house painter and looking glass maker and there must be at least a suspicion that a 'ghost' was at work (S.C.Aubrey was supervising surveyor). Wilton's ﬁrst Mahogany Bar Concert Room was calling itself Wilton's Music Hall in its advertisements from at least 1854 and the foundation stone laid by Mrs Ellen Wilton in 1858 makes it clear that this was to be the name of the magniﬁcent new hall. It was nearly 75ft long and 40ft wide, ﬂat ﬂoored, with a carton pierre bombe-fronted balcony on three sides, supported
the era – WILTON'S MUSIC HALL SPECIAL EDITION
on cast iron columns of curious helical spiral form. The original stage was set in an apse, lined with Gothic-framed mirrors. At the opposite end was a shallower apsidal recess which probably backed a refreshment counter. There was a servery link between the pub and the hall near the stage end. The gas lighting included, in the centre of the ceiling, a 'huge sunlight' or sunbumer by Defries providing both light and forced air extract. The decorative plaster work was by White and Parlby and the decorations, in 'subdued white' and gold leaf, by Homan or Holman. There is no architectural warning of the presence of this room. The ﬁrst patrons who walked through the unremarkable entrance from the Alley in March 1859 and crossed the little stone-paved hallway alongside the main bar room, either walking up the plain stone stairs facing, or manoeuvring themselves through the doorway in the passageway beneath, must have been astonished at their ﬁrst sight of the great hall. In such a place and at such a time it would certainly have been a breathtaking experience. The suddenly revealed view is, in fact, as effective today as it was when the hall was new.
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 of covering contains 27,000 pieces of cut glass, the dazzling effect of which is unequalled. 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. There are 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 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 publically know, as hundreds are frequently spent for ventilating rooms without effect.
taken from ‘John Wilton’s Music Hall’ by Peter Honri
Mr Wilton, the proprietor of the stately ediﬁce that now rears its head in the neighbourhood of Wellclose Square, may be set down as one who has well catered for the public amusement, and done much with the greatest success, under a difﬁculty of no ordinary character, for Whitechapel is not exactly the spot where we should have looked, a few years ago, for any remarkable development of a taste for music, but with a commodious and comfortable Concert Hall, aided by the vocalists who take a high rank in their Profession, Mr Wilton has fulﬁlled a want that was long felt in this neighbourhood, the character of which has decidedly been raised by his efforts. The proof that his good work has been appreciated is to be found in the fact that, ever since his place of amusement has been thrown open to the public, it has met with a decided success, and a quiet and orderly audience may now be witnessed nightly in a proverbiallyunruly locality.
taken from ‘John Wilton’s Music Hall’ by Peter Honri
Sketch of Wilton’s. From the collection of the late Colin Sorensen.
Illustrations of the hall are scarce for any stage of its development. The 1859 woodcut view in the ephemeral Peeping Tom is crude but not uninformative. A sketch made in 1871 (above), conﬁrms some of the details shown in Peeping Tom, and shows that the stage, by this time, was of a more theatrical rectangular shape, with a proscenium frame and simple scenery. The big servery opening between the Mahogany Bar and the hall may have been glazed and private boxes can be seen to have been formed at the stage end of the balcony. The hall was arranged in traditional supper room fashion, with the chairman's table backing on to the orchestra.
the era – WILTON'S MUSIC HALL SPECIAL EDITION
Excerpt from The Era February 1862 Wiltons Music Hall
Excerpt from The Era 3rd of April 1859 Wilton’s New Music Hall
A very important addition to the places of amusement at the eastern end of the metropolis has been made by the construction of Wilton’s New Music Hall and Supper-rooms, Welclose 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. 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 people. In the comic department we have, Mrs. Lawrence; Sam Collins, the Irish vocalist; Mr. and Mrs. Randall, the character duologists; Messrs. Dempsey and Mc Guiness, 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 John Wilton. The new sunburner by Messrs. Defries and Sons, of Houndsditch is the chef d’reuvre
Mr Wilton has done an immense deal of good, and thus he was perfectly justiﬁed in appealing to his friends on Wednesday evening last, when the result must have been of the most gratifying character to him, for though the price of admission far exceeded that of ordinary nights, the hall was crowded to over ﬂowing. Apart from that section that came to do honour to the proprietor, there were, doubtless, many who had been attracted by the monster Programme issued, containing as it did, nearly all the modern concert-room names of note, there being no fewer than thirty comic vocalists, male and female, with a host of acrobatic and ‘sensation’ performers, whose daring feats would be certain annihilation of Master Samuel Warren’s nerves.
