Historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, Selby once had a large shipbuilding industry, and was an important port on the Selby Canal which brought trade from Leeds. Selby Town F.C. play in the Northern Counties East Football League.
The town’s origins date from the establishment of a Viking settlement on the banks of the River Ouse. 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 as a settlement called Seletun which was referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of AD 779.
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; the connection is supported by William and his wife Matilda's unique joint charter of Selby Abbey, far to the north of their usual circuit of activities, which was founded for Benedict of Auxerre in 1069 and subsequently supported by the de Lacy family. King Henry I is reputed to have been born there in either 1068 or 1069. A notable feature of the abbey is the 14th century Washington Window, featuring the heraldic arms of the ancestors of George Washington, the first president of the United States. The design is often cited as an influence for the Stars and Stripes flag.
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. 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.
There was also a very important battle in the English Civil War, named the Battle of Selby. There are many other historical sites, like the cholera burial ground on the north side of the abbey, 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, Somerset.
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.