A boxer, a dancer, and a wrestler: SS Empire ghost signs

Old painted signs — ‘ghost signs’ — recently uncovered on Cumberland Street.

Faded painted ads

One of the nicest things about having had this site for some time is that I get emails and tweets alerting me to things people have noticed around York, things they think I will find interesting. We have Jason to thank for this page, as he emailed me last weekend to let me know about these.

They’re old ads for the various attractions offered by the SS Empire. Now the Grand Opera House, but in the mid to late 20th century a local venue for boxing, dancing and wrestling. And roller skating and bingo apparently, though these aren’t mentioned in the painted panels.

Painted sign

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday you could go dancing here. The now rather faded painted lady is doing groovy dancing.

Painted sign

She’s in the middle, with chaps in the panels on either side engaged in slightly more aggressive activities. Boxing, anyone?

Painted sign

Or maybe wrestling. I’m not sure what the red bit is — blood on the floor?
(Actually, they’re numbers, see below)

Any readers remember going to boxing, bingo, dancing, wrestling or roller skating in this building? Or perhaps using the cafe? If so, please add a comment.

(We’re collecting important aspects of local social history here on these pages, and it’s being archived by the British Library Web Archive, for future readers to enjoy.)

Here’s one taken earlier

I was delighted to find online a photo of the signs taken in 1980, which shows the painted panels to full height, including the heads of the boxer, dancer and wrestler:

Painted ads for venue: boxing, dancing, wrestling

(Photo: Mark Walton)
The red bit in the wrestling panel (mentioned above) looks to have been part of a number — the score maybe?

Elsewhere on the web

Background information taken from the York theatres page of www.arthurlloyd.co.uk

. . . . .

Thanks to Jason, and Mark Walton.

Tag(s): ghost signs

About Lisa @YorkStories

Lisa @YorkStories is the creator, administrator, and writer of content on www.yorkstories.co.uk. She can be contacted on this link or via Twitter, @YorkStories
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  1. Ian Fisher

    Thank you for bringing these attractive ghost signs to our attention – sadly, when I went to look at them yesterday they had disappeared behind new banners.

  2. YorkStories

    Sorry you didn’t get to see them. It’s a shame they’ve been covered, but I guess it also means that they’re preserved, just as the Bile Beans sign was by having billboards in front of it for a time. We just need to look out for next time they change the banners. If I hear of this I’ll let you know!

  3. Bryan Pearson

    I remember going to the SS Empire in the mid-sixties – the original stage had been taken out and the floor was flat. A small stage had been constructed at the back of the stage area where the rock bands played. I was friends with one of the bands “Clive and the Krestas” who all sported very long hair at the time and I remember the looks of the patrons of the Coach and Horses pub when we all walked in during the interval! Another fond memory is that I had my first “pash” that night during the second half!

  4. Ian Ramsden

    I remember going to the wrestling in the late 50’s early 60’s to see the great Les Kellett. Terrific night and we laughed our socks off as we knew it was (nearly) all staged. Of course the crowd were working class people out for a good time – which continued the Music hall tradition the Empire was famous for. It was truly live entertainment for the masses. What do we have now?
    I only went to the Roller skating once as the floor area was really too small and crowded.

  5. Caroline Cole

    I have just Googled SS Empire whilst writing about my father, Michael Ferrey, who was a cub reporter on the Evening Press in 1940. I have a scrapbook which includes his reviews of shows at the Empire, and has an interview he did with a Chines acrobatic dancer who had performed with his troupe at a private party for Hitler in Berlin in 1936. Lat Founs had found Hitler extremely courteous and interested in their career and “quite an ordinary sort of man”!

  6. Leaping lamb

    When this place was known as the Empire music hall in the mid 1940’s ,I used to attend evening classes,in the college building next door,and our classroom adjacent to Cumberland St allowed us a view of the Empire back stage door,where we couls see,scantily clad chorus girls cooling off from their exertions.A very stimulating sight for us 18 year old lads,and led me to pop into their “GODS” seats after class,to view the shows,Saw Bruce Forsyth’s performance brilliant tap dancer,known as “the mighty atom” ,inspiring joining dance class and joining amateur J.R.Theatre group.Happy days,

  7. Sue Burton (nee Johnson)

    My Mum and Nanna took me to watch the Wrestling on a Monday night (only during school hols!), and sometimes on a Saturday afternoon. I loved the atmosphere of everyone getting excited shouting at the wrestlers when they played ‘dirty’. We loved Les Kellet, The Royal Brothers, and not so much Mick McManus! In the interval they served chicken and stuffing sandwiches from one of the booths. This felt such a treat. I still have a photo of my Mum with Jackie Pallo on the ringside taken by Harry Gould (photographer at the Empire). Very strong memories.

  8. Justin Dyer

    I have a photo of the sign from 1986 that I have just put up on my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/CdD2vNYj0_o/

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