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West Riding
Selby Abbey and War Memorial - - 520562.jpg
Selby Abbey
Grid reference: SE614323
Location: 53°46’54"N, 1°4’13"W
Population: 13,012  (2001)
Post town: Selby
Postcode: YO8
Dialling code: 01757
Local Government
Council: Selby
Selby and Ainsty

Selby is a town in the West Riding of Yorkshire, 14 miles south of the city of York, downstream of York on the banks of the River Ouse.

The Ouse was long the source of Selby's prosperity, as from the banks of the tidal river Selby became an important port and once had a large shipbuilding industry.[1][2] The Selby Canal which brought trade from the city of Leeds, made the port grow.


Selby lies on the tidal River Ouse in a flat area of Yorkshire known as the Humberhead Levels. The main roads which cross at Selby are the A63 from Leeds to Hull and the A19 from Doncaster to York, though the A19 and A63 no longer meet in Selby itself since the opening of the Selby Bypass in 2004. The River Ouse is navigable upstream as far as York so the old toll bridge by which the A63 crossed the river at Selby had to allow for this. For many years the swing bridge in Selby was a notorious local bottleneck but since the opening of the Selby bypass congestion in the town has been relieved.

The importance of Selby as a market town has declined in recent decades and its short lived prominence as the centre of the Selby Coalfield has also waned. Selby is a commuter town with proximity to both York and Leeds. Its popularity as a tourist destination, due to Selby Abbey, has led to a large amount of development and renovation in the town and surrounding area.[3]

Residential expansion is taking place in the Holmes Lane area and at various points along the riverfront, the result of an ongoing project to improve an area that had been largely derelict since the decline of the shipbuilding industry. More housing is currently under development on the south side of town between the Three Lakes retail park and the bypass.


In recent years there have been serious flood problems in Selby and the adjoining village of Barlby. The threat in the Barlby area has been alleviated to some extent by work on improved,better flood barriers following the major flood of November 2000.[4][5]


The town's origins are unknown but archaeological investigations in Selby have revealed extensive remains, including waterlogged deposits in the core of the town dating from the Roman period onwards. It is believed that Selby originated in the Anglo-Saxon period as a settlement called Seletun which was referred to in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle of AD 779.[6] The name "Selby" bears a Norse suffix -by; the Norse equivalent of the Old English -tun.

The town of Selby, a sizeable town on the main route north from the Midlands, is the traditional birthplace of King Henry I, fourth son of William the Conqueror, in 1068/69;[7] the connection is supported by the unique joint charter granted by King William and his queen Matilda to Selby Abbey, far to the north of their usual circuit of activities, which was founded for Benedict of Auxerre in 1069[8] and subsequently supported by the de Lacy family. It is one of the largest parish churches in Britain and is larger than several cathedrals. King Henry I is reputed to have been born there in either 1068 or 1069. The Abbey was founded when Benedict saw three swans on a lake in Selby, and he saw it as a sign of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. That is why the official crest of Selby Abbey is three swans.[9]

Selby Abbey was closed in 1539 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and the majority of the buildings have since been demolished. The central nave of the abbey church survived and in 1618 it became the parish church of Selby.

In April 1644 during the Civil War, the Parliamentarian army under Lord Fairfax and Sir Thomas Fairfax won an important victory at the Battle of Selby, taking the town and large amounts of the King's ordinance, and opening the road to besiege York.[10] There are many other historical sites, like the Cholera burial ground on the north side of the abbey,[11] the market cross and the local school, Selby High School. The Market Place has existed since the early 14th century when the market was moved away from the monastery churchyard. The Crescent which curves eastwards from James Street was planned in the early 19th century by a local man, John Audus, after seeing Lansdown Crescent in Bath.[11]

Selby is expanding to become a larger town. New houses and shops are being built on the present town's outskirts with the expansion of the town stretching as far as the bypass, although this has resulted in the loss of some trade from the town centre. Meanwhile, the riverfront area is being revamped with modern housing and fashionable flats.[12]

Selby was a centre for shipbuilding, with vessels launched into the river. This often required the more unusual technique of launching the vessels side-on into the river due to lack of space for a more conventional stern first or bow first launch.

