News & Information

Hoxton Hall Youth Arts - A Brief History

14.1 10/09/14. posted by Kyle Abbott

It’s autumn, it’s term time, and Hoxton Hall Youth Arts are in full swing. While we pride ourselves on the range and impact our youth work currently holds, we also remember that, aside from the music hall itself, Hoxton Hall’s youth initiatives are perhaps our longest lasting heritage programme.

 Hoxton Hall first began its youth work after its rather short run as a music hall when W. I. Palmer purchased the building for the Quaker Blue Ribbon Army (Temperance Movement) in the 1880’s.  During this period, Sarah Rae (wife of Blue Ribbon secretary J.T. Rae) formed the Girl’s Guild of Good Life.  The group targeted teenaged young women to provide an “alternative to crowded urban living and life on the street”. 

Domestic skills dominated the Girl’s Guild early programming, but the group’s breadth diversified after the Quaker Bedford Institute assumed control of Hoxton Hall (Palmer passed in 1893 and left the hall to the Institute along with £500 for repairs).  Under the Bedford Institute management, the youth programming of Hoxton Hall assumed a stronger social action focus, and, catalysed by a mission centre extension built in 1910 (now our May Scott Studio, Palmer Room, and Bedford Reading Room), soon expanded to include boys programming.   

According to our archives, it appears Hoxton Hall’s first “youth arts” programming was attempted during this era by the Girl’s Guild and consisted of a “dramatic group” that aimed to stage an annual play.  Looking at the financial records, it appears the plays were quite small in overall production, attended primarily by members of the institution, and viewed more as pageants than dramatic performances.  

 Girl’s Guild of Good Life programme booklet from 1942 


The world wars greatly refocused the youth programming at Hoxton Hall, and in the 1950’s-1960’s youth programming operated more as a social club than an arts institution.  The enigmatic (in our history) May Scott, sustained the youth outreach over this time, and continually grew the youth programming through this time extending it to sport, arts, and education.  

Hoxton Hall youth programming booklet cir. 1950’s

Hoxton Hall’s youth arts focus blossomed in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s when Hoxton Hall Friends Neighbourhood Centre hosted workshops for young people to not only perform plays, but to take active roles in writing and production as well.  During this time, the youth arts shifted from traditional theatrical styles and integrated technology, multimedia, and fringe-style participation into their performances.  

 Hoxton Hall Youth Arts poster for Makbet cir. 1980’s

Hoxton Hall’s current youth programming continues from the framework left by May Scott, and embraces the collaborative and productive spirit from the HHFNC.  In August, the Youth Arts completed its Summerfest four-week project titled “Shakespeare Shook Up” where over 30 pupils from each department (art, music, dance and drama) wrote, produced, and performed an original play in Shoreditch Park.  The play not only celebrated Shakespeare’s history and the theatrical lineage of the area, but—in our minds—authored the latest chapter in a Hoxton Hall Youth Arts heritage over 150 years in the making.  

We look forward to many more years of Youth Arts Programs for the creative young people of London!

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Restoration and refurbishment : Hidden Windows

14.1 02/07/14. posted by Karmel Edmonds

Our biggest discovery yet! Hoxton Hall and its 150 years of history is keeping us on our toes with discoveries around every corner…Our latest, perhaps most exciting and thought provoking unearthing’s - found one early morning in June, down an unassuming alley way ( Wilks Place) hidden from plain view on an underused side street just off from the main parade.

The fairly straight forward task of removing the brick façade from the wilks place side of the building in order to allow for weather proofing of the interior in fact, in turn led to the rather unceremonious uncovering of two very large sets of partially intact Victorian windows.

Wonderful large metal window frames with delicately etched glass windows, an echo of times gone and era's passed.

The windows tell a piece of part of the story of the hall, give us clues to our local history and the changing landscape of the local area. Why were these majestic windows bricked up and covered? Why such large grand windows on a side street of an alley way which is barely used now in 2014?

