Feature: The secret ghost signs of Whitby

Apartments where the County Hotel used to be.
Apartments where the County Hotel used to be.

Whitby Civic Society is running a project to document the details of all of its ‘Ghost Signs’ – and what better place in the world than Whitby to collect them, thanks to the Irish Victorian writer Mr Abraham (Brahms) Stoker.

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.

Arthur Sawdon ghost sign above CBK solicitors.

Arthur Sawdon ghost sign above CBK solicitors.

Ghost Signs are 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 a prior function of an existing building.

For instance, there is have an old Whitby/Ruswarp Parish boundary stone and an existing set of stone steps that once were attached to a now extinct Wesleyan church 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.

The civic society is compiling a list of these ghost signs and is keen to produce a complete and finite list.

Peter Craggs said: “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 Colin 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 and repairing of organs and pianos, but he was also an auctioneer and valuer. We have so far identified and documented 16 such examples 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 16, 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.”

Contact David James, secretary of Whitby Civic Society, at whitby_civic_society@yahoo.co.uk or call Peter Craggs on 07977 130012.