One famous vessel of the Cochrane and Son's shipyard of the town is the preserved trawler Ross Tiger at Grimsby's National Fishing Heritage Centre. Cochrane launched their last vessel into the Ouse in 1998, a historical occasion which people around the area went to see. Once Cochrane had closed, the massive cranes still stood over the skyline of Selby until 2001, when seriously strong winds blew them down. As of 2009 the area of the shipyard has been completely demolished but to the left of the yard the parts of the cranes can be still seen.


Much of the historical wealth of the town is based upon its position upon the banks of the tidal River Ouse. In the past, Selby had a large shipbuilding industry and was an important port, due to the Selby Canal which brought trade from Leeds. The Selby Canal links the River Ouse at Selby, to the River Aire at Haddlesey. The Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior (since 1989) was built in Selby in 1957.[13]

For a time, Selby was the leading coal mining area in the United Kingdom and featured some of the most advanced mining technology in Europe. It was the first new mine in Britain for decades and seen as a rejoinder to widespread concern that the British mining industry was effectively shutting down.

Wistow Colliery, which was part of the Selby Coalfield, holds the British record for coal mined in one week; 197,573 tons in 1995. The 110 square mile Selby Complex, employing 3,000 miners plus contractors and ancillary staff, closed on Friday 14 May 2004; UK Coal, the pit's owner, said closure was due to rising costs caused by deteriorating geological conditions and the falling price of coal. In its final years, the company listed a £30 million loss on the plant.

Although much of the infrastructure of the shipbuilding and coal mining industaries remain both in and around Selby, both industries have long since been defunct. Present day, the main income for the area is derived from arable farming and as a commuter area for Leeds, Wakefield and York.

In recent years, Selby has seen the development of new shopping areas both in the town centre and on the outskirts. The Abbey Walk Shopping Centre was developed on recreational land that runs parallel to the town centre. The expansion not only increased the volume of town centre shops but also provided large scale, convenient parking for the town centre. In more recent years, the Three Lakes Retail Park has opened on the outskirts of town and continues to expand with more developments under construction.[14]


  • Football: Selby Town FC ("the Robins")
  • Rugby union: Selby RUFC
  • Cricket: Selby Cricket Club

Selby and District Motor Club has a clubhouse on Breighton airfield down Sand Lane. It meets on Tuesday evenings from 20:30 and many of its members take part in various motor sporting events including Road Rallies and Stage Rallies, Sprints, Autotests and Production Car Trials. The members discuss motor sporting events on Tuesdays and regularly show videos of current events. The club have organised an annual Road Rally called the Three Swans Rally which was based on local roads and which formed a major part in local championships.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Selby)


  1. "Cochrane and Sons". Retrieved 2009-06-20. 
  2. "Vessel makes a splash (870) - Selby Times". Retrieved 2009-06-20. 
  3. "- Renaissance Works On Track for Summer Finish". Selby District Council. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  4. "Selby Flood Defences Near Completion". New Civil Engineer. Retrieved 2009-06-22. 
  5. "Environment Agency - Huge increase in flood defence spending for Yorkshire". Retrieved 2009-06-22. 
  6. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle  Laud Chronicle (779) Norðhymbra heahgerefan forbearndon Beorn ealdorman on Seletune on ix kalendæ Ianauriis: "The High Reeve of the Northumbrians burned Governor Beorn in Seletun on the 24 December"
  7. "Selby District Council - Your 'Excellent' Council". Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  8. C. Warren Holister, Henry I (Yales English Monarchs) 2001:32f.
  9. "Abbey History - One of England's Best Churches". Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  10. "The 11th of April 1644 AD, Battle of Selby, famous dates in History". Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Selby Civic Society (1998). Selby. A brief guide to places of interest.. Selby: Selby Civic Society. 
  12. "Living Streets - Renaissance 2009". Selby District Council. Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  13. "The Rainbow Warrior". Greenpeace. Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  14. "Three Lakes Retail Park, Selby - Retail developers and leaders in urban regeneration - Dransfield Properties Limited". Retrieved 2009-06-22.