Interior of Wilton’s Music Hall, 1950’s. Image: London Metropolitan Archives
Among the most prominent who distinguished themselves was Mr. Westons ‘Cure’, who, in addition to his two songs of ‘Happy as a King’ and ‘Aunt Sally’, jumped and threw himself into those incomprehensible attitudes that are nightly to be witnessed westward of this hall. Of course, he was received with thunderous applause, as was Mr. J. G. Forde, in recounting his Divorce Court and ocean experiences, while the great G. W. Ross, was equally much in favour in his far-famed song of ‘Macbeth’, and Harry Sydney, in his punning effusions. Among the comic lady vocalists were Miss Julia Weston, Miss Emma Kerridge, Mrs Phillips, Mrs Laurence, and Miss Caroline Parkes, all special favourites, in their particular way, of amusing the public. Then there was the ‘Guys’, John and Marie, the Sisters Gillbee Gifford, and Miss Mortimer and Mr. Newman (clever duellists from the West-end), besides a host of other comicalities; while the “tumbling” department introduced the Etoille Family (from the Surrey Theatre), the Chantrell Family, and the Brothers Elliot, in addition to the graceful feats of M. Fillis with the globe and pole, Don Jose Manoel on the slack wire, and the daring Steve Ethair. A Juvenile Ventil Horn Band also played some popular airs in the course of the evening. While there was no lack in the comic department, however, ballad and glee singing was not forgotten, and some excellent four part songs were rendered by Messrs. Mc Davitt, Hogan, Brady and Bamford; and some pretty ballads by Mr. Reuben Hyeme, and Miss Clara Villiers, Miss E. Pearce, came specially from the West-end to render homage to the Proprietor, and she has been rarely heard to better advantage than she was in ‘Tell me my Heart’ and the spirited song of
‘The Queen of the Sea’. The orchestra was considerably augmented for the occasion, and the whole entertainment was ably conducted by Mr. Donald Kerridge, who is the Musical Director of the establishment. About the middle of the evening Mr. Wilton was called on to the Stage to receive the congratulations of his friends, and addressed the audience as follows: “Ladies and Gentlemen, – Directly you hear my voice you will at once discover that I am labouring from severe hoarseness, therefore I must ask for your indulgence. Before I thank you for your patronage this evening, I think it right I should explain to you the reasons I have made this special appeal to you for the same, and when I tell you that I have now been catering for your amusements for a period extending over eleven years, you will believe me when I say it has not been without some difﬁdence on my part, nor without great persuasion on the part of my friends, I complied with other reasons, which I am about to give you, that has induced me at last to do so, and I now blame myself for not having done so before. It will be in the recollection of a great number of you a speech made by the respected Lessee of the Haymarket Theatre, some two or three years back, upon the occasion of his Annual Beneﬁt; he said: “I dare say a great many of you are surprised at my taking a Beneﬁt every year. Now I will tell you why I do so”. He said, “there are a great number of tradesmen and others who derives great beneﬁt from my establishment, and other upon whom I confer favours. It is to enable these persons to acknowledge those favours that I yearly take a Beneﬁt”, and it is to enable those persons who are placed in the same position towards
me that I have made this appeal to you. With reference to myself I have not much to say, it being a bad subject for a man to talk about himself; but there is one thing to justice to myself I must say, and that is, that, there is no man in London who studies and strives to deserve the patronage of the public, and who more looks after their comforts, than this man who now addresses you. I would now say a word or two about these Music Halls. My impression is that they are an honour to the country” and, what is more, I think Wilton’s Music Hall shares that honour. You must understand that these Halls are not conﬁned to the Metropolis. There is not a town of any importance in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales but what has its Music Halls or Hall, and I am quite sure, from observations which I have made since I have had the honour of catering for your amusement, that they have created a great social and moral improvement amongst the working classes of this country. You refer to the statistics of drunkenness and breaches of the peace now and twelve or ﬁfteen years back, and you will see a wonderful decrease in these offenses, particularly drunkenness – that bane to the domestic happiness and comfort of the working man, to what then, I would ask, is to be attributed the decrease of this offense? Why to nothing else but the establishment of a cheap and rational entertainment which these Music Halls have provided for the working classes of this country, for it is the working classes – and the working classes alone – who are the great support of them. There is no doubt in the world the cause of so much drunkenness in this country was the want of amusement for the people, I will also embrace this opportunity of thanking those
