Historic Selby: The Abbey in focus
The iconic Selby Abbey architecture is a focal point of the town and was the first monastery to be built in the North following the Norman Conquest. Standing since 1069, it was run by 35 Abbots between then and 1539 - in which time it had become very famous in England and the gifts it received had made the House incredibly wealthy.
There has been a turbulent history since then and there have been numerous changes to the Abbey in the years since. The most recent of these came this year when the organ was replaced. Having been pride of place, and globally known, since 1909 when it was installed by William Hill - and, most famously, played by maestro Fernando Germani in the 1960s - officials began raising funds four years ago to do a restoration.
With the risk of losing the cathartic sounds of the Abbey over them, they managed to make the £520,000 to restore it and it was played on the 6th September to a sell-out crowd. The 400-person attendance was treated to a spectacular sound, clearer than it has been for years.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, the organ appeal director, Jeremy Gaskell, said: “We felt strongly this organ deserved to be restored and it didn’t come cheap. But thanks to the generosity of major donors, countless donations from people locally, the region and even one from America, as well as music organ enthusiasts, some of whom have never been to Selby Abbey but know the organ, its restoration has been possible. It sounds spectacular.”
One of Yorkshire’s genuine hidden gems, it’s rare to find somewhere with such history and character in a small town. Having been granted its founding charter by William the Conqueror, and reputed to be where King Henry I was born, it has a grand beginning. Until 1539 kings and nobility visited it until the last Abbot, Robert Rogers, fled to France.
After that, it was left standing but without money for upkeep and restorations it began to need repairs. James I turned it into a Parish Church in 1618 but it lost fine windows, statues and the central tower - most of which was unrestored.
It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that resources were pledged to repairs and restorations in order to get the church running again. A. G. Tweedie is widely noted as the man who made this happen. A further setback came with the fire of 1906 that ripped through the Abbey. Fortunately, the Reverend at the time, Maurice Parkin, was able to find the £50,000 (£4.7m in today’s money) needed for full restoration with architect John Oldrid Scott.
Since then, the South Transept has been rebuilt, the south window filled, side windows inserted and the Germanus Window was installed. 1952 saw Selby Abbey get Grade I status, there were also extensive restorations - beginning in 2002 - that saw several million pounds used to aid exterior work, the Scriptorium, South Choir Aisle and the ‘Washington Window’.
The current Canon is John Weetman, who has been there since 2011, and it is open free of charge Monday to Sunday between 9am and 4pm. You can find out more about Selby Abbey on the official website.
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