September 22, 1834, was a bid day for Selby. A contemporary report captured some of the excitement of the moment.
“The inhabitants of Selby displayed every token of exultation at an event so auspicious to their interests and received their visitors with general acclamations, firing of cannons and waving of banners,” it read.
But who or what was it that the residents of the Yorkshire town were so keen to welcome? Royalty? An important politician? The Leeds United Football Team celebrating their latest success?
None of these. It was in fact a locomotive called Nelson, hauling 160 passengers from Leeds in three open and four closed carriages. This wasn’t any old suburban railway trip, however. It was the First service along Yorkshire’s first main railway line that linked Leeds to Selby – and the journey took well over two hours!
A festive throng of local dignitaries, businessmen and curious onlookers had gathered at Selby station to welcome the new wonder of the age, the mighty Iron Horse on its gleaming rails. Selebians were present to witness the opening of the first railway station in the county - an institution that was sure to increase their prosperity.
Fast forward 175 years, and the town is preparing, tomorrow, to celebrate the anniversary of that extraordinary event. David Lewis, Groundwork’s Hidden Heritage Education Officer, believes the 175th birthday of Yorkshire’s oldest railway station is a date that is worth making a fuss about.
“It’s important to remember what a vital town Selby was in the Yorkshire economy of the 19th century,” he said. “Selby was the place where goods arrived from the West Riding for onward transport to Hull and the continent or for further distribution upstream to York. Similarly, a huge range of imported goods were transhipped through Selby to the markets in Leeds. The coming of the railway would greatly enrich Selby’s merchants, and improve opportunities for employment throughout the town”.
The original station buildings are still there, but no longer linked to the rail system. The current railway station – new in 1842 – is still very much in business, however.
Working with Reg French from the Selby Rail Users group, Dean Lancaster, from the First Group, who now own the station, and Chris Cade, an actor from the National Rail Museum, various events have been planned to mark the anniversary tomorrow.
David and Chris decided it would be good to work with local school students. “It’s important that children understand the heritage in our railways and the way that they transformed our ancestors’ lives,” Chris said. A musical drama has been devised that will be presented both in Selby's new amphitheatre and on the station itself.
First Group are joining in with the celebrations. There are plans for station employees to get into the spirit of things by dressing in contemporary costume, the station refreshment rooms are providing an old-style repast, and Fentiman’s, brewers of Victorian soft drinks are supplying old-fashioned lemonade to add to the authenticity.
As in 1834, local dignitaries will be present to mark the event, enjoy the drama and take part in the luncheon! Sadly, however, current health and safety regulations may preclude cannon fire.
What is happening tomorrow in Selby
10am: Act 1 of the railway drama at the Amphitheatre, Ousegate, Selby.
10:30am: Procession, singing and waving of banners along the Time Line walk, Ousegate and Station Road.
11:10am: Act 2 of the drama on Platform 2.
11:35am: Celebratory picnic lunch with speeches.
12:10 Event ends.