Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born on 15 August 1875 at 15 Theobalds
Road, Holborn, London – just round the corner from Fetter
Lane, a spot which Dickens described as the “dingiest collection
of shabby buildings ever squeezed together in a rank corner as a
club for tom cats”. His parents were registered as Daniel
Hugh Taylor, surgeon, and Alice Taylor, 'formerly Holmans'. It seems
likely that he was named after the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Dr Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor (c.1848-1904) returned to
his native Sierra Leone after studying at Taunton and King's College,
London - but contrary to the claim in Coleridge-Taylor's birth certificate,
there is no record of his father's marriage to Alice.
The young Coleridge-Taylor might never have known his father but
he was hardly neglected. Alice Martin, the mother who brought him
up in Croydon, married George Evans (1837-c.1908), a railway
storeman, with whom he seems to have been on good terms. He received
violin lessons from Joseph Beckwith, a local orchestral musician,
and he sang from the age of 10 in the choir at St George's Presbyterian
Church, Croydon, and the parish church of St Mary Magdalene, Addiscombe.
He was very well aware of the difficulties he faced because of
the colour of his skin: his nickname at school, for instance, was
'coaley'. But he was a keen student and in 1890 he won a scholarship
to the Royal College of Music, originally as a student of the violin,
then graduating to studying composition with the composer Sir Charles
Villiers Stanford. At a stroke he had levitated into the most influential
musical environment within reach, and acquired patrons who could
help make his career.
Guest-curated for the British Library by Mike Phillips
Next - 'Early days at the RCM'