Professional ladies and gentlemen who have accepted engagements from me during my managerial career. It is to their exertions and their talents that the entertainments at my establishment have become so popular; they will therefore, accept my best thanks for the name, and for the courtesy I have ever received at their hands. I would also thank the ladies and gentlemen who have kindly volunteered their services this evening, not forgetting to thank my friend (if he will allow me to call him so) Mr. Edward Weston, for the very kind and handsome manner in which he placed at my disposal the services of his world-renowned ‘Cure’, Mr. J. H. Stead (who by-the-by, I was in hopes would have cured me of my hoarseness, but I suppose he had not the time). Mr Weston will pardon me for mentioning this, but the fact is, he has behaved so handsomely, that I could not help doing so. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I have nothing more to do than to return to you my sincere and heartfelt thanks for the great amount of patronage I have ever received at your hands; believe me words are too poor to express the deep feelings of gratitude my heart entertains towards you. It is to your patronage I owe my present position, and it is your patronage upon which my future position depends; therefore, believe me that no exertion will be spared on my part so long as I continue to have the honour of catering for your amusement to merit a continuation of it; and though “it is not in the power of mortal to command success, I will do more-endeavour to deserve it.”
A few years later, in 1877, a refurbishment was announced which would have re-jigged the balcony boxes and enlarged the stage. While work was in progress, the hall suffered a destructive ﬁre,
Puss and Mew London Dry Gin
Puss and Mew London Dry Gin will be available throughout the exhibition
the era – WILTON'S MUSIC HALL SPECIAL EDITION
stand-pipe. The Hall presents a scene of utter destruction; here and there a portion of the balcony on either side rests on the tottering pillars underneath, and in other respects the interior is burnt to ashes, nothing but the bare walls remaining. Workmen were engaged in the building till a late hour on Wednesday, preparing for the opening night, but nothing satisfactory can be gleamed as to the origin of the calamity. The Hall was fully insured. The successor to Mr. Wilton, we may remind our readers, was Mr. Robinson; then came Mr George Fredericks, now proprietor of the ‘Bedford’, who changed its name, and from whose hands the establishment passed to those of Mr Hodgkinson, who restored the original designation.
which left only the external brick walls, the iron columns and part of the balcony standing. The back part of the pub was also severely damaged.
Excerpt from The Era August 1877 Destruction of Wilton’s Music Hall taken from ‘John Wilton’s Music Hall’ by Peter Honri
This east end place of entertainment, situated in Grace’s Alley, Wellclose Square, has been reduced to a heap of ashes. The Hall has been closed to the public since the 13th, for improvements and alterations, and was announced to be re-opened on Monday next with a company of ‘star artists’. Adjoining the place, to which there were several means of access, is the Mahogany Bar Tavern, both being tenanted by Mr Hodgkinson. The inmates of the tavern retired and scarcely half-anhour had elapsed before a female servant was awoke by a crackling noise and the breaking of glass. She at once raised the cry of “ﬁre”. Even at that early stage the ﬂames had obtained a ﬁrm hold of the Hall, and on the arrival of the engine from the Commercial Road, accompanied by Engineer F. Langbelt, and the members of the Salvage Corps, with Mr. Withers, the District Superintendent, the ﬁre had penetrated the roof. Such
was the threatening aspect of affairs that increased aid was telegraphed f o r, and seven steamers and four manuals were promptly in attendance. By halfpast one in the morning the roof fell in with a loud crash, the surrounding buildings being exposed to great damage by the fragments of burnt timber ﬂying about in every direction. The reﬂection of the ﬁre was seen from a considerable distance, and in such a crowded locality it is needless to say that a large number of spectators was attracted to the scene. The stage backed the house in Shorter-street, and running parallel with one side of the balcony were the backs of the shops and dwelling houses of Cable street. The wind drifted the ﬂames in the latter direction, and to that point the attention of the brigade was chieﬂy drawn. Several of the houses were already attacked, and from the roofs of others the ﬁremen were directing the hose, as well as from every available position. When the premises of Mr. Rayner, corn dealer, 45 Cable-street, became ignited, the ﬂames shot up with renewed violence, and much excitement was caused. The extensive workshops of Mr. Lubeus, cabinetmaker, 20, Wellclose-square, were at that time ignited. The ﬁremen continued their work with vigour till eight o’clock on Thursday morning, when the engines were stopped, and up to four o’clock in t h e afternoon water was thrown on to the heated ruins by means of a
