What evidence is there of a black presence in Britain and north west England?

Photograph of Royton Hall

Photographer unknown, about 1880
Photographic print on paper

Oldham Archives and Local Studies Library

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Photograph of Royton Hall

This photograph of Royton Hall, Oldham, was taken some time during the second half of the 1800s. It includes several unknown black people who were presumably servants at the hall. It provides an interesting record of the history of the black population in Britain, which declined after the abolition of slavery.

The first black person to be recorded as living in the Oldham area lived at Royton Hall a hundred years earlier. Juba Thomas Royton was baptised on 2 June 1761 at St Paul's church, Royton. He was described as ‘a negro belonging to Thomas Percival'. Percival was a wealthy linen merchant and owner of Royton Hall. Africans usually lost their real names when they became slaves, often taking on their masters' names, so it is unusual for an enslaved man to have an African name like Juba.
Four years later, in 1765, Juba married a white woman called Betty Mellor. Juba signed the marriage register, but his wife was illiterate and marked the register with a cross. Juba and Betty had four children. There are also records relating to a Juba Howard of Royton Hall who died in 1808, presumably a relative of Juba Thomas Royton. As Betty Mellor was white, it is unlikely that the black people in this photograph are descendants of Juba. We would welcome any information about who they were.

Royton Hall was demolished in 1939.

This information was provided by curators from Gallery Oldham.