The Wilton’s Music Hall in London gets a ramshackle restoration

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The Wilton's Music Hall in London gets a ramshackle restoration
A labyrinthine world of colliding half-levels and ancient staircases leading nowhere’ … Wilton’s Music Hall // © David Levene

Tucked behind a row of terraces, this vast barrel-vaulted venue is the East End’s best-kept secret. Now, thanks to an overhaul that leaves the tattiness intact, a beguiling Tardis of Victoriana is open for business once more

As the East End’s border with the City of London becomes choked with towers of luxury flats, it might come as a surprise to find that just streets away from billboards trumpeting “off-plan investment opportunities” clings an institution that thrives on its decrepitude. After a £4m restoration project, the oldest pub music hall in the world is looking as ramshackle as ever.

“We didn’t want to lose the atmosphere of it being a forgotten old wreck,” says Tim Ronalds, the architect who has been working on Wilton’s Music Hall since 2006, leading an intricate process of keyhole surgery and shoring up you might never know had happened. “It shouldn’t have a National Trust preciousness – it’s a rough, tough, working place whose character comes from wear and tear.”

Wilton’s is one of east London’s best-kept secrets – a beguiling Tardis of crumbling Victoriana hidden behind a row of unassuming terraces, tucked down a back street in Whitechapel. Like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia, visitors head to the back of a tumbledown pub and walk through a small passage into a vast, barrel-vaulted music hall. A raised stage stands at one end, framed by a triumphal proscenium arch, while an ornate balcony encircles the room, raised on spiralling barley sugar columns – a level originally designated for “unescorted ladies”, safely elevated from the antics below. Encrusted with peeling paint and flaking mouldings, it feels like happening upon a forgotten secret, a room untouched since its 19th-century heyday. []

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