Remembering Samuel Ryder (1858 - 1936)

Cafe Rouge, formerly the Samuel Ryder Seed Hall Exhibition building
Peter Bourton

Samuel Ryder, St Albans seed merchant who became a golf enthusiast

Samuel Ryder was born in Preston Lancashire on 24th March in 1858. He was the son of a Manchester corn merchant and was educated at Manchester University. Ryder joined the family business and worked for his father in Manchester. He came up with the idea of selling penny seed packets to gardeners – a plan his father had little time for – so in 1895 he moved to St Albans in Hertfordshire where he later established the very successful Heath and Heather Seed Company.

The penny seed company

In the late 1890s he founded his seed company, Ryder and Son, with the slogan ‘All seeds in penny packets from orchids to mustard and cress’. As the business flourished he provided much-needed employment to the people of St Albans Aware of the poverty which he had seen as a child, he was a pioneer of employment welfare. Health, hygiene, pleasant working conditions and sick pay were a few of the factors which made working for Mr Ryder so special. There was mutual respect between employer and employee.

By 1906 he had premises on Holywell Hill and employed between 80 and 90 permanent staff; by 1922, 300 were on the payroll.

The foundation of Samuel Ryder’s life was his Christian faith. He worshipped first at Spicer Street and later at Trinity Congregationalist Church, donating money to its building and supporting many other nonconformist causes.

Samuel’s introduction to golf

He was mayor 1905/6. Unfortunately his health suffered due to overwork and doctors prescribed fresh air and light exercise as part of the cure. He was encouraged to take up golf. Ryder at first spurned the idea as he was reared on cricket but later relented and engaged the services of Hill (a local professional golfer) to teach him the rudiments of the sport. Having had a taste of golf he then pursued it with a passion. Ryder employed the golf star Abe Mitchell as his exclusive instructor at an annual fee of £1,000. Ryder then undertook a rigorous golf regimen and practiced six days a week for a year at his home, Marlborough House.

By age 51, he boasted a six handicap and joined the Verulam Golf Club in St Albans in 1910. Within a year he was elected Captain of the club, and later held the title in 1926 and ’27. He sponsored a Heath and Heather Tournament in 1923, which was restricted to professionals.

Herbs for healing

He encouraged his brother James to establish a firm named ‘Herbs for Healing’, which later became known as Heath and Heather. And yes – it was under the sponsorship of Heath and Heather that the brothers, in order to champion the cause of professional golf, donated the Ryder Cup. Samuel Ryder died on 2nd January 1936 and is buried in Hatfield Cemetery.

[Article by Judy Sumner in Newsletter 164, February 2007]