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The Grand Opera House front entrance in 2008.

The Grand Opera House is a theatre in York, England. It is operated as part of the Ambassador Theatre Group. It plays host to touring productions of plays, musicals, opera and ballet, one-off performances by comedians, and other theatrical and musical events. The theatre has been designated a Grade II listed building by English Heritage.[1]



The Grand Opera House was not built as a theatre. It was a conversion of two buildings, one a warehouse, the other a corn exchange designed by G. A. Dean in 1868. The architect, Mr J. P. Briggs of London, was commissioned to perform the conversion, which took three months and cost £24,000. The theatre opened as the Grand Theatre and Opera House on 20 January 1902 with a performance of a pantomime (Little Red Riding Hood), starring Florrie Forde.


Interior of the Grand Opera House.
  • 17 July 1902: the first public performances of films in York. Professor Herbert's animated pictures displayed in his 'Biograph Box'. The showing of films at the venue became a permanent feature from 1903-1916.
  • 1903: the theatre was renamed as the Opera House and Empire Theatre. This was an economic move to attract a mass audience, as smoking was not permitted in high-class theatres but was in music hall type venues; smoking was very fashionable at this time.
  • 1909: a major redecoration of the building was undertaken.
  • 1916: the theatre was now known as the Empire Theatre.
  • 1956: closed "... by the crippling Entertainment Tax."[2]
  • 1958: Ernest Shepherd of the Shambles bought the theatre, now called the S. S. Empire [Shepherd of Shambles]. The stage and the rake to the stalls floor were removed to give a level surface for roller skating, bingo and wrestling bouts. The theatre remained in this configuration until 1985 when it closed for business.
  • 1987: the property was purchased by the India Pru Company Ltd. who renovated the building and restored the decor to its 1909 Art Nouveau style.
  • 26 September 1989: the theatre reopened as the Grand Opera House with a performance of Macbeth. After two years with mounting debts the theatre suddenly closed without warning.
  • 26 February 1993: the theatre reopened again, retaining the name of the Grand Opera House.
  • 3 November 2009: the theatre is acquired by Ambassador Theatre Group as part of the Live Nation Deal



  1. ^ Historic England. "Grand Opera House (1257908)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  2. ^ "York History article". Retrieved 2 November 2013.


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