Rebuilding took place at an historically crucial time. The 1878 Metropolis Management Act gave the Metropolitan Board of Works new powers to make regulations for the protection from ﬁre of 'places of public resort' and to require proprietors of theatres and music halls to remedy structural defects. The Board was also empowered to enter and inspect premises to ensure that their requirements were being carried out. This new regime, working over the years with other factors, was to transform the character of music halls. A completely landlocked hall like Wilton's could never again be built, but Mr Hodgkinson, who had become licensee in 1876, actually succeeded in completing the works of reinstatement and reopening in September 1878, just before the watchdog began to bite. He must have been aware that speed was essential (the Act was passed in July, while works were in progress) and this may explain the fact that the completed building seems to have been a remarkably conservative reproduction of the 1859 hall. A second, perhaps reinforcing, reason may be advanced. The hall's declining popularity probably discouraged additional investment and forced Hodgkinson to work within the (unknown) sum-paid out by the Commercial Union insurance company. Whatever the reason may have been, Wilton's is now the only building where the physical nature of a giant mid-Victorian London music hall of the 1850s/70s can still be experienced and studied. By good fortune, little has happened to the hall itself in the last 120 years to reduce its value and interest in this respect. The only immediately obvious difference between the hall as it is seen today and as it existed before the ﬁre is that the ﬂoor is now slightly raked. The plain cylindrical bases of the columns,
clearly visible at the stage end, are sunk completely into the ﬂoor at the farther end. It cannot at present be determined whether the proscenium arch is in the form existing before the ﬁre. It seems likely (one cannot, of course, be certain) that the changes, such as they were, were ones already envisaged in the interrupted 1877 refurbishment. As completed, there were several private boxes (actual number unknown) at the stage end of the balcony. The new tables in the hall were marble-topped and the ﬂoor was carpeted. Carpets were practically unknown in drinking halls until William Holland laid Brussels carpet at the Canterbury about 1868, Improvements are known to have been carried out at Wilton's in the 1860s and it may well be that Wilton's was an early follower of the Canterbury's example. The cost of this reconstruction was reported as being £3,282. The architect was J.Buckley Wilson of Wilson, Willcox and Wilson, a Swansea ﬁrm. Hodgkinson's smart action did not, in the end, payoff. Under his successors, Elisha Bannister and, ﬁnally, William Holland, the decline of Wilton's continued. Inevitably, the stringent safety demands of the Metropolitan Board Of Works caught up with the place, The expense of carrying out the further work needed to obtain a 'certiﬁcate of suitability' was simply too great and the hall closed in the winter of 1880. In its last days as a music hall, Wilton's, like other halls (for example, Forester's in Cambridge Heath Road) had been used occasionally by Frederick Charrington's East End Mission for Sunday services. Charrington was heir to the East End brewing family. Renouncing drink and its attendant evils he became a dedicated, somewhat Quixotic, temperance campaigner and scourge of the music halls. The vacant building eventually came into the hands of
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the London Wesleyan Mission. The way in which this happened has been highly dramatised and romanticised in the telling, but the simple fact is that they purchased the building in 1888 and it served them for more than 70 years – much longer than its entire life as a music hall. So far as the preservation of the building was concerned, the new use was almost ideal. It gave the Old Mahogany Bar a useful life in the community, making intensive use of both the hall and the frontage building. The needs of a non-conformist mission were remarkably similar to those of a music hall. Both called for a great room with good acoustics, a number of smaller rooms for a variety of functions and some living accommodation 'over the shop'. The place needed little alteration, other than removal of evidence of the drink trade and the sobering up of the decorations, to suit it for the Mission's purposes.
