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Ryder Cup golf link driving Sawbridgeworth church on with £3.5m fundraising for building project





When a £3.5m fundraising drive for a new building was launched by a Sawbridgeworth church, a delve into its history unearthed a previously unknown link to the man who launched a major golf competition.

A foundation stone on the front of the school block at Sawbridgeworth Evangelical Congregational Church (SECC) in London Road offers a big clue to the link.

The stone was laid by Samuel Ryder, the man who in the 1920s launched golf’s Ryder Cup competition, now between European and American golfers – but he was also a major benefactor to the congregational church movement in Hertfordshire and beyond.

Samuel Ryder, right, with his pro instructor Abe Mitchell – Ryder took up golf at the age of 50
Samuel Ryder, right, with his pro instructor Abe Mitchell – Ryder took up golf at the age of 50

Ryder was born in Lancashire in 1858. After working for his father, who had a nursery business which included selling seeds, he moved down south to set up his own business. He originated the idea of selling garden seeds in “penny packets” from his home in St Albans and business boomed.

His choice of adopted home town was made due to mainline railway connections and it enabled him to post the packets on a Friday so customers could receive them on Saturday.

On being taken ill at the age of 50, Ryder took up golf, following a suggestion by a preacher friend, and he quickly became an enthusiastic amateur with a healthy handicap.

The laying of the school foundation stone in 1911
The laying of the school foundation stone in 1911

While playing at a golf club on holiday in Dorset, Ryder learned of matches taking place against Americans, who were “smartly dressed and backed by wealthy supporters”. He decided to step in and help and ultimately the Ryder Cup was born, with the first played in Massachusetts in June 1927.

The discovery of Ryder’s link to SECC led to church secretary Rachel Millett carrying out research and it appears Ryder’s wife Helen provided the key.

In a report of the laying of the foundation stone for the school block on thanking Samuel Ryder for his support – he made a donation of £9 – Helen Ryder is described as a “faithful worker” for the church. It is believed she lived in Bishop’s Stortford.

The block was built in 1911 as churches opened their doors to schoolchildren. Rachel discovered that at one time up to 700 children were attending the school.

Minister the Rev Gary Hanson and church secretary Rachel Millett beside the foundation stone
Minister the Rev Gary Hanson and church secretary Rachel Millett beside the foundation stone

More than 100 years on and the building is no longer fit for purpose, with accessibility a major issue. A plan has been hatched for a £3.5 million upgrade scheme.

Minister the Rev Gary Hanson said that the discovery of Samuel Ryder’s involvement in his church was apt as his passion mirrored that of SECC.

“We’ve always had that outward community feel,” said Gary. The London Road church launched a community pop-up shop in January 2021, now known as a food hub, and is proactive in the town.

The original Sawbridgeworth Congregational Church on London Road
The original Sawbridgeworth Congregational Church on London Road

Gary said that the new building was of “central importance” to the church.

“The work we do is amazing, but we want to do more, and if your buildings are falling down it does colour what you do,” he said. “It’s not right that if you’re in a wheelchair you can only go to 15% of the building.”

An artist’s impression of how the new building would look
An artist’s impression of how the new building would look

Raising the £3.5m needed will be carried out internally, with grants applied for and donations sought from the congregation.

“Fundamentally we know it’s our responsibility to fund the project,” said Gary. “We’ve got a rich history. We want people to donate, but we also want people to love our church.”

The foundation stone at the front of the school block laid in 1911
The foundation stone at the front of the school block laid in 1911
Bird’s-eye view of Sawbridgeworth Evangelical Congregational Church
Bird’s-eye view of Sawbridgeworth Evangelical Congregational Church

*Pictures courtesy of Sawbridgeworth Evangelical Congregational Church and Chris Carter



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