The Theatres Trust

Wilton's Music Hall

  • Theatre ID
  • Built / Converted
  • Dates of use
    • 1859 - 1880: as music hall
    • 1999: as theatre - continuing
  • Current state
  • Current use
    Theatre (earlier buildings in use before 1841-1858; current building used as mission hall and rag warehouse before return to theatre use)
  • Address
    Grace's Alley, off Ensign Street, Tower Hamlets, London, E1 8JB, England
  • Website


This is the most important surviving early music hall to be seen anywhere and (although altered) is now the only representative of the 'new generation' giant pub halls of 1850s London, modelled on the success of the second Canterbury Hall (1854), Evans's New (Supper Room) Music Hall (1856) and Weston's (1857), all long demolished. It is of outstanding architectural and archaeological significance. The Prince of Denmark tavern was reputedly the first in London to have mahogany counters and fittings, hence its alternative name, which stuck to it for well over a century, of (Old) Mahogany Bar. A concert room existed before 1843, as a purpose-built room behind the pub, at right angles to the axis of the present hall. Matthew Eltham obtained a licence for it as the Albion Saloon in 1845, but it soon reverted to proto-music hall form. John Wilton rebuilt it as his first music hall in 1853. He then acquired adjoining properties (the pub front still exhibits the original party lines and varying levels) in order to obtain the rear land, over which he built a vastly enlarged grand music hall, opening in 1859 (inscribed foundation stone still present between pub and hall). The hall was very seriously damaged and unroofed by fire in 1877. Engravings of the first hall show that the rebuilding was on closely similar lines to the original building, but with a proscenium stage in place of the former apsidal platform and a gently raked floor instead of the flat supper room floor. Typically of its kind and period, the hall was originally completely landlocked by the surrounding property and it therefore has no external elevations apart from that of its parent pub, through which it must still be entered. The face brickwork, where it is visible, shows signs of hurried execution and the staircase in the entrance lobby (to take one obvious element) is of extraordinary makeshift construction. The hall, nevertheless, fully merits the contemporary epithet, 'handsome'. Entered through the paved lobby, it is an astonishing survival. A big, rectangular room with an apse at the back and a high stage. Single balcony on three sides with bombélaster or carton pierre front, supported on unusual helical-twist ('barley sugar') cast iron columns, whose bases are progressively overtaken by the rake of the floor. Side walls with paired arched recesses above the balcony, the arches supported on alternating piers and ornamental brackets. Elliptical vaulted ceiling with ornamental fretted ribs, originally with a lantern skylight and gas chandeliers. The former presence of a hot sunburner flue has left charring on some of the roof timbers. Wilton's became a mission hall in 1888 and spent a longer life in this form than it had as a music hall. By 1963 it was a rag-sorting depot and warehouse. It was acquired by the Greater London Council in 1966 and subsequently transferred to a Trust. Broomhill Opera acquired a long lease and the building was returned to active theatre life in 1999. In its post-fire 1878 state, it still exhibits the essential attributes of a first generation classic grand music hall, with space for supper tables, benched area and encircling promenade. A bar previously opened from the pub on to the hall at stage left. An unelaborate but profoundly evocative room.

Hide all images

Auditorium at Wilton's Music Hall, London, 2011
© Mike Twigg

Rear of the auditorium at Wilton's Music Hall, London, 2009
© Wilton's Music Hall Trust

View from the stage at Wilton's Music Hall, London, 2011
© Mike Twigg

Front door to Wilton's Music Hall, London, 2010
© James Perry

The Mahogany Bar at Wilton's Music Hall, London, 2010
© James Perry

The Mahogany Bar at Wilton's Music Hall, London, 2011
© Mike Twigg

See all images

Hide further details

  • Other names
    Prince of Denmark Public House, Mahogany Bar (by c.1839), Albion Saloon (by 1843), Frederick's Royal Palace of Varieties, Beulah Gospel Mission, London Wesleyan Mission, Old Mahogany Bar Mission
  • Events
    • 1840 Owner/Management: Matthew Eltham, magistrate's licence
    • 1843 Owner/Management: Matthew Eltham, stage plays licence (also in 1843 W Collins)
    • 1850 - 1869 Owner/Management: John Wilton
    • 1853 Owner/Management: Matthew Eltham, new concert room, passed to John Wilton
    • 1859 Design/Construction: enlarged grand music hall constructed.
      • Jacob Maggs - Architect
      • White & Parlby - Consultant: Plasterwork Decorations
      • also Homan - Consultant: Painted Decorations
      • Defries - Consultant: Gas Sunburner
    • 1859 - 1880 Use: as music hall
    • 1870 Owner/Management: George Robinson
    • 1874 Owner/Management: George Fredericks
    • 1877 Owner/Management: Henry Hodkinson
    • 1878 Design/Construction: (probably) reconstructed after fire, introduction of raked auditorium floor
      • J Buckley, Wilson, Wilson, Willcox & Wilson (Swansea) - Architect
    • 1888 Alteration: converted to mission hall (architect unknown)
    • 1979 - 1989 Alteration: a number of major repairs including the strengthening of the north wall
      • Peter Newson - Architect
    • 1999 Use: as theatre - continuing
    • 2004 Owner/Management: Wilton's Music Hall Trust
  • Capacities
    • Original: 1500
    • Current: c.400
  • Listings
    • Grade II*
  • Dimensions
    • Height to grid: Ceiling, no grid
    • Orchestra pit: None

Of the period

Façade of the Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 2000
Corn Exchange (Cambridge)

Have you seen?

Audience at the Open Air Theatre, Scarborough, July 2010
Open Air Theatre (Scarborough)

Protecting theatres for everyone