Coleridge-Taylor was born in 1875 in Holborn, London, to Alice Hare Martin, an English woman, and Dr Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, a Sierra Leonean Creole. They were not married. He was named Samuel Coleridge Taylor. His surname was Taylor, and his middle name of Coleridge was after the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His family called him Coleridge Taylor. He later affected the name Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, allegedly following a printer’s typographical error.
Daniel Taylor returned to Africa by February 1875 and did not know that he had a son in London. He was appointed coroner for the British Empire in The Gambia in the late 1890s.
Coleridge-Taylor was brought up in Croydon by Martin and her father Benjamin Holmans. Martin's brother was a professional musician. Taylor studied the violin at the Royal College of Music and composition under Charles Villiers Stanford (who would conduct the first performance of his Hiawatha's Wedding Feast in 1898.) He also taught and conducted the orchestra at the Croydon Conservatoire.