Royton is a town in the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham, Lancashire, England, with a population of 21,284 in 2011. Close to the source of the River Irk, near undulating land at the foothills of the South Pennines, it is 1.7 miles (2.7 km) northwest of Oldham, 3.2 miles (5.1 km) southeast of Rochdale and 7.6 miles (12.2 km) northeast of Manchester.
Historically part of Lancashire, Royton and its surroundings have provided evidence of ancient British, Roman and Viking activity in the area. During the Middle Ages, Royton formed a small township centred on Royton Hall, a manor house owned by a long succession of dignitaries which included the Byrons and Radcliffes. A settlement expanded outwards from the hall which, by as late as 1780, “contained only a few straggling and mean-built cottages”. Farming was the main industry of this rural area, with locals supplementing their incomes by hand-loom woollen weaving in the domestic system.
Royton has the distinction of being the first town where a powered cotton mill was built; at Thorp in 1764, and is one of the first localities in the world to have adopted the factory system. The introduction of textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution facilitated a process of unplanned urbanisation in the area, and by the mid-19th century Royton had emerged as a mill town. At its zenith, there were 40 cotton mills—some of the largest in the United Kingdom—employing 80% of the local population. Imports of foreign cotton goods began the decline in Royton’s textile industry during the mid-20th century, and its last mill closed in 2002.
Today, fewer than a dozen mills are still standing, the majority of which are used for light engineering or as distribution centres. Despite an economic depression brought about by the demise of cotton spinning, Royton’s population has continued to grow as a result of intensive housing redevelopment which has modernised its former Edwardian districts.