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HOBSON, THOMAS (1544?–1631), carrier of Cambridge, eldest son of Thomas Hobson and Elinor his wife, was born in or about 1544, probably at Buntingford, Hertfordshire, of which place his father was a native. The father, a carrier by trade, who settled in Cambridge in 1561, was at the time of his death in 1568 one of the treasurers of the corporation. He devised his copyhold lands in Grantchester to his son Thomas, to whom he bequeathed ‘the team ware that he now goeth with, that is to say, the cart and eight horses, and all the harness and other things thereunto belonging, with the nag.’ After his father's death Thomas conducted the business with extraordinary success, and amassed a handsome fortune. It is asserted very doubtfully that he was the first person who let out horses for hire in England. His stables were well stocked, and the pertinacity with which he refused to allow any horse to be taken from them except in its proper turn is said to have given rise to the proverb, ‘Hobson's choice,’ i.e. ‘this or none.’ Steele, writing in the ‘Spectator’ (No. 509) under the signature of ‘Hezekiah Thrift,’ pointed out that thus ‘every customer was alike well served according to his chance, and every horse ridden with the same justice.’ Hobson, always merciful to his beasts, used to tell the Cambridge scholars that they would get to London early enough ‘if they did not ride too fast’ (Clark, Lives of Thirty-two English Divines, p. 111). His fame must have extended far beyond the limits of the university, as in 1617 a quarto tract appeared under the title of ‘Hobson's Horse Load of Letters, or Precedents for Epistles of Business.’

In 1626 he presented a large bible to the church of St. Benedict, in which parish he resided. In 1627 he became possessed of the site of the priory of Anglesey, with the manor of Anglesey-cum-Bottisham, Cambridgeshire. He was also owner of the manors of Crowlands, Lisles, and Sames in Cottenham, and, as lessee of the crown, held the Denny Abbey estate, with the manors of Waterbeach and Denny. On 30 July 1628 he conveyed to the university and town of Cambridge the ground on which was erected the structure commonly known as the Spinning House, but more correctly designated ‘Hobson's Workhouse.’ In spite of his advanced age he regularly continued his journeys to London until 1630, when they were suspended by order of the constituted authorities on account of the plague. During this cessation from business he died at Cambridge on 1 Jan. 1630–1. He was buried in the church of St. Benedict. Milton wrote two humorous epitaphs on Hobson. In one of these are references to the cart and wain of the deceased. Hence it appears that there is no foundation for the popular opinion that Hobson carried on his business exclusively by means of pack-horses.

His first wife was Anne or Annis Humberstone (d. 1615), by whom he appears to have had eight children; his second wife was named Mary.

One of the streets at Cambridge is named after him. A bequest in his will provided for the perpetual maintenance of the conduit in the market-place. To this bequest is due not only a handsome conduit in the middle of the town, but a rivulet of clear water running through the main streets. There are several engraved portraits of Hobson, and a portrait in oil hangs in the Guildhall, Cambridge.

[Collect. Topographica et Genealogica, viii. 39; Cooper's Annals of Cambridge, iii. 159, 179, 204, 230; Granger's Biog. Hist. of England, 5th edit. iii. 242; Dr. Richard Hobson's Reminiscences of Charles Waterton, p. 241; Lysons's Cambridgeshire, pp. 90, 272; Masson's Life of Milton, i. 206–10; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vii. 452, 2nd ser. i. 472, ii. 57, 4th ser. iii. 128, 5th ser. ii. 45, 6th ser. ii. 426; Stukeley's Itinerarium Curiosum, i. 18.]

T. C.