This is a tiny stump of a lane that was once much longer, and vastly busier, for on it was the entrance to a Victorian music hall.
Wilks Place first seems to appear on a John Rocque map of 1746, when the area was just starting to develop, with the existing line of houses fronting the main Hoxton Road starting to spread backwards into the fields behind. Wilks Place was created to give access to the side streets that were developing.
By the early 1800s, Wilks Place was first named on maps, but still just a short passage, that by rather curious accident was about the same length as it is today.
However, by mid-Victorian times, the short passage was a full road, linking Hoxton Street with the parallel Gifford Street — and it had gained a music hall, which is still there.
Built in 1863 by James Mortimer, and originally called Mortimer Hall, it was sold and renamed McDonald’s Music Hall just a few years later — and it was under the new owner that it’s success soared. The building was raised in height to create balcony seating, but the Music Hall era was a short lived one, and in 1871 it closed.
The building was taken over by a number of temperance promoting groups, and during the war years the hall became a community centre.
In the post-war social housing boom, it was decided that the long rows of rather run down housing along Wilks Place and around the back of the music hall should be torn down and replaced by blocks of council flats.
That decision saw Wilks Place truncated to its current size, as the Arden Estate, built in 1968-72 behind sealed off the road. At the same time, what was now Hoxton Hall acquired a shop on the main road, and swapped it’s entrance around to the other side – bricking up its original entrance as a dead wall.
They also expanded sideways into neighbouring properties, making the new site about 3-times larger than the old, although the entertainment hall is the same.
The result of all these changes is that Wilks Place, once lined with houses and busy with visitors to the music hall is today a sorry stump of a path, mostly used as back-entrances to the hall and shops, and lined with rubbish bins.
Do look up at the original entrance to Hoxton Hall though, and you can see the construction date in the decorative finishes, and the initials of the original builder, James Mortimer.
For film fans, it makes an exceptionally fleeting appearance in The Krays, as where they park their car before crossing the road to the Bacchus pub (as Whitechapel’s The Blind Beggar) to shoot rival gangland criminal, George Cornell, which was to lead to the Kray’s eventual imprisonment.
The surviving cobbles (setts) are a reminder of its lost heritage, and a memorial stone to the temperance societies in memory of their intemperance of fun.