A look at some recently released land tax records for Hertfordshire discovered the home and other property of a seedsman whose name lives on today in the world of golf on both sides of the Atlantic. Every two years the men’s golf teams from Europe and the United States play each other at venues that alternate between courses in the United States and Europe for a cup that bears the name of a businessman from Hertfordshire. The original 17 inches tall gold trophy, of which a replica is awarded today to the winners, was sponsored by the St Albans based seed merchant, Samuel Ryder and first presented in 1927.
Samuel was not from the area, having been born at Walton-le-Dale near Preston in Lancashire. He was the fourth child out of eight children born to his parents Samuel Ryder Sr. (1823/4–1904), a gardener, and Elizabeth (née Martin) (1822/3–1904), a dressmaker. Samuel Jr trained to be a teacher at Owens College in Manchester (now Manchester University), however because of ill health he did not graduate and took his first job at a shipping firm in Manchester. From there he joined his father’s business which had grown to include a Nursery, florist, and seed merchant. There then followed a move to the south inorder to join a rival seed merchant in London after some friction between father and son. Ryder married Helen Mary (née Barnard), known as Nellie, on 20 November 1890 in Braintree, as we can find in the civil marriage indexes on TheGenealogist.
In the 1890s, Samuel Ryder, having moved to St Albans, started to sell packets of seeds through the post from his home. Pricing his packets at one penny each he beat the prices of competing seed merchants making postal sales. The packets would be posted to the customer each Friday and as many of them were working men the seeds would arrive in time for their Saturday afternoons off from work as St Albans had good mainline railway connection. To begin with the stock was kept in the garden shed of his terraced house on Folly Lane, where he was assisted by his wife and daughter. The business grew and by the time of the Lloyd George Domesday Survey, in between 1910 and 1915, had moved to a large packaging workshop on Holywell Hill where it employed around 100 staff. The buildings still stand today, though they are now a hotel named after its former occupier and a Café Rouge restaurant.
At the time of the Lloyd George Domesday Survey of St Albans, that was undertaken for the Inland Revenue Valuation Office in April 1915 and towards the end date of the survey being carried out, we are able to find 27 Holywell Hill. The first page of the field book reveals the address and that the offices and warehouse from where the seed business was run had been freehold. On the next page the surveyor has noted details of a house that he says had been in use for business purposes as at April 1909, but which had been subsequently pulled down and replaced with new offices. On the third page he continues that a large three span warehouse had been erected prior to 1909. These facts he had underlined, pointing to the importance he gave to that year.
We may well ask why that date seemed relevant to the surveyor? The answer is that under the Finance (1909-1910) Act of Parliament the Valuation Office Survey had been instituted with the aim of providing for the levy and collection of a duty on the incremental value of all land from 1909. The red brick building, today, still has a date stone of 1911 set above the front entrance and this ties in with the observation in the Lloyd George Domesday Records of a new building having been put up since 1909.
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Increment value duty, as this charge was known, was worked out by taking the difference between the amount of two valuations. The site value as at 30 April 1909 constituted the ‘datum line’ for the purposes of increment value duty while a second site value was to be taken when the land changed hands, or the owner died. The difference was used to ascertain any potential liability for payment of increment value duty to the Inland Revenue. The assessment of the site value on subsequent occasions was a recurring operation which formed part of the role of the Valuation Office until increment value duty was eventually repealed by the 1920 Finance Act. Thus this particular field book is thorough in detailing what had been on the site in 1909, as well as what was there when the surveyor saw it in 1915.
The Big House
We can also take away from the first page of this field book that the home address of the owner, Samuel Ryder, was at Marlborough House, St Albans, which we can look for next.
This extensive property, the record reveals, he had leased for 10 years from 1906 at a rent of £250 per annum with the owner being a Miss Blakey. This house had 6 bedrooms plus 2 more servant’s bedrooms and, on the ground floor alone, had 4 reception rooms and 2 offices. The description of the property needed even more room than was allocated on the printed page of the field book and so the surveyor had continued over the page. Here we discover that it boasted 2 tennis courts, a stable and a lodge house and had a long frontage onto Victoria Street.
The Map Explorer™ allows us to see the footprint of the house and garden as it was then, and as it is today, by switching to the georeferenced modern map. Marlborough House had once occupied most of the land bounded by Victoria Street and Upper Lattimore Road and Beaconsfield Road, including what is now Marlborough Gate. Today a great deal of the garden has been built over and the house is a school. When Samuel Ryder had lived there it is thought that he had so much space that he was able to practise his golf in his own garden. He was so dedicated to the game that he retained a local professional, Abe Mitchell, as a coach and practised six days a week but not on Sunday as he was a member of the Congregational Church. It is Abe Mitchell the professional that is immortalised as the figure on the top of the Ryder Cup and not Ryder himself as many would have expected.
The Lloyd George Domesday Survey records are a fascinating way to discover details of an ancestor’s home or property from around the 1910s in Britain, as we have seen when looking at Samuel Ryder’s business premises and house. TheGenealogist, having married the searchable field books up to the original Ordnance Survey maps used by the Valuation Office Survey and then displaying these via its Map Explorer, means that family, social, or house history researchers are now able to really explore an area over time.