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Grand Opera House


Originally a corn exchange and warehouse of 1868, reconstructed as a theatre in 1902 and opened as The Grand Opera House. Renamed the Grand Opera House & Empire in 1903. The elevation to King Street, which is the rear wall of the auditorium, is basically that of the warehouse, with four storeys of narrow, segmentally-arches windows. The rear wall of the stage on Cumberland Street still has the semi-circular arched windows of the corn exchange hall, and it is possible to make out the shape of the original gable in the brickwork - later heightened for the fly tower. The theatre does not have a show-front of its own, the main entrance being through a side arch in the ground floor of a three-storeyed row of shops with offices over, also part of a corn exchange development. The style is vaguely Italian Gothic with closely-spaced arched window at first floor level, separated by stone shafts. The entrance foyer is long and narrow with a good plaster ceiling.

The original auditorium design was modified before construction and lost some of its architectural coherence, but it is still pleasing and intimate. There are two balconies, the first having a serpentine front decorated with an unusual repeated arched panel motif. The sightline to the stage in the vertical plane from the rear of this balcony is severely cut by the extremely low overhang of the upper balcony. The upper balcony, however, has unusually good sightlines in the vertical plane, its front being set well below the edge of the main ceiling. There are two bow-fronted boxes at the level of each balcony on either side, tied together as a composition of giant Corinthian columns linked at the top by arches. The main ceiling is in the form of a saucer dome, decorated by a plaster ‘sunburst’ radiating from the centre. Rectangular, moulded proscenium frame with cartouche.

Reopened 1989 after restoration and improvement.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
Current state
Current use
Cumberland Street, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 9SW, England
Further details
Other names
Empire , Grand Opera House & Empire , S S Empire (ballroom)
  • 1868 Design/Construction: as a corn exchange (architect unknown).
  • 1902 Alteration: converted to theatre
    J P Briggs
    - Architect
  • 1912 Owner/Management: Grand Opera House (York) Ltd
  • 1916 Alteration: dress circle and gallery altered increasing capacity
    Frank Tugwell
    - Architect
  • 1950 - 1959 Alteration: converted to ballroom (architect unknown).
  • 1987 Owner/Management: India Pru
  • 1989 Alteration: restored
    Gordon Claridge
    - Architect
    Michael Holden
    - Theatre Consulta
  • 1992 Owner/Management: E & B Productions
  • 1995 Owner/Management: Apollo Leisure; later Clear Channel; currently Live Nation.
  • 2009 Owner/Management: Bought by Ambassador Theatre Group
  • Capacity
    1912: 1540
  • Capacity
  • Listing
Stage type
Proscenium flat
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: Width: 10.3m (33ft)
Proscenium width: 9m (29ft 6in)
Height to grid: 12.8m (42ft)
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: -