The Museum of Cambridge

Nov 23, 02:30 PM

This history trail audio is narrated by the poet Michael Rosen, with script researched by Helen Weinstein and the team at Historyworks. This recording is part of a series of Cambridge history trails which have lyrics inspired by 'history beneath our feat' performed by local schoolchildren, with poems by the top poet Michael Rosen and songs by the funny team at CBBC's songwriters commissioned by Historyworks. To find more trails and further information, go to

The Museum of Cambridge was originally a timber framed coach inn called the ‘White Horse Inn’ at the bottom of Castle Street. The inn was built in the 17th Century and was a thriving business for over three hundred years because it was at a major crossroads near the River Cam where travellers and tradesmen could stop overnight.

The old inn is now a museum telling stories about Cambridge and the surrounding Fen communities. It has fantastic collections which tell intriguing histories about people who lived and worked in the local area. You can even see all the timber rooms, with an old pub bar and a big kitchen, including the archway through which coaches and horses would enter the courtyard.

One very successful Cambridge innkeeper from Tudor times is Thomas Hobson. He had a coaching inn where he rented out horses to people in the area who needed to travel out of town. He devised a system to make sure that his best horses didn’t get too tired - only offering the customer the horse at the front of the stable which was ready to go. This is where the famous phrase ‘Hobson’s Choice’ comes from: the customer couldn’t select whichever horse they wanted, instead it was – ‘take it, or leave it’ – Hobson’s choice! We have a funny song and a round written about Thomas Hobson by Dave Cohen, the CBBC’s Horrible Histories Songwriter, which you can listen to on the website.

Hobson made so much money that he was able to give donations to good causes. There is a wonderful portrait of him upstairs in the Museum where you can see he has a huge ruff or collar in the Elizabethan style, and a massive money bag to show off that he gave to charitable causes. In Cambridge there was a big problem in Tudor times with all the water contaminated by the contents of chamber pots and other muck, so Hobson’s charity gave donations for a special gutter called a conduit to bring fresh water all the way into the centre of Cambridge from the villages by Trumpington. In the market square the water was hooked up to a drinking fountain and a water pump. If you go into the cobbled courtyard of the Museum see if you can spot the old water pump and find the big pointy stone pieces from Hobson’s fancy fountain that used to be in the market place.

The Cambridge Museum is one of the oldest social history museums in the country and is stuffed with amazing objects and their stories, many of which were collected by a fantastic researcher called Enid Porter, who ran the museum for decades. She collected old toys and sporting kit so you can see what children and young people played with in the past. To find out about how people ate and survived, she would travel around the town and countryside talking to people collecting up old cooking equipment and recipes, and finding out what clothes and shoes people wore in the past. She also collected traditional hand made tools used for shoe making and for tasks such as eel and duck catching. One of Enid Porter’s ghoulish interests was collecting stories about witches and old recipes for curing diseases and scaring away ghosts, including the folklore and legends about birth, marriage and death. She visited with people all around Cambridgeshire and listened to these stories about the olden days and wrote down their memories in notebooks. From the research in her notebooks, she wrote a famous book, “Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore”.

I loved the legend in Enid Porter’s book about how the stone lions outside the Fitzwilliam ...

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