The historic archive of the world’s oldest surviving grand Victorian music hall, Wilton’s Music Hall in East London is to be conserved and made available by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Wilton’s Music Hall archive features an array of material including an 1871 sketch of the interior, a campaign poster to save the building from destruction and handmade tickets constructed from old beer boxes that record the history of the building and its most famous performances.

In 1853, five houses located on Grace’s Alley in London’s East End were combined into one venue by John Wilton, becoming a Music Hall attracting the greatest talents of the day. Over the next 100 years Wilton’s Music Hall had a varied career becoming a Methodist Mission from 1888 and, surviving the Blitz, standing in as a rag sorting warehouse in 1956.

The threat of destruction loomed in the 1960s and campaigners fought to protect the former music hall. Amongst them, Spike Milligan, whose letters can be found in the archive, alongside photographs and sketches that document the campaign history. In the 1970s, the building was awarded Grade II listed status and the first trust to raise funds to buy the lease was founded.

Despite the initial repairs, the Music Hall became derelict and attracted artists due to its atmospheric semi-ruined state. For example, Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax music video was shot at Wilton’s Music Hall.

© Wilton’s Music Hall

A Heritage Lottery Funded programme of conservative repair, designed by Tim Ronalds Architects, completed building restoration in 2015 whilst maintaining Wilton’s unique character.

The V&A says that it will make the full archive available for research, once cataloguing has been completed.

Wiltons’ Music Hall runs weekly heritage tours of the building most Monday evenings from 6pm.


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