A local resident’s guide to Selby

Relax by the water

Relax by the water - Credit: Joan Russell

It may be small but it’s special according to long time resident Les Wilson, a keen photographer who has watched Selby change for more than 30 years. He talks to Tony Greenway

Selby is picturesque

Selby is picturesque - Credit: Joan Russell

So you’ve lived in Selby a while?

Since the late 1970s. I’m not a native. I come from Barrow-in-Furness originally, so I’m from ‘over the other side.’ I used to work for a small organisation called the Inland Revenue. You might have heard of them. They have branches everywhere. My wife is an independent optician in the town.

What impresses you about the town?

It’s community-minded because it’s small and you don’t feel anonymous here. If you walk into town, there’s always someone you’ll recognise to talk to. Most people get to know other people. There are families who have been in Selby for generations. My wife notices that. She tends to get whole families coming in to have their eyes tested.

Selby is a little town with big advantages

Selby is a little town with big advantages - Credit: Joan Russell

How would you describe the importance of Selby Abbey to community life?

The establishment of the abbey is why Selby is here. It’s still the main attraction. It’s not hidden away — it’s bang in the middle of town and it’s a wonderful building with a fantastic history going back to the 11th century. It survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries, although it has been destroyed by fire in the past (in 1340 and 1906).

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Is the abbey used by the community?

Selby was once a major market town

Selby was once a major market town - Credit: Joan Russell

Yes! For example, I’m part of the Selby Camera Club and we hold our annual photography exhibition there (just after this edition is published on August 27th, 28th & 29th), which is a spectacular backdrop for us. The exhibition draws people from the market into the abbey. The club is just shy of 50 members of a wide range of abilities and we’re always looking for new members.

How has Selby changed over the years?

Selby was a major market town in the area. But the market — which is here on a Monday — is a lot smaller now; although Selby came up with the idea of having a farmers’ market once a month which helps. It has been said that we’ve far too many banks and charity shops, but that’s the same all over the country. It was thought that we would become a big mining town years ago when Selby Coalfield opened (it closed in 2004). The miners filtered back to places such as Castleford and Wakefield. It’s a place that’s developing now with different industries. And it’s more of a commuter town these days because we’re so handy for York, Leeds, Doncaster and even London.

Selby Abbey at the heart of the town

Selby Abbey at the heart of the town - Credit: Joan Russell

How would you characterise visitors to Selby?

Most come to see the abbey. The fact that (Asian superstar) Jay Chou chose to get married there has been a great boost, because we now have a lot of Asian visitors taking photos of the town.

What’s Selby’s place in Yorkshire, do you think?

It’s a little town with a lot of big advantages. We suffer a bit by having large cities quite close by, so we lose out on some of the retail side of life. But we have retailers for our day to day shopping so, to an extent, we’re self-contained. Selby is also very accessible. I had to travel all over the UK for my work and it was useful being within a few miles of the M62 and A1.

The abbey is the town's main attraction

The abbey is the town's main attraction - Credit: Joan Russell

Is the town thriving?

It’s doing reasonably well in the circumstances. There are people wanting to build lots of houses here, so they obviously see potential for the growth of Selby.

Tell us something surprising about Selby

Selby used to have a cinema, but it got burned down (in 1982) and was never replaced. So now we have The Globe Cinema — a pop-up which is run in the town hall. It’s an initiative that’s been running for a few years and is really popular. And we have a new sports and leisure centre, because the old one burned down (in 2012).

What is it with Selby and buildings being burned down?

I don’t know! But the new leisure centre (opened by Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington) looks impressive. There’s also a facility next door to that which has skiing and climbing (called Summit Indoor Adventure). And there’s the Abbot’s Staith (a medieval building in the town that was believed to be used as a monk’s storehouse. It has been empty since 1995 and has fallen into disrepair). That’s in the process of being renovated. That looks to be an important development because it’s a huge space and it’s going to be made into a community and arts centre. (Abbot’s Staith is at the very beginning of its intended £1.9 million development with an archaeological dig planned for later this year. It will also be a space for retail and small businesses).

Could you recommend some places to eat and drink in Selby?

It depends on your taste, really. We have a rather nice Thai restaurant — called Thai Sunshine — in the town. And my family like the Jinnah restaurant. That’s where we normally go. Drinks-wise there are lots of pubs in the villages roundabout; in the town itself there’s The Treehouse (a bar which serves food and cocktails) and The Cricketer’s Arms, a traditional Sam Smith pub. There are some good cafes, too. The camera club uses one that is linked to Age UK: The Bridge View Tea Room on Ousegate which is a traditional tea room with proper china and cake stands.

Big in Japan

You might not have heard of Jay Chou. But you’d be in the minority because, in Asia, he’s absolutely massive — a bit like a Taiwanese version of Michael Jackson who has sold more than 30 million albums. His fans are everywhere from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia, to mainland China, Indonesia, Korea and Japan, and in the Asian communities of the US and Australia.

Apart from his pop career (he’s been dubbed ‘the new king of Asian pop’), Jay is also a film star, appearing in a string of Asian movies and breaking into the Hollywood market with recent films The Green Hornet and Now You See Me 2.

And you’ll never guess where he chose to get married. Yep. Selby Abbey.

It was here in 2014 that Jay walked up the aisle with model Hannah Quinlivan, before jetting off to Castle Howard for the reception (top wedding planner Sarah Haywood, who Paris Match called ‘one of the most influential wedding planners on the planet’ was the organiser).

‘We were all sworn to secrecy,’ says Hazel Horsman, who runs the gift shop in Selby Abbey. ‘Now, every day without fail we get lots of Asian visitors who come here to see where Jay Chou got married. Well, he didn’t get married here, actually — he had a wedding blessing here. He was looking for somewhere secretive, I think.’

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