Whitby Ghost Signs

 One of the main objectives of the Whitby Civic Society, and indeed of any civic society, is the protection of the heritage of the town and its local area. Consequently, Whitby Civic Society is running a project to document the details of all of its ‘Ghost Signs’. What better place in the world is there than Whitby to collect ‘Ghost Signs’ thanks to the famous Irish Victorian writer Mr Abraham (Brahms) Stoker.

 For those of you who haven’t heard of the term before, ‘Ghost Signs’ are the fascinating echoes of the past. They could be faded adverts, or the names of old businesses, sometimes in the form of  painted letters and illustrations on the sides of old buildings which are gradually disappearing from view. Some of these letters may eventually fade away completely, be obscured, or simply destroyed, and a link to the past would then be lost forever. Some of them are in the form of beautifully carved stonework. In fact, they could be anything that provides a link to an extinct building  or an original name of a current business, or indeed, a prior function of an existing building e.g. we have an old Whitby/Ruswarp Parish boundary stone and an existing set of stone steps that once were attached to a now extinct Wesleyan Chapel which now remain in glorious isolation.

In Whitby we are extremely fortunate to have also discovered one or two splendid examples of beautiful original glazed tiles which, despite various changes to the façade of a building over the years, remain to betray the function of an earlier business.

 We are compiling a list of these ghost signs and are keen to produce a complete & finite list of all of them. If we can identify them all and bring them to everyone’s attention, then we may be able to preserve them for posterity.

 A good example of a ‘Ghost Sign’ in Whitby can be seen high up on the Wellington Road side of the building currently occupied by Brown & Kidson solicitors. There are some fading letters showing that the business named ‘ARTHUR SAWDON’ once occupied these premises and a glance up at the New Quay Road side of the building shows that they dealt with ‘CARPETS’ and ‘BEDDING’. We can also see some splendid coloured tiles detailing that these premises were once known as the  ‘WELLINGTON ROOMS’ where a versatile George Thompson dealt with, not only the tuning & repairing  of organs & pianos, but he was also an auctioneer & valuer.

 We have so far identified  and documented 33 such examples (with further ones noted for further investigation) and would appreciate any help you can provide, to enable us to complete our collection for Whitby. If you know of any which we have not yet identified, and even better if you can provide any background information on them or on our current 33, it would be greatly appreciated if you could contact the Whitby Civic Society  and provide us with your details. We would promptly visit and take photographic evidence and happily add it to our collection.  

A presentation of these Ghost Signs was given at the Coliseum on Monday March 19th 2018. A lot of interest was shown and quite a few leads were handed over which will hopefully lead to more Ghost Signs.


Further presentations have been planned for 2019 and a booklet is going to be published and put on sale at a very reasonable price.