The remnants of these windows tell the story of a time when Hoxton Street was a very different place, the original building had a small entrance only as big as a normal front door at 130 Hoxton Street, the main entrance and audience facing front was originally on the Wilkes place side as you can almost make out in this picture :

The windows discovered  in June 2014 resemble greatly, those seen in this architects sketch which dates back to 1910 and which is presented by the architechts 'LoveGrove and Papworth' , on the far right you can makes out  the two large sets of windows as well as two smaller ones in the middle.

The question is now as we enter another stage of restoration and refurbishment in 2014 what is the most respectuful way to treat these marked parts of our past, should we hide our scars and blemishes, each of which signify character building moments in and echoes of the past or should we wear them proud and present them now as a long lasting momento of the Hall's achievments?


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14.1 02/07/14. posted by Karmel Edmonds

Another entry in our series of memories from Hoxton Hall, as we try to create a snapshot of all the varied kind of people that we attract as a venue, a community space and the umpteen guises that our Hall has taken over the years. 

People and memories are central to our ethos and our moving forward. Here is a snippet from an ex employee

Siva Sagel - previous employee 

To me Hoxton Hall means DIVERSITY    

The things that bought me to Hoxton Hall were work and a passion to get a unique venue known to as vast an audience as possible, this included the variety of Hirers to visitors.

The thing that I will always remeber about the Hall is a sense of a living building, from one day to another you never knew what would happen when you walked through the doors, the building felt like sometimes it was breathing or sighing.

Watching  the Young people  going from workshops to becoming part of our staffing pool, offering us advice on projects, technology, listening in on the office gossip and joining in on the fun. And Finally everyone I have worked with from Staff to companies working with diverse skills, diverse events & mad people...mainly mad people

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Restoration and refurbishment : Strength and structure

11.1 20/06/14. posted by Karmel Edmonds

As an ageing body creaks and moans so too do the bones, ligaments and sinewy structures which hold together age old architecture. Lengthy consultancies and inspections have led us to undertake major, much needed works on the main hall - the heart and life source of the building and the charity.

Our proud hall is unrecognisable at the moment. This week has seen skilled scaffolding staff and our contractors erecting a large square nest of scaffolding in the centre of the music hall. The scaffolding will provide much needed access to each and every corner of the space so that attention can be paid to each corner of the hall.

The process of erecting the scaffolding was something quite wondrous which we have captured in this short time-lapse film which we present here for your viewing pleasure. (Please click picture below)

The floor below has been strengthened and the roof above has been stripped...Nipped and tucked and sanded down. Two and a half months have flown by, Hoxton Hall the music hall - centre for entertainment and public meeting is currently re purposed, the mornings are louder and the evenings considerably quieter, daytimes filled with the sound of cutting and sizing and building. Potential energy is being stored and our beast lays low resting and recuperating, ready for another 150years of it! 

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14.1 27/05/14. posted by Karmel Edmonds

ANTHONY BURTON. Hoxton Hall board memeber 2003 - present day.

What does Hoxton Hall mean to you?

For me, Hoxton Hall offered an opportunity to help with a project to restore and re-energise a historic institution – which pleased me, since my professional life (as a museum curator) had been concerned with making history come to life in the present.  I certainly don’t think of HH as a museum.  And, if I feel that I helped it to find new life, I don’t want to suggest that it was dead.  The great thing about HH is that for 150 years it has constantly adapted to survive, and (apart from a year or two very early in its history) has never closed down and sunk into silence and darkness.  Always, there has been something going on.

However, when I got involved, it had just emerged from a severe financial crisis in 2003.  We had to pull ourselves together and regroup.  I thought that, with my museum background, I might try to raise the profile of HH’s history, so I dug into the archives, and produced, first, an exhibition, which had numerous outings on ‘Open House’ days and other such occasions, and, second, an article in Hackney History (vol.16, 2010).  I realised that we must, in rescuing ourselves, concentrate on the present and the future.  But I thought that a wider awareness that HH had had an active and enterprising past might impart something to our momentum in the present.  I think that my cunning plan perhaps worked, because the new booklet on HH by Patricia Lawrence (2013), while making use of my work on the history, presents HH as a vibrant influence in the present in a way which I could not have done so well.

