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Notable former residents of St Albans

St Albans has been the home of many notable people from English history, from Samuel Ryder, the creator of the Ryder Cup, to Nicholas Breakspeare - the only English Pope, and Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, pioneer of British moving pictures.

Samuel Ryder (1858-1936)

Although Samuel Ryder is best remembered as the founder of the Ryder Cup, he was also one of St. Albans’ most notable citizens as a successful businesSamuel Ryder Mayorsman, churchman and local politician. Born near Preston in 1858, his family ran a gardening business near Manchester, Samuel moved to St. Albans in 1895.  

He set up business in the city due to its excellent rail connections, selling seed packets by post, priced at a penny each. While other companies offered this service, Ryder had noted that they were often priced out of the reach of the general public on smaller wages, and selling them cheaply would allow more people to take an interest in horticulture and gardening, as well as providing an affordable business for his family. Initially selling from his family home's garden shed on Folly Lane, the business expanded quickly and in 1903 he bought premises at 27 Holywell Hill, opening purpose-built offices at the site in 1913. A seed exhibition hall was added in 1933, to display the Ryder Seeds company products. His offices and seed hall still stand together today on Holywell Hill, currently The Clarion Collection Hotel and Cafe Rouge. Eventually the company was taken over by Suttons Seeds, and for a while the two buildings served as the Post Office sorting office for St Albans. Samuel and his brother James also founded Heath & Heather in 1920, using James' knowledge of medicinal herbs to offer herbal remedies and how to use herbs to treat many common illnesses. The company had a large warehouse on Ridgmont Road, near St Albans City station. The brand later became part of Holland & Barrett.

Samuel Ryder was known for much more in the community than just seeds, however. Raised as a non conformist Wesleyan Methodist, faith was an important part of Ryder's life and work. He was well known for his assistance of the less well-off, supporting charities for the poor, elderly and those linked to the war effort, while contributed funds to build the Trinity Church on Victoria Street, where he was also a deacon. He became a local councillor between 1903 and 1916, serving as Mayor of St Albans in 1905, as well as serving a period on the magistrate’s bench and becoming an alderman of the city. 

Ryder CupToday he is largely known as the namesake of the Ryder Cup, golf's biennial contest between Europe and the United States. Ryder took up the sport at age 49 as a way to combat poor health and became a member of nearby Verulam Golf Club, serving as club captain three times. He sponsored several golf tournaments with Heath & Heather, and donated the first Ryder Cup trophy to an competition between touring Americans and British professionals before the Open Championship in 1926. The first official match was the following year in the USA, and a tradition was born.   Ryder later died in London in early 1936, and is currently buried in the Hatfield Road cemetery in St Albans.
Find out more about him on the Samuel Ryder Trail.



Nicholas Breakspeare - Pope Adrian IV (1100-1159)

Pope Adrian IVThe only English Pope, Nicholas Breakspear was the son of Robert de Camera, a clerk in lower orders in the service of the abbot of St Albans. Born in 1100 in Abbots Langley, he was educated at the Abbey School and wished to enter the Abbey, but was refused entry due to his lack of education. He then traveled to Arles in France, where he was eventually asked to stay at the monastery in St Rufus, and elected Canon Regular. 

His travels while in the service of the monastery led him to Rome where the current Pope Eugenius III saw promise in him and refused him returning to St Rufus. In 1150, the Pope appointed him as Cardinal Bishop of Albano, Italy and in 1152 he was send as a papal legate to Scandinavia. On his return to Rome he found favour with Pope Anastasius IV and on his death in 1154, Nicholas was elected as Pope Adrian IV, the only Englishman to have ever been Pope. He had a relatively short papacy however, was disliked in Rome and may have controversially given the English Pope at the time, Henry II, permission to annex Ireland. He died in 1159.


Sir Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)

Francis BaconBorn in 1561 in London; the second son of Anne and Nicholas Bacon. He went to Trinity College Cambridge at eleven, at fourteen he was admitted to Gray’s Inn as a law student. He was a British philosopher, statesman and early advocate of the scientific method.

He became a King’s Counsel during the reign of James I, having not been in favour with Queen Elizabeth. He became Lord Chancellor; on this appointment in 1618 he was given the title of Baron Verulam, and in 1621 became Viscount St Albans. His father, Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord Chancellor and Lord Keeper of the Seal, built a house at Gorhambury which was visited by Queen Elizabeth in 1572 and 1577. Upon Sir Nicholas' death, his son Anthony inherited the estate, it passing in somewhat dilapidated state to Anthony's brother Francis in 1601. Francis retired to this house, now part of the current Gorhambury Estate, until his death in 1629.


Sir Richard Lee (c.1513-1575)

Sir Richard LeeSir Richard Lee was a professional soldier and military engineer. As one of Henry VIIIs military architects, he was given land around the grounds of the Abbey and in the Sopwell area of the city, including the Sopwell nunnery, in 1538, after the dissolution and he built a new house on the foundations, naming it Lee Hall.

