Music hall saved after 'overwhelming' response to fund-raising appeal


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The Independent Culture

The world's oldest surviving music hall, Wilton's in London, has been saved from closure after an "overwhelming" public response to an emergency fund-raising appeal.

The crumbling venue, a relic of the Victorian East End, faced demolition after the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) rejected its £3.8 million application to begin essential repair work.

But the owners said that sufficient funds had now been raised from the public to allow Wilton's to stay open and to undertake urgent building work which will save the hall from collapse.

Repairs will begin to the dilapidated outer shell of the theatre, which opened in 1858 and was recently used as a location for Guy Ritchie's forthcoming Sherlock Holmes film sequel.

Released from the obligations of an HLF grant, Wilton's believes that it can now rescue the building for less than £3.8 million.

A campaign led by the actor David Suchet solicited public donations, including one for £20,000. An anonymous figure matched the total raised, to allow work to begin.

A spokesman said: "Due to the overwhelming response from the general public and one significant matched challenge donation we have raised sufficient funds needed to undertake the essential and urgent building work that if not undertaken would have resulted in closure this autumn. These include structural repairs to the collapsing bar floor, the drains and the roof."

Tim Ronalds, the architect who completed the Hackney Empire restoration, will oversee the project. The spokesman said: "Obviously significant funds will still need to be raised and this is now our main focus, but we wanted to reassure people that Wilton's will not close as we had first feared."

Since 2005, half of the building has been open to the public, hosting community theatre. Mr Suchet described the public appeal as the "last chance" to save the venue, which has been at the heart of the  community for 150 years.

The whole of the second floor is currently boarded up and unsafe for public use. A previous application for lottery funding had been rejected in 2007.

Wilton's is promising to present a diverse range of work this autumn including a new production of Racine's Britannicus.