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Program 111
North Yorkshire, EnglandHighlightsLocation

Traditionally said to be the birthplace of King Henry I, youngest son of William the Conqueror, the busy market town of Selby is situated 12 miles south of York, in England's largest county, North Yorkshire. The Selby district makes up most of the flat, highly fertile Vale of York, which continues to be an important agricultural region.

But the immediate landscape of Selby is dominated by the presence of three enormous power stations. The stations are primarily run with coal from the nearby Selby coal fields, which were discovered only in 1967. The largest of the stations is Drax, the biggest coal-fired power station in Western Europe. Drax consumes coal at a rate of 36,000 tons per day, and each of Drax's 12 cooling towers—for which the River Ouse supplies a vast quantity of water each day—is taller than London's renowned St. Paul's Cathedral.

The town of Selby does retain a great deal of its ancient character as well. It is believed to have been founded by the Danes, who sailed up the River Ouse, pillaging and burning riverside settlements, although there are no such written records.

The Ouse also played a crucial part in one of Selby's most colorful legends. The story involves Benedict of Auxerre, a monk who in the year 1069 had a vision of a place where one day a great abbey would stand. Years later he was sailing up the River Ouse when suddenly three swans settled on the water and Benedict recognized the area as the one he'd seen in his vision. He planted a cross and staked his claim. After Benedict had claimed his plot of land, the actual building work for the abbey was initiated by the second abbot, Hugh de Lacy. The town prospered under the power and influence of the abbey, but, like Forde Abbey in Dorset, Selby Abbey suffered decline after King Henry VIII decreed the dissolution of England's major monasteries in 1539.

Today, the famous abbey still lies at the heart of the town, having watched over Selby for nearly a thousand years. A popular tourist attraction for its fabulous stained glass, the abbey's most famous feature is the 14th-century "Washington window," so called for John de Washington, who was a prior in the region. And several hundred years further down on his family tree, another notable Washington emerged—named George—who became a founding father of the "New World" and America's most legendary national hero. The family crest of stars and stripes, which can be seen in the Washington window, went on to serve as a basis for the American flag.

To learn more about Selby and North Yorkshire, visit:


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