For most of my London life, I’ve lived to the east. Not trendy-Shoreditch-Hoxton-Dalston east, but sometimes-grimy-sometimes-shiny docklands-east. We aren’t exactly overflowing with cultural venues in this part of London (unless you count the O2 and given that the only thing I’ve ever seen there was ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’, it doesn’t quite fit in to this blog) but there is one little gem that deserves to be shouted about.
I’ll be completely honest, to begin with I thought of Wilton’s as a nice bar because that’s all I’d really used it for (in fairness it wasn’t fully open the first time I visited). It was only last summer that I visited it for music purposes and got a full taste of what this little wonder had to offer.
Wilton’s is one of the only surviving original music halls, which it became in 1859. Before that, the building started life as terraced houses and a pub, before having a concert hall
Wilton’s as it used to be (the Mahogany bar)
added. John Wilton bought it in the 1850s and enlarged the space, opening a ‘Magnificent New Music Hall’, though it only lasted until the 1880s. In 1888 it was bought and turned into a Methodist Mission – which had a sadly important role in this impoverished part of east London. The Mission lasted until the 1850s and then was left empty and was threatened with demolition. Campaigners, well, campaigned and the building became Grade I listed in the 1970s. Even in its unrepaired state, artists began to be drawn to it, and some performances began to be put on (and it was even used in a few music videos). The building began to be restored in 2012 and opened fully in 2015.
So last summer, my friend suggested it as a nice place to go for a drink and listen to some music, and it really is! The spaces are wonderful – full of interesting historical features, with a great selection of drinks and also DELICIOUS pizzas. We went for Monday Night Music – a series of free performances in the bar, and it was lovely to sit, listen and soak up the atmosphere. We went in July and it was a warm night – it’s lovely because all the windows were open, and there was space to be outside at the front of the building. Quite different from most ‘London beer gardens’ i.e. standing on the pavement next to rush hour traffic.
In September I then went to see English National Opera perform Britten’s Paul Bunyan in the auditorium. And it’s gorgeous! So atmospheric, and the production really made fantastic use of the space. (I wasn’t so sure about the opera itself, but the performance and the venue were brilliant). There’s something so beautiful about the way the whole place has been restored: it’s not been glossed over, there are rough edges and it’s basically all open brickwork. Wilton’s sells itself as a wedding venue too and it’s easy to see why – it’s a gorgeous, historical and cultural spot with just the right amount of hipster charm.
Wilton’s is definitely somewhere I’d recommend (and somewhere I’ll be visiting again), whether you’re looking for a performance, or just somewhere a bit different to have a drink and take in a bit of London’s cultural history.
Wilton’s is on Grace’s alley, just off Cable Street. The nearest stations are Tower Gateway or Shadwell (DLR), or Tower Hill (underground). You can read more about Wilton’s history on their website, and find out about performances too.
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