The Abbot’s Staith in Selby is, in the new book, the site of Sir John Belasyse’s powder store in the city, and the scene of one or two of the climactic moments of the book.
I don’t think it was ever used as a powder magazine, but even so, I’ve taken some artistic licence with this fascinating building. In recompense, the first month’s royalties of the book will be going to the Staith for the restoration fund of the building – so buy The Smoke of Her Burning and support the Staith!
The warehouse building currently known as the Abbots Staith, near the river Ouse in Selby, has been interpreted as being from the 14thcentury in a survey done in 1995, based on the style of the stonework. The building is shaped as a shallow capital ‘H’ with narrow slot windows to the ground floor frontage and leaded lights to the second floor which would have had internal shutters. At 132 feet 3 inches long by 60 feet 7 inches wide it is slightly shorter but wider than the nave of Selby Abbey (140 feet by 58 feet). All the doors face the river, except for one in the front central bay which has a flat or ‘French’ arch and would have been the main access route from the river to the monastic complex.
The name Staith or Staithe refers to a jetty or wharf and there are two ancient monuments on the site, the warehouse building and the wharf area. Most of the latter is now covered by a 20th century jetty, but the piles and timbers can be seen underneath this at low tide. The building itself is listed Grade II* and the English Heritage Buildings At Risk registers calls it a former monastic wool warehouse, reflecting the main trade of the medieval abbey in the town.
Formed in 2014 the Abbots Staith Heritage Trust are a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving, restoring and bringing the building back into use for the community of Selby. Some of the volunteers have spent many hours researching the Staith and have found references to in old texts dating back to the 15th and 16th century, including one that calls it the ‘Great Staithe’.
In more modern times a two storey Georgian building was added to the front west wing of the Staith warehouse. This was known as the Counting House, as it was where taxes and tithes were paid. The land and building were owned for a time in the 18th and 19thcenturies by both Lord Petre, lord of the manor of Selby and by the renowned surgeon and naturalist Jonathan Hutchinson, who was born in a cottage immediately behind the warehouse in July 1828, which is now the office for Westmill Foods. There is a blue plaque on the wall celebrating this fact.
For much of the 19th century and into the early 20th the warehouse was part of the Abbot’s Staith Flour Mills, that business passing through various owners, before the building was sold in 1911 to George Woodhead and Sons, Seed Merchants.
During the years from 1911 to 1995 the Counting House became the shop front and small offices for Woodhead Seeds (later larger office space was created on the top floor of the west wing of the warehouse itself). Woodhead Seeds moved out in Spring 1995 and since then (aside from a brief use as a car radio outlet in the shop front) the main building has remained empty, though it is still owned by a member of the Woodhead family.
On April 20th 2015 Abbots Staith Heritage Trust took a one year licence on the Counting House as a base to promote their vision for the restoration of the building. More information can be found on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, with a full website coming soon.