Wilton’s might just be the most beautiful theatre in all of London. It’s ornate frontage looks like it belongs in Florence or Venice rather than the heart of East London.
You see, this Grade II listed building is in fact the world’s oldest grand music hall. It began life as an alehouse in the 1740s and reached its hayday in the nineteenth century as it evolved into a concert hall crammed to the rafters with audiences from across the East End. It takes its name from a man called John Wilton who bought it in 1859, but it has survived to the present day because of what it means to people in the area. This building wasn’t just a centre of working class culture – from the end of the 19th century through the early 20th century it also served as one of the biggest soup kitchens in London, feeding the starving families of striking dock workers in times of industrial strife.
Sitting at the gorgeous bar, it’s hard not to get a sense of the history that lives in every inch of this place. It’s remarkable to think it was almost demolished in the middle of the 20th century but, thanks to the intervention of local residents and some big names from the arts (incl Peter Sellers & Spike Milligan), it was awarded its protected status. Thank goodness, because there’s an intoxicating and charming nostalgia in the faded beauty of this space, lovingly restored and maintained over the last 20 years.
It’s a thriving centre of the community once more, alive with the buzz of audiences and performance. In addition to its theatre programme, Wilton’s has a real speciality for live music and cabaret.
If you head down there at the moment, you can catch an exciting new play by John Godber called This Is Not Right. Looking ahead at the next few months there’s something for everyone: an evocation of 1920s New Orleans in Lady of Jazz, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and, as we get closer to that time of year, a magical retelling of Christmas Carol for all the family.
If you live in East London, it’s a great spot for a drink – and if the programming sounds like it might be to your taste you can follow Wilton’s right here on the Stagedoor app. We’ll keep you up to date with what’s coming up over the coming months!