The provision of fresh water to Cambridge
Now situated at the head of Hobson’s Conduit, this fountain once stood in Cambridge Market Place, where it supplied drinking water to the public for over two centuries.
Water is still brought to the town via an open brook from Nine Wells, a series of chalk springs 3 miles outside Cambridge. Before the advent of this conduit, however, most townspeople in medieval Cambridge had little access to fresh drinking water. A popular alternative was to drink beer and there were many breweries in the town.
It was not until the late 16th century that a plan to bring fresh water to the town was established by Vice Chancellor of the University, Andrew Perne. This finally came into fruition as a joint Town and Gown venture in 1614, with local carrier Thomas Hobson, providing most of the funding.
Hobson (who was later Mayor of Cambridge) was a successful local entrepreneur, operating a mail delivery service from his stable and renting out his horses to students and Fellows at the weekends. He insisted on strict rotation – so that only the best rested horses were hired out. Hence the phrase “Hobson’s choice”; meaning no choice whatsoever!
Hobson’s Conduit – or the ‘New River’ as it was known – was a considerable feat of engineering. Fresh water was distributed through the town, eventually reaching the market place via an underground pipe.
At a time when waterborne diseases were a major killer, Hobson’s Conduit undoubtedly increased people’s chances of survival.
Access: Public access. View from corner of Lensfield Road/Trumpington Street