Later, he began to build a grander mansion but it was never completed. In 1562, he had London Road diverted in order to enlarge his park. Sir Richard Lee died in 1575. Later parts of the house were dismantled and used to restore Sir Nicholas Bacon's manor house in Gorhambury (see above). Some fine plaster medallions of Roman emperors were removed and these can now be seen at Salisbury Hall at Shenley.

Sir Richard Lee was buried in St Peters Church graveyard and his helmet, which accompanied his coffin, is now held in the city's museum archives. The ruins of this house still survive today, on Cottonmill Lane. He is buried in St Peter's Church, St Albans.


Matthew Paris (1220-1259)

Matthew Paris entered the Abbey in 1217 to become a Monk. He became the most famous and colourful of all the monks associated with St Albans. As well as being an historian, he was a cartographer and he made the earliest known detailed map of Great Britain. He was highly accomplished in the working of gold and silver and as an artist. Find out more on the St Albans Cathedral website.


Arthur Melbourne-Cooper (1874–1961)

Arthur Melbourne-Cooper was the pioneer of British moving pictures.


Louis Wain (1860-1939)

Find out more about Louis Wain and Napsbury Hospital on the Out of Sight Out of Mind website.



John Ball (1338-1381)

One of the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt. He was excommunicated in 1366 for inflammatory sermons advocating a classless society but he continued to preach in open market places and else where. At the outbreak of the rebellion in June 1381 he was rescued from Maidstone prison by the Kentish rebels, whom he accompanied to London. After the rebellion collapsed, Ball was tried and hanged in St Albans.

Eleanor Ormerod (1828-1901)

E A OrmerodEleanor Anne Ormerod was born on the 11th May, 1828, in Sedbury Park, Gloucestershire. From 1887 until 1901 she resided at Torrington House, St. Albans; to this day there is a plaque at the House installed by the Hertfordshire Natural History Society. A celebrated entomologist in her time Eleanor Ormerod lived an unconventional life.

Ormerod was the child of wealthy landowning parents. Exposure to the land proved the ideal school for Ormerod to nurture and grow her amazement with a diverse array of flora and fauna. When her father passed away in 1873 she used the inheritance to move to Torquay with her sister and then on to Isleworth in order to pursue her studies at Kew Gardens. She published widely on entomology and offered advice to horticulturalists and farmers on the best, simplest and most cost-effective ways to protect their crops.

As time passed Ormerod came to be considered an expert in her field and her name more widely known. At the forefront of entomology Ormerod was offered the unpaid position of Consulting Entomologist by the Royal Agricultural Society. Further recognition followed when she became the first woman to be admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society as well as being awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh.

Ormerod has also been the inspiration for a number of literary works, including a short story entitled “Miss Ormerod” by Virginia Woolf. She gave generously to a number of charities during her years in St. Albans. Find out more on the St Albans Arch and Arch website.


Sir John Blundell Maple (1845-1903)

Sir John Blundell MapleSir John Blundell Maple was a talented entrepreneur who owned Maple & Co. Born in London Maple used the fortunes amassed from his furniture business to purchase Childwickbury Manor where he resided, raced and bred horses. He also became involved in politics, entering parliament as member for Dulwich in 1887.

Maple joined Maple & Co., his father’s business, at the age of 16. Evidently possessing stellar management and business skills he helped transform the company from the moment he arrived. Providing furniture for Victorian society’s well-to-do, Maple & Co. also exported their products worldwide, even furnishing the Winter Palace of Tsar Nicholas.

Throughout his life he gave charitably, making possible the Sisters Hospital and Clarence Park in St. Albans as well as the rebuilding of University College Hospital, London. Find out more here.


Sarah Churchill (1660-1744)

Sarah Jennings Notable ResidentsIt is probable that Sarah Churchill (née Jennings) was born at Holywell Hill, St. Albans in 1660. From a relatively early age she developed a close friendship with Princess Anne. Prior to the princess ascending the throne and becoming Queen Anne of Great Britain, Sarah, against the wishes of her family who did not feel the match to be suitably remunerative, secretly married a military general named John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, to whom she would be with for over 40 years.

Anne came to the throne in 1702, Sarah Churchill and the Duke of Marlborough remained close to the new queen. The Duke spent much of his time out of the country commanding troops in the War of the Spanish Succession whilst Sarah remained in the queen’s court, keeping abreast of political developments.

Noted for her strong-mindedness she had a number of famous disagreements with senior public figures including Robert Walpole, King George II and, most notably, her childhood friend Queen Anne. The relationship between Sarah and Queen Anne did eventually become sour. In 1711 the Marlboroughs were dismissed from Queen Anne’s court. In 1713 the couple settled for a time in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, returning to England only after Anne’s death.

With the money she inherited following the death of her husband she became, at the time, one of the richest women in Europe. Churchill spent much of her remaining years on construction projects, including Woodstock Manor, later the site of Blenheim Palace. Churchill died at Marlborough House, London, at the age of 84. Find out more on the St Albans Arch and Arch website.