Charles Wesley was the first Methodist leader to visit Selby, in 1743 and 1744. William Darney, described as ‘one of Mr.Wesley’s coadjutors’, celebrated his visit in 1751 in simple verse. John Wesley did not follow them until 1759. A society was formed, with services at a time which did not clash with those at Selby Abbey, to which the Methodists went ‘in large numbers’ after their own service. In 1785, a substantial chapel was built in Millgate, with a prominent text on the wall: 'Thou, God, seest me', and a stout handrail down the middle separating men from women. This was replaced in 1817 by the first chapel in James Street, which in turn was replaced by a ‘commodious’ chapel in 1883, serving Methodism for almost a century. Many of Selby’s businessmen belonged to the cause by the late 19th century. The middle years of the century, turbulent for Wesleyan Methodism in other parts of the county and further afield, caused no problems in the Selby area.
Selby Wesleyan Day School, founded in 1843, was the first church school in the town; it moved to new premises on the Flaxley Road Estate in 1928, some time after being taken over by the Council.
The only other branch to come was Primitive Methodism. Within months of arriving at Hull in March 1819, William Clowes had visited Selby and the surrounding villages, and Primitive Methodism became established. A chapel was opened in 1844 in a yard on the south side of Gowthorpe later known as Adam's Court. Its successor was built in 1862 on a site given by Lord Londesborough at the junction of Gowthorpe and Brook Street. In its early years, Selby looked east towards Howden, then Swinefleet, until 1863, when its new chapel became the head of a Circuit. In contrast to the Selby Wesleyans, with their three ministers and about thirty places on the Plan, the Primitive Methodist Circuit was never strong. The number of preaching places briefly reached double figures, but by Methodist Union in 1932, it was a single minister Station. By the time the two Selby Circuits came together in 1950, there was no village left with two Methodist places of worship. The former PM chapel in Selby closed in 1956.
After thirty-one years, the Selby Circuit merged with Snaith to become the Snaith & Selby Circuit, and after a further period of thirty-one years, in 2012, the Goole & Selby Circuit was formed.
2012 was a special year for town and circuit. Members of Selby URC joined with the Methodist congregation in the Methodist building (opened in 1984), renamed 'Portholme Church'; and the 150th anniversary of the former Primitive Methodist church, bought by the town council and beautifully restored, was again in community use as the Town Hall.
Charles Wesley’s Journal:
Wednesday, June 22nd, 1743 : 'God found me more work at Selby. I left them some books, and went on my way rejoicing.'
A verse by William Darney, re his 1751 visit:
Likewise to Selby we did go God’s mission to proclaim, And warn the people there, also, To trust in Jesu’s name.
John Wesley’s Journal:
Wednesday, April 18th, 1759: ' I set out for Selby. The congregation obliged me to stand in the garden, though the north wind was exceeding high.'
June 1781: 'I preached at eleven in the main street at Selby to a large and quiet congregation; and in the evening at Thorne. This day I entered my seventy-ninth year; and, by the grace of God, I feel no more of the infirmities of old age that I did at twenty-nine.'
Thursday, June 26th, 1788: ' The Vicar of Selby, having sent me word that I was welcome to preach in his church, I went that way. But before I came, he had changed his mind; so I preached in our own chapel, and not without a blessing.'
The Journals of William Clowes:
July 1819: ' I then entered the town of Selby, and preached at two o‘ clock at the cross in the market-place, to a very orderly and well-behaved congregation.'