When Essie Fox wrote The Somnambulist, a Victorian novel with scenes set in Wilton’s music hall, and with one of her characters being hell-bent on having that venue closed down on grounds of moral decadence, she could hardly have guessed that this May 25, on the eve of her book’s publication, Wilton’s – which has survived for so long, ever since the 1850’s – would find itself faced with closure, having failed to secure restoration funds in its bid for the Heritage Lottery.
When the VV first visited the hall and saw the glint of brass barley-twist pillars that support a balcony above, she wondered what those metal poles might once have reflected in the hall’s heyday, when Victorian operatic stars ended their Covent Garden shows and jumped into cabs to be ferried out east, to sing at Wilton’s all over again – or when George Leybourne performed Champagne Charlie – a song so popular at the time that it led to a generous sponsorship deal, after which he drank nothing but Moet champagne.
Wilton’s is an historical gem – but not only for its music hall acts. During the London Dockers’ strike, by which time the hall was a Methodist mission, it provided the starving workers with 2,000 meals a day. And when the Methodists moved out, with the area designated for ‘slum clearance’ John Betjeman fought passionately to save it from demolition. A listed status was secured, with hopes that Wilton’s might be preserved, and for many years now its doors have re-opened, producing some wonderful shows for the public.
But the hall’s structure is rapidly failing and desperately in need of work without which its director, Frances Mayhew, says it will close by the end of the year.
If you agree with Essie Fox in believing that Wilton’s closure would be a needless event resulting in the permanent loss of this’ living’ time capsule of history, then please do donate to the Wilton’s fund by pledging whatever amount you can at: www.wiltons.org.uk/
And if you want to find out what the fuss is all about, Wilton’s puts on regular guided tours with details on their website – as well as information about its current shows.
Essie’s debut novel, The Somnambulist, is published by Orion Books: http://www.orionbooks.co.uk/books/the-somnambulist-hardback