What brought you to Hoxton Hall?

A friend on the Board, James Grant, roped me in.  James was a Quaker, a Hackney resident, and an actor, and was thus amply qualified to be on the Board.  I am afraid I did not have such qualifications.  I had never had much involvement with the theatre, and my religious affiliations were not with the Quakers.  I was not a Hackney resident – though, living only 20 minutes’ walk away across the canal in Islington, I think I turned out to be the nearest Board member in terms of residence.  (Soon HH started to work in Islington at the Rosebowl, which made me feel more relevant in local government terms.)  I had some experience of cultural work in the East End.  My working life was mostly spent at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but included sixteen years running the V&A’s branch, the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.  My route to work often took me through Hoxton Market, and I became aware of HH – but only, I realised later, after the new facade gave it a presence in the street in 1983:  I remember thinking, ‘I don’t recall seeing this before’ and wondering….  I also had experience of sitting on the Trustee Board of an independent museum, the Charles Dickens Museum. 


What will you always remember about Hoxton Hall? 

As I was very much concerned with HH’s premises (as chair of the Buildings Sub-committee during the implementation of Phase 1 of the Masterplan), it would seem likely that the building would be what HH primarily means to me.  To an extent that is so.  But what I really valued was serving on a Board which was constructive and co-operative.When I started at HH, the place was more or less jointly run by two people.  Rachel Dring ran the Youth Arts programme, and Mark Hone was the general administrator.  Mark set in place a good programme for maintaining and improving the building.  He obviously hoped to be able to develop some interesting theatrical programming to continue what had happened at HH before the financial crisis...Hayley White moved over from the post she occupied in charge of the administration of Hoxton Works.  She grew into the position of Director of HH, showing herself to be quick and flexible, and emotionally capable of coping with anything the job threw at her. So what I remember about HH is that it was an exciting and welcoming place to work.  I always used to feel, on coming away from meetings or events, that I myself had been re-energised.



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Restoration and Refurbishment : Floorboards

15.1 16/05/14. posted by Karmel Edmonds

This week things have really started moving in the refurbishment of Hoxton Hall. Fairhurst Ward Abbot have their focus firmly on the first floor balcony of the main theatre.

FWA move swiftly with due care and attention as they completely change the face of our Theatre, ripping out theatre seats and lifting up floorboards, cleaning through decades of debris and rubbish, digging up the occasional relic and heritage worthy item (for recent finds see our facebook and instagram) , as well as kilo's upon kilo's of monkey nut shells!

Some snaps - the transformation of the hall.

The first floor balcony at Hoxton Hall, April 2014 a month before renovation works begin. Seats intact and floorboards firmly rooted!


And Just one month later, floorboards scattered and bags of debris and rubbish lining the floor. There is a kind of romantic charm to this scene don't you agree?


This diagram outlines plans for the Theatre and the balconies including re strengthening and increased capacity.

The theatre is transformed and the air is filled with a sense of opportunity and renewed hope. The main focus of the work on the balconies is the structural strengthening of the balustrades, the opening up the balconies, creating space for increased seating capacity which will translate to larger audience numbers and increased participation, the repercussions of this on both Hoxton Hall and the local area are many fold - to be divulged and discussed in further blog editions.

The hopes and dreams of Hoxton Hall are that all the work to this area of the theatre will result in an influx of visitors, a rejuvenation in the programming at Hoxton Hall increased interaction in our high street, with our local community and various audiences at large .



Hoxton Hall will be the home of original, exciting and engaging material, a beacon in the community and a home to people from all walks of life.... watch this space.

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