|Trumpington Local History Group
Hobson's Conduit: the First 400
|Copyright © Trumpington Local History Group, 2018. Updated 10 April 2018.
|The route of Hobson's Conduit can be traced
in this sketch map, rising at Nine Wells,
joined by another stream from Great
Shelford which rises further south, flowing
north, and dividing into two streams half way
into Cambridge. At that point the original
Vicar's Brook flows on to the river Cam, and
the "new" man-made structure takes the
water to the Conduit Head at the corner of
Lensfield Road and Trumpington Street.
The Nine Wells Local Nature Reserve is in
the parish of Great Shelford. A visit is highly
recommended - there is much to see and lots
of work has been done recently by Ellis
Selway and his team from Cambridge City
Council to improve the reserve. This area
was purchased jointly in 1835 by the
University and Town, after the Great
Shelford Inclosure Act of 1834.
A walk round the reserve reveals four of the
"wells", springs issuing fairly gently from the
chalk. The rate of flow nowadays is not what
it used to be, particularly because of water
abstraction by the Cambridge Water
Company from their borehole at Babraham
on the Gog Magog hills.
Eventually you come, rather unexpectedly, to
a monument, or obelisk, erected by public
subscription in 1861.
This page takes a tour along the length of Hobson's Conduit and beyond
into the heart of Cambridge.
|Sketch map of the route of Hobson's Brook,
from Nine Wells in the lower right to the Conduit
Head in the upper centre. Howard Slatter,
|Information plaque at Nine Wells Local
One of the chalk springs at Nine Wells
Local Nature Reserve.
The commemorative monument at
Nine Wells Local Nature Reserve.
Photos: Howard Slatter, October 2010.
|The monument bears inscriptions outlining some of
the early history of the Conduit. Among those
mentioned are three men:
Andrew Perne, Master of Peterhouse, who first (in
1574) suggested taking water from here into
Cambridge, in order to clean out the King's Ditch,
on the southern and eastern edges of the town. The
filthy state of the King's Ditch was seen as being
responsible for recent outbreaks of plague in
Thomas Chaplin, Lord of the Manor of
Trumpington in 1610, who signed a "tripartite
agreement" with the town and the university giving
them rights over the newly made watercourse and
the soil either side in order to maintain it in good
Thomas Hobson, the well known Cambridge carrier
(referred to in the phrase Hobson's choice). When
Hobson died in 1631 he bequeathed land so that its
income could be used to maintain the supply of
water to the market place, for in 1614 some of the
water from the original stream had been diverted to
the market place where it was used as a public water
supply. This splendid portrait of him hangs in the
Guildhall in Cambridge.
|Portrait of Thomas Hobson, in The
Guildhall, Cambridge. Photograph with
permission of Cambridge City Council.
|The water flows from Nine Wells northwards through the parish of Trumpington, under the
new Addenbrooke's Road, the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway (formerly the route of the
London & North Western Railway line from Bedford to Cambridge) and then under Long Road.
A bridge connects the north end of the Emmanuel College field adjoining Long Road with a
footpath from the end of Porson Road. This is a boundary point in two ways: it marks the start
of the footpath which now runs along the side of the brook and it is also the point at which the
man-made section begins.
|Looking south to the footbridge over Hobson's
Brook, between Long Road and Porson Road, with
the original line of the Vicar's Brook on the right.
Photo: Howard Slatter, October 2010.
|Bridge taking Addenbrooke's Road
over Hobson's Brook, opened October
2010. Photo: Howard Slatter, October
|Another bridge crosses the main overflow from Hobson's Brook to Vicar's Brook, which in
times of plenty, can carry a lot of water over the weir. Known as the Memorial Bridge, it was
erected by the Hobson's Conduit Trustees to mark the 300th anniversary of Hobson's death and
As you walk further north along what is known as Finch's Walk, you soon come to the Empty
Common allotment site on your left. The presence of the brook alongside the allotments is a
two-edged sword as far as the users are concerned; they incur occasional minor flooding and a
bit of seepage into the site, but they have an unofficial ready supply of good water for their
|Looking north to the Memorial Bridge over
Hobson's Brook. Photo: Howard Slatter,
|The Empty Common allotments to the west
of Hobson's Brook. Photo: Howard Slatter,
|Brooklands Lodge, as it is now called, was formerly known as "Mr Foster's Gardener's Cottage"
when Richard Foster lived in Brooklands House. As its garden is below the level of the conduit
itself, it has been a source of complaints to the Trustees for 150 years about water entering the
The next feature is the former entrance to the University Botanic Garden, which moved here in
1846; Hobson's Conduit supplies water to the pond in the Garden.
|Brooklands Lodge and Hobson's Conduit, to
the east of Trumpington Road. Photo:
Howard Slatter, October 2010.
|The former entrance to the University
Botanic Garden. Photo: Howard Slatter,
|The stream continues to flow north and reaches Conduit
Head at the junction of Trumpington Road and Lensfield
Road. Two hundred years ago this was an empty stretch of
water. The structure, confusingly sometimes itself called
"the conduit head" originally stood in the Market place
where, from 1614 onwards, it delivered Hobson's water to
the residents of the town. Usually called just The Conduit or
sometimes Hobson's House, it served that purpose for well
over 200 years, until a fire in the market place prompted a
redesign, and in 1856 the conduit was moved to its present
|The Conduit Head at the junction of
Trumpington Road and Lensfield Road.
Photo: Howard Slatter, October 2010.
|From the Conduit Head the water goes underground and originally followed four routes. Two of
them are now effectively defunct: one route ran to the old Botanic Garden via old
Addenbrooke's Hospital - now the university's Judge Institute - and Pembroke College; and
another route ran to the Market Place. Two others still operate:
Route 3 was originally an open watercourse, constructed in about 1630. It runs down Lensfield
Road, across Hills Road and Gonville Place, down the edge of Parker's Piece and then along
under the pavement of Regent Street and St Andrew's Street, heading for Emmanuel College. A
branch into Emmanuel feeds two of their ponds and the overflow then continues underground
under Drummer Street to Christ's College, where it fills the Master's fish pond. Another branch
continues along St Andrew's Street, and then, just after Emmanuel Street, used to come up to
the surface on either side of the road and form two runnels one down either side, as mentioned
in the plaque at the Conduit Head. There are traces of this former route alongside St Andrew's
Street, but for technical reasons the water is not yet (in 2010) flowing here.
|Route 1 was originally the very first course of Hobson's
Conduit, before even the fountain in the market place was
built. It used to be a single stream running the length of
Trumpington Street until it emerged into the Kings Ditch in
an attempt to flush it out. It seems that it never really had
the desired effect and very soon other uses were found for
the water. Nowadays, this too is divided into two runnels,
passing the fronts of Pembroke College and the Fitzwilliam
Museum and Peterhouse.
|The Hobson's Conduit runnel outside the
Fitzwilliam Museum, Trumpington Street.
Photo: Howard Slatter, October 2010.
|This is based on a talk given to the Local History
Group in October 2010.
Howard Slatter is Chair of the Local History
Group and one of the Hobson's Conduit
See also a 2017 update.
The Web site also has a brief introduction to
Hobson's Brook and Conduit.
|Meeting poster designed by Sylvia Jones.