Over the years, the Mahogany Bar gave outstanding service to the people of the Tower Hamlets and the mobile population of seamen. During the dockers' strike in 1889 a thousand meals a day were provided for strikers and their families. There were children's clubs and magic lantern entertainments and, many years before the modern inﬂux of Bangladeshi and Somali families to Stepney, there was a club for Africans and West Indians. At one time during the last war The Mahogany Bar housed people who had been bombed out of their homes. Work with seamen, however, had dwindled after the First World War and with post-1945 depopulation and slum clearances, the Mission's role was much reduced. It ﬁnally closed in April 1956. The following year the hall became a warehouse for the collection and sorting of rags. By 1964 the whole area was earmarked for compulsory acquisition and slum clearance by the London County Council (LCC), but the intervention of the newlyfounded British Music Hall Society led to an undertaking being given that the possibility of retaining the music hall would be examined. There is no need in the present context to relate every twist and turn of events over the following thirty-ﬁve years, but a few facts are essential to an understanding of the present state of the building and the opportunities and challenges it presents. A number of factors militated against positive action.
the era – WILTON'S MUSIC HALL SPECIAL EDITION
Within a year of the compulsory purchase order the LCC was replaced by the Greater London Council (GLC). Near-total clearance left the area desolate and the music hall, an architecturally anonymous brick box, was left as a completely isolated, inexplicable object – a stranded whale in Stepney. Redevelopment in the immediate surroundings was painfully slow and, at one point, was held back for several years while the route of a proposed new river crossing was being examined (interestingly, the presence of the listed Wilton's was never regarded by the road engineers as a 'ﬁx'). Political control of the new Council changed at every election and every change resulted in a radical shift of policy toward the music hall. The position was worsened when the abolition of the GLC in 1986 led to the London Residuary Body (LRB) disposing of the vacant land adjoining the hall to a commercial developer. This removed the only realistic possibility for extramural improvement to the complex. It simultaneously destroyed the possibility of an endowing development. The only good thing to emerge from this otherwise deplorable action was that the freehold of the hall (obviously considered by the LRB to be nearly worthless) passed to the London Music Hall Trust. The Trust also became the freeholders of No. 17 Wellclose Square. The building of a school on the opposite side of the Alley and private housing immediately adjoining the hall on three sides, changed the social context of the building (whose presence should really have been an important determining factor in the planning of the entire neighbourhood). This further limited options for its future use. Before it became freehold owner, the Trust, with the ﬁnancial assistance of the GLC, the London Docklands Development Corporation, the Historic Buildings Council, the Tower Hamlets Inner Area Project and others, had already carried out works to the building. Major repairs were carried out under the supervision of architect Peter Newson of Kirby Adair Newson in separate contracts between 1983 and 1989 including the elimination of wood rot and damp-prooﬁng works, the renewal of ﬂoors in No.4 Graces alley, re-rooﬁng of the frontage houses, repairs and reinstatement of missing details to their front elevations, extensive renewal of external joinery, re-slating of the music hall roof, repairs and rot treatment to the hall ﬂoor, stabilisation of the north wall, part rebuilding of west gable, repairs to the balcony front and re-plastering the ceiling. The same ﬁrm rebuilt No.17 Wellclose Square as a steel-framed building behind a facade of traditional appearance,
Academy of St Martin in the Fields
The Soldier's Tale by Igor Stravinsky
Featuring the versatile violinist Anthony Marwood, this musictheatre performance mixes drama, music, ﬁlm and physical theatre.
