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


  By Lisa @YorkStories 16 July 2013 To link to this page's proper location please use the > permalink

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


  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.

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