David Lewis

Location: Selby, North Yorkshire
About me...

I’m David Lewis, a local historian living in Selby, North Yorkshire. A chemist by training, and a teacher by profession, a decade ago I left the lab to concentrate on my love of local history. I’ve spent the last decade investigating the Hidden Heritage of Selby, including working for 3 years on a project largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and setting up a ‘pop-up’ town museum. I’ve successfully addressed audiences ranging from reception classes to scientific symposia and many fascinating local groups in between!

About my talks...

I have 4 separate presentations. The first 3 can be done as stand-alones, but I feel they are much better if there is a laptop and screen available for a PowerPoint. Each talk is scheduled to last around an hour.


For talks 1,2,  and the Quiz I charge £40 and modest travel expenses if more than 15 miles from Selby.

Talk 3 is £45 to allow for costs of baking the cakes !

I am happy to travel within a reasonable car/train journey…. to give a rough idea, from Selby, west as far as Leeds, east as far as Hull/Scarboro’, south as far as Doncaster, north as far as Haxby

My Contact Details:

01757 269126

1. "Selby's Transport Heritage"

David Lewis Public Speaker talks about  "Selby's Transport Heritage"


Although somewhat of a backwater now for much of the last 350 years, Selby was a major transport hub. It had an early canal (1775/78), the first railway station in Yorkshire (1834), the tidal River Ouse has carried trade and invaders into the heart of Yorkshire from time immemorial, and the road crossing of the Ouse was one of the first horizontally-swinging bridges in the country when built in 1791/2, and one of the last on a major road to have its tolls removed, in 1991. This talk considers the rise and fall of each mode of transport, the artifacts remaining, and even a mention of the short-lived Selby International Airport!

2. "Bananas...and a girl's best friend"

David Lewis Public Speaker talks about "Bananas...and a girl's best friend"

Selby was the birthplace of two important, but now little-known, scientists.

Thomas Johnson (1600-1644) was an apothecary and edited, in 1633, one of the earliest Herballs or list of the origins and uses of plants. Whilst some of these seem fanciful today, much common sense remains. Johnson was a qualified apothecary, with premises in London, just around the corner from the Old Bailey. He fought for the King in the Civil War,  being killed at the Siege of Basingstoke. Oh, and in April 1633, he was the first man to sell bananas in this country!

A century or so later, Smithson Tennant (1761-1815) was a precocious child with a scientific bent whose early experiments included trying to melt butter by focusing moonbeams. He rose to be Professor of Chemistry at Cambridge University, sometime adviser to Catherine the Great and Babbage and Davy attended his lectures.  Tennant discovered the two densest metal elements in the universe, osmium and iridium. Similar to platinum, they are hugely rare and equally inert. Iridium is used in the watch cases used by the horologist in the song “Diamonds are a girls’ best friend”

The talk outlines the life and importance of each of these men. Short books on each will be available for sale.

3. "Durability, economy, efficiency : an Edwardian Kitchen Handbook"

Durability efficiency economy

A chance find of a kitchen notebook in a charity shop led to a four-year-long investigation into the history of its author, Mary Eleanor Blakey. Starting her book in 1903 in meticulous copperplate, Mary outlines over 150 recipes and several pages of stentorian kitchen advice. Her recipes include regional specialties such as the mysterious “Moggy” (a kind of gingerbread) and Potato Cheesecake ( no cheese involved in this sweet, but plenty of spud!).

Mary also lived a fascinating life – from a hamlet on the Ingleby Estate near Ripon in the 1870s, to an 18-room mansion in the rural East Riding  via a mining village near Wakefield. Mary then married one of the top sheep breeders in Cumberland and went to live in Cockermouth where she won the MBE for her work in the First World War. Mystery also surrounds her demise in 1939 : despite having been married for almost 30 years, husband and wife are interred 30 miles apart, with no mention of Mary on her husband’s gravestone.

This talk tells of her life and times as well as her recipes, and is accompanied by some of the cakes from the book. Copies of the book will be available for sale.

Durability, efficiency, economy? Mary’s description of a well-run kitchen!


An A to Z of Selby

Public Speaker David Lewis has a quiz 'The A to Z of Selby'

You’ve seen them on holiday programmes, clicked on them on line and read them in in-flight magazines.

” 20 fabulous facts you never knew about France”

” 10 top places to visit in Texas”

“All you ever needed to know about Snowdonia”

Lists. Don’t folk just love them?

Although somewhat of a backwater these days, Selby has had an intriguing and varied past, and this presentation sheds light on 26 items of the town’s hidden heritage.

This light-hearted talk covers a wide range of topics from the town’s 12th-century Abbey to the day Pink Floyd headlined a pop festival in town via a ship-building industry 65 miles from the sea, a Hollywood heart-throb and a boisterous Norse river God – all linked (some perhaps more tenuously than others!) to Selby.

No projector is required for this talk, although some table space is needed to display 26 artefacts.


David Lewis Contact Details:

01757 269126