Wilton’s Music hall
2nd and 4th July only at 7.30pm Tickets are £20 each, available through the Barbican Box Ofﬁce as part of the City of London Festival. Call 0845 1207 502 or www.colf.org
linking it to the Wilton's complex to provide sorely needed space for backstage facilities. Some of these works were carried out in a hand-to-mouth way as money appeared and with constant pressure from the funding agencies to proceed as quickly as possible with whatever could be done. Hence, there could be no master plan and some work was started which could not be completed. The decades since compulsory acquisition by the GLC have seen the frustration of a series of campaigns to restore the place to use. There was, for example, a remarkable awareness arousing event in 1970. This was a production by Michael Mills, transmitted by BBC2 on Boxing Night of that year, in which Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Ronnie Barker, Bill Fraser, Pat Kirkwood, Warren Mitchell and other stars took part. The programme reproduced, with an unusual regard for historical credibility and making remarkably few concessions to modern taste, the entertainment style and musical programme of a midVictorian music hall. Theatre and music hall historians have, however, never lost sight of Wilton's. As early as 1975, as the result of an initiative by the Consortium for Drama and the Media in Education, J.S.Bratton (Professor Jacky Bratton) produced the ﬁrst well-researched history of the building in a book and slide pack, Wilton's Music Hall (subsequently part of the 'Theatres in Focus' series, published by Chadwyck-Healey, Cambridge). Ten years later, Peter Honri wrote John Wilton's Music Hall: the Handsomest Room in Town, 1985. This is set in the form of a 'ﬁctional' diary, but is based on meticulous research. It brings the story of Wilton's up to the date of publication, with much information on related campaigns, entertainments and plans for the building. Despite all these efforts Wilton's has had a hazardous existence since 1963 and its survival is truly remarkable.
Wilton’s recent history Excerpt From www.wiltons.org. uk
Under the management of the Broomhill Opera the semi derelict Wilton’s Music Hall was opened to the public in January 1999. Initially there was no heating, electricity, security or bathrooms. Windows were broken, the basement was ﬂooded, ﬂoors were dangerous and the space was ﬁlthy with years of accumulated rubbish and dust. Wilton’s had been largely boarded up since the 1960s and had all but disappeared from public consciousness, save for highly acclaimed performances of TS Eliot's The Wasteland by Fiona Shaw, directed by Deborah Warner in December 1997 and 1998. This was the beginning of Wilton’s renaissance. Many people have helped in saving Wilton’s, including John Betjeman, Richard Goolden, Ray Mackender, Gerry Glover, Peter Sellers, John Earl, Colin Sorensen, Liza Minelli, Norma Dunbar, Roy Hudd, Christopher Biggins, Peter Honri and Bernard Miles. Since reaching the ﬁnals of Restoration on the BBC the Wilton's Music Hall trustees and new management have begun a Heritage Lottery Application to restore Wilton's Music Hall as a "found space", preserving the extraordinary atmosphere and charm, and bringing the best to the most in Tower Hamlets and beyond.
Wilton’s Music Hall
Trio & Opera evenings ‘Enjoy a glass of wine with two evenings of gorgeous music and opera’ Our favourite musicians from previous operas at Wilton's, including cellist Robin Michael, put on an evening of enchanting entertainment.
Tuesday 28th June at 7.30pm
French and Russian Masterpieces Sarah Leonard - Soprano Caroline Balding - Violin Robin Michael - Cello Sarah Nicolls - Piano Songs by Poulenc and Duparc and Sonatas by Ravel and Debussy followed by Shostakovich's late masterpiece for piano trio and soprano written by the Russian poet Alexander Blok.
Tuesday 5th July at 7.30pm
The Fidelio Piano Trio Darragh Morgan - Violin Robin Michael - Cello Mary Dullea - Piano Featuring Ravel's piano trio as well as duos and trios by Janacek and Haydn.
Tickets £12.50 each. Available through Wilton's Husic Hall on 020 7702 2789. Booking opens on 19th April 2005. Bar and restaurant open from 6.30pm.
the era – WILTON'S MUSIC HALL SPECIAL EDITION
Picture taken from John Wilton’s Music Hall by Peter Honri.
Credits: Main history text by John Earl, copyright John Earl and the Wilton's Music Hall Trust, 1999. Excerpts from The Era are from 'John Wilton's Music Hall' by Peter Honri, copyright Peter Honri, 1985. Excerpt from 'The Pauper, The Thief and The Convict' from www.victorianlondon.org. Picture copyright where indicated or copyright Wilton's Music Hall. Please visit www.wiltons.org for more information, bookings and forthcoming productions. Designed & produced by Measure. www.measure.org.uk