Thomas Hobson: Hobson's Choice

Creating My Cambridge invites you to compose your own pieces, songs, raps, poems, dramas, stories inspired by the Hobson story - about the inn keeper who ran the horse stable - and became an important Cambridge philanthropist.

To help your getting creative we have some historical information with some illustrations on this website in the histories section here.   

We have rounds and a song with lyrics composed by the CBBC's Horrible Histories song writer called Dave Cohen. Please find the words and the music score and sound files if you scroll down this page.

Here are the rounds:

1. Hobson's Horses

(To tune of Frere Jacques)
Hobson's Horses
Hobson's Horses
Take your choice
In your voice
Ask him for another one
Ask him for the other one
He will say
'Not today'.

2. Hobson's Choice

(To tune of London's Burning)
Hobson's Choice is
Hobson's Choice is
For a speedy horse
Very best of course
Faster faster!
Faster faster
He replied
'I decide'

Hooray for Hobson

The song called "Hooray for Hobson" is set to music by the composer, Karen Wimhurst.

ComposerKaren Wimhurst with lyrics written by Dave Cohen

Performed by: Milton Road Primary School Choir.

Location: This piece and its historical context are closely linked with St Catharine's College, University of Cambridge, CB2 1RL.

Lyrics: You can download the lyrics here. Dave has also written some Rounds as warm-up pieces and the lyrics can also be read at the foot of this page.

Score: The score can be downloaded here.

This audio file is a recording & edit by Historyworks:


Hobson’s choice, yes it’s Hobson’s choice

I'm Thomas Hobson now hear me say 
I came to fame the Cambridge way 
If you wonder what's the cause of my celebrity 
It's 'Hobson's Choice' - that's named after me 
'Hobson's Choice' - that's named after me 
You're dying to know what the story is of course 
So I'll tell you, it begins with a horse 
Yes, it begins with a horse

Thomas Hobson ran the Cambridge mail 
His horses galloped the delivery trail 
When they weren't running all around the towns 
Thomas Hobson hired them out to the local gowns 
(Hobson’s choice, yes it’s Hobson’s choice)

I owned forty speedy horses and every one 
Was fast so the gowns liked to race them for fun. 
Each academic asked for his favourite mare 
But I said sorry guys you'll have to share 
You'll have to share 
Yes I will decide when to rest or rent each horse 
You get what you're given - that's Hobson's Choice. 
You get what you're given - that's Hobson's Choice.

Thomas Hobson ran the Cambridge post 
But hiring out his horses earned him the most 
Oh Hobson's Choice's fame was built upon 
A mention in a famous poem by Milton 
Hobson’s Choice, Hobson’s Choice, he’s a Cambridge man

But it's not just the horses I'm famous for you knew it, (he’s a Cambridge man) 
I was the man who brought you Hobson's Conduit (he’s the man) 
You curse me every time you fall off the seat 
Of your bike when you crash in Trumpington Street 
But that ditch saved lives of many Cambridge sons and daughters 
Delivering the town's (the town’s) first clean fresh water

Thomas is best known for Hobson's Choice 
But that's not the only reason we rejoice 
His conduit saved lives, that’s why we say 
You should celebrate his name up to this day 
You should celebrate his name up to this day


©Dave Cohen 2014


Part for Voice 1:

Part for Voice 2:

Part for Voices 3 and 4:

Historical Context

The story of ‘Hobson’s choice’ dates back to the 17th century when Thomas Hobson (1544-1631) was the manager of a stable behind the George Inn, located outside what are now the gates of St. Catharine’s College on Trumpington Street. Hobson’s main job was to transport mail between Cambridge and London. A lucrative way to make money was to hire the horses that he did not use for mail delivery to the students and academic staff of the University.

Most of Hobson’s customers wanted to hire the fastest horses in the stable. Hobson soon realised that this would result in overworking his best horses so he established a rotation system and only offered the next horse in the queue, rather than letting customers choose the best one available. He had a strict policy of ‘This one or none’. The policy does not imply that there was no choice, there was one, the choice between ‘take it or leave it’. This type of choice in life became known by the concept, handed down through generations by the phrase ‘Hobson’s choice’.

Thomas Hobson in his own time was a prolific figure in Cambridge and like many philanthropists of the period he funded a number of social projects. In 1628 he contributed to a Workhouse known as Hobson’s House. This would later become the infamous Spinning House, a  ‘house of correction’  specifically for young girls and women, notoriously used by men of the university to police  the behaviour of women of the city. This was a problematic institution and a source of tension between men and women, town and gown in the city, characterized in our app by  “Unsung Women of Cambridge”.

Hobson also established Hobson’s conduit, a watercourse that aimed to bring fresh water into the city. Fresh water was necessary because increasing numbers of students and university staff were dying of plague, due to the unsanitary conditions. The conduit was built between 1610 and 1614, running along both sides of Trumpington Street towards St. Catharine’s College. If you walk along Trumpington Street, you can still see the conduit running the length of the street, particularly deep and hazardous outside the Fitzwilliam Museum, characterized in our app by the “crash” sequence in our song “Hooray for Hobson”.

Image courtesy of Cambridge City Council.

Thomas Hobson: Hobson's Choice


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