I’ve been monitoring the EA website twice daily, keeping an eye on the Rivers Aire, Calder and Hebble, which are on our route to the Huddersfield Canals, Did I mention that that is our route back to the Midlands? We’ve used the Rochdale, Leeds and Liverpool and the Trent, so why not do something different? And if that something includes the most densely concentrated series of locks on the network, 42 in 8 miles between Huddersfield and Marsden, and the longest canal tunnel currently navigable (Standedge is 5686 yards, a little over 3 miles), it’s got to be worth a bash.
Anyway, back to the rivers. Although the Ouse is showing little sign of behaving itself in the near future “our” rivers are falling steadily. All the monitoring stations on our route are now reporting levels in the typical range. But it seems the water has to be near the bottom of the “typical range” for safe navigation and therefore flood gates along the Aire and Calder and Calder and Hebble Canals remain closed. Our hopes of getting going today are dashed.
Worse is the outcome of a chat I had yesterday with a C&RT chap here at Selby. The water is still high at West Haddlesey, but even when it drops to a reasonable level we still may not be able to get back to Knottingley along the River Aire. The last lock before the town, up from the river at Bank Dole, will need sorting out. When the river rises to flood levels the lower gates are pushed open and then silt is deposited on the cill from the eddies in the lock entrance. This will have to be cleared before the gates can be closed and the lock made operational. And of course, it can’t be cleared till the river goes down to a safe level.
So it seems we’re stuck here at Selby till the middle of next week. Ah well, it could be worse. Spare a thought for those boats stranded through lack of water on the northern section of the Trent and Mersey. Following the major breach earlier in the week, the canal was closed from Middlewich northwards, a 16 mile pound to Dutton Stop Lock.
Engineers have now been able to restrict the stoppage to a shorter section, allowing access to Anderton and as far as Bartington Wharf, but it’ll be several months before boats will be using this stretch again. The newly formed Canal and River Trust (C&RT) have launched an appeal for financial help to pay for the repairs.
Had a bit of a mooch around Selby yesterday. It’s a pleasant enough town, although struggling a bit through loss of it’s industrial base.
The town was originally a Viking settlement, mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle as a Saxon settlement in 779. It’s position, halfway up the Ouse between the Humber Estuary and York, made it a useful stop-over, and the town steadily grew in importance. A major boost to the town’s fortunes came in the form of a French monk, Benedict of Auxerre, who turned up in the wake of the Norman Conquest.
From the Selby Abbey website -
“Benedict, a monk from Auxerre in France, experienced a vision by God where he was called by St Germain to start a new monastery at “Selebiae”. In his vision he was told the site would be marked by the presence of three swans. Benedict undertook a great journey from France to England but first took a wrong turn, confusing Salisbury with Selebiae.[easily done] He then ventured through King’s Lynn until finally resting…” at the bend of the river Ouse at Selby. Three swans alighted the river at this point and three swans have been the Abby Arms ever since.”
Selby Abbey Church, West Front
Shortly after the foundation of the monastery, William the Conqueror was around here, trying to quell the rebellious northerners of his nearly acquired kingdom. His wife, Matilda, gave birth to a son in the town, later to become Henry I. The birthplace is reckoned to be under the carpark behind the library.
A bit of irony here. Henry I was born in a carpark in Selby in 1068. Richard III, 11 generations and over four hundred years later, was killed in battle by another Henry, the seventh, and his remains have just been discovered under a carpark in Leicester. (Instead of putting “11 generations” I was trying to sort out the relationship, but gave up!)
The monastery grew in influence, as did the town, the river trade being the main source of income. Extensive wharves (staithes) were built to accommodate the boats and a thriving shipbuilding business.
Henry VIII put an end to the monastery’s power. In 1539, during the Dissolution, most of the buildings were torn down, the only survivor being the nave of the Abbey Church. This formed the basis of the reconstructed church the town enjoys today.
There is a transatlantic connection also. John Wessington, a 15th C Prior of Durham, made a bequest to the abbey. This is celebrated in the form of a stained glass window of the family’s Coat of Arms. The wealthy prior was an ancestor of George Washington, elected first President of the infant United States of America in 1788.
The stained glass window is believed to be the inspiration behind the Stars and Stripes, the national flag of the USA.
Washington family Coat of Arms
The market cross dates from 1790, and stands in front of the imposing church. It’s looking a little care-worn, though.
Maket square, market cross and Selby Abbey Church
The town's fortunes took a bit of a dive when the new docks at Goole were opened, but then revived again with the opening of the Selby Canal, giving access to the burgeoning industrial towns and cities of West Yorkshire.
A lot of the rows of properties along Gowthorpe are Regency in style, dating from this period.
Shipbuilding was a major employer, Cochrane and Sons building coasters and trawlers in the area alongside the canal and river until 1992. The road alongside is still called Shipyard Road.
The last ship built was launched in 1992 was the 3380 ton Forth Bridge. A tanker, this 100 metre long vessel is still going strong, currently knocking around the West African coast and called M T MATRIX I.
Another ship, the trawler Grampian Fame, was launched in 1957. Refitted and renamed Rainbow Warrior in 1978, she achieved another sort of fame when she was sunk in 1985 by French foreign security forces in Aukland, NZ to prevent her interfering with nuclear testing.
There’s a large apartment block where the yard once worked.
A boost to the area’s fortunes came in the development of the Selby coalfield in the early 1980’s. The 110 square mile deep coal mine known as the Selby Superpit was serviced by six pit-heads and employed up to 5,000 people. The coal was destined for the Aire Valley’s power stations. Problems with subsidence and water seepage led to earlier closure than planned, and the last load reached the surface in October 2004. 121 million tons of coal were extracted during it’s 20 year life. It was supposed to be viable for twice as long, producing 400 million tons.
The major employers now seem to be the power stations at Drax and Eggthorpe.
Locks 0, miles 0