A Search for Juba, Lost in Royton.

By no means the first, but possibly the most documented, enslaved man in the Lancashire and Greater Manchester area Juba Royton is notable for his few but unique appearances in local and national records. These dates a merely records of occasions in his life, no images of him, no history before his arrival in Oldham and no indication to the type of man he was beyond what the records infer.

Juba’s arrival in Royton, Oldham is marked, in much the same way as many other enslaved individuals, by his baptism at St Paul on 2nd June 1760 noted as “Negro belonging to Thomas Percival , Esq of Royton”.

Baptism for enslaved people was the first step of erasing cultural identity, the forced acceptance of a European religion and name psychologically distancing them from their place of birth and heritage. Usually tying the individual to their ‘master’ through name.

Juba is thought be of South Sudanese origin due to the link between his name, the Sudanese language and capital city, however there is no definitive evidence of this or how Juba found himself to be enslaved. The link to the capital is tenuous as the city was only established in the early 1900’s but it is possible there is a shared heritage there.

What is unusual with Juba is the retention of what is thought to be his original name and the adoption of Royton as his surname instead of the family name Percival after the man who later he is listed as being in the ’employ’ of. Thomas Percival Esq a wealth linen manufacturer and son of Richard Percival of Royton Hall

Juba has at least 5 more appearances in local records each with their own unusual aspect;

25 Mar 1765 at St Mary, Oldham, Juba marries Betty Mellor. Here Juba is listed as a ‘waiting man’ or domestic servant and what is unusual is that he signs, rather elegantly, his own name. His new wife Betty marks just with a cross. Highlighting the lack of education accessible by the poor of time but also how Juba was obviously well educated in the 5 years with Percival.

26 August 1766 Juba and Betty, this time noted as Elizabeth, baptise their first child, Thomas Percival Royton at St Paul in Royton. Their choice of naming their first born after Juba’s master stands out.

6 February 1769, John Royton, their second son, is baptised at St Paul, Royton.

29 April 177, their third son Robert is baptised at St Paul Royton. This time however The abode is listed as Poultry – House.

At that time, Thomas Percival is listed as paying rates on a property known as Aynshoughs (aka Hen House) which one would assume is the same property as Poultry House. Especially as Royton Hall was less than a 100 yards from St Paul Church and encompassed aches of land which would typically contain several cottages and residences for staff.

Finally, Juba is listed as a burial at St Paul on 14th Sept 1771, listed as “Juba Thomas Royton of Royton.   Negro”. There is no record of his official age or place of birth only a hand noted ’23’ in pencil next to the record. This would make him 12 at the time of his baptism, not an unusual age for enslaved people to find themselves relocated.

St Paul Church has nearly 300 years under its belt and is still open today, but, all the burials that took place there have either been lost or moved to the nearby Royton cemetery, what was the cemetery is now Church Walk and housing.

Thomas Percival died in 1762, perhaps in those two years he and Juba bonded very closely and that is why we say the elegance in Juba’s writing and his honouring of Percival in his first Son’s naming. Unfortunately we won’t ever know.

The Percival Family name evolved into Radcliffe and with it the hall fell into disrepair. In 1939 it was demolished and the grounds have become large areas of mid century housing for the Royton locals. All that remains of the hall are the markings of the main walls on the ground, just off Hall St, left by a 2006-7 excavation marked by the plaque and notice boards.

I was hoping to find out more by visiting Royton, only 20 minutes from my home in Salford but the demolition of the hall and relocating of the graves really left little to be found, and even less to be photographed, of Juba of the Royton of the late 1700’s.

When starting out the idea was to build a collection of images of places of interest from Juba’s life and potentially find a physical connection back to him to bridge the distance between history and present day. Rather than a social commentary on current issues facing people of colour I hoped that Juba’s unique story would in some way create a framework for open discussion of his potential issues, a safe space of 250 years of history.

Disappointingly an idea which, much like the weather, fell apart as the day progressed.

Throughout the day several people had stopped to stroke my dog or chat about the lockdown and the weather but the first to ask about my photography was at the cemetery. An older white couple, local volunteers preparing graves for the British Legion ahead of Remembrance Day.

Their interest in my work lead to an excited and enthusiastic re-telling of Juba’s story and how interesting it was to imagine his life here in Royton quickly lead to disappointment in the ladies look of disdain. Nothing was said, no distinct look or gesture, pleasantries exchanged but a recognisable aloofness, that I imagine people of colour recognise all too well, as she un-ironically asked “you came all the way from Salford just to take pictures?”

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