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The Victoria and Albert Museum has recently added a huge archive, including photos, videos, posters, tickets and campaign literature, from Wilton’s Music Hall, the oldest surviving music hall of its type, to its National Collection of Performing Arts.

Wilton’s archive dates from 1871, and Holly Kendrick, executive director at the venue, said: “We are proud to donate our archive to the V&A where it will be preserved and made available for research, enabling Wilton's to further its commitment to accessible heritage.”  

Geoffrey Marsh, director of the V&A’s theatre and performance collections, founded in the 1920s, said: “Wilton’s Music Hall is part of the fabric of London’s rich entertainment history. We look forward to working with Wilton’s to capture their exceptional artistic programme for future generations to enjoy.”

A venue of variety

Originally built as five houses in the 1690s, John Wilton knocked the properties on Grace's Alley in the East End into one larger venue in 1853. An entertainment hall was soon opened which played host to the latest attractions from the West End as well as a variety of other talent including the circus, puppetry, ballet and fairgrounds.

At the end of the 19th century, when the East End was in abject poverty, religious organisations tried to help and Wilton’s was brought by the East London Methodist Mission, who remained owners for over 70 years until 1956.

The hall became derelict in the 1960s and, with help from high-profile campaigners including John Betjeman and Spike Milligan, the site was awarded Grade II listing in 1970 to avoid future demolition. The hall was re-opened in 2015 after extensive refurbishment funded by the Heritage Lottery programme of conservation repair. 

Did you know…

Over the years Wilton’s has played host to a huge variety of acts - dance, comedy, plays, opera, classical music, cabaret, magic shows - and more recently has a been used as the location for many film and video shoots including most famously:

Karel Reisz’s Isadora, 1968

Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s banned video for Relax, 1984

Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin, 1992

Annie Lennox’s No More I Love You’s, 1995

The Waste Land, performed in 1997 by Fiona Shaw and directed by Deborah Warner

The full Wilton’s archive, which includes the venue’s first photographic survey as well as some of its earliest videos and photos, will be available at the V&A once initial cataloguing and digital records have been completed.