National Civic Day’s aim is that citizens celebrate the place in which they live. For Marie Lousie Holland, Chair of CambridgePPF’s Heritage Watch group this meant helping people find out more about Nine Wells, Hobson’s Brook and the Market Fountain.

My interest in Nine Wells was awakened a few years ago as this former Site of Special Scientific Interest looked increasingly vulnerable to the explosion of buildings around the Addenbrooke's site and into the Green Belt.  It occurred to me that some local residents in Great Kneighton/New Trumpington might be interested in tracking the route of the freshwater flow from Nine Wells into Cambridge, and likewise others might be surprised to discover that Nine Wells is now close to becoming part of the Cambridge suburban landscape.

This chimed with fellow Heritage Watchers, one of whom commented,

"I've always thought that as a canal running in front of the Botanic Garden and Brookside with its various branches along Trumpington Street and under Lensfield Road to feed the ponds at Emmanuel and Christ's colleges, Hobson’s Brook has shaped the townscape almost as much as the River Cam as well as being a source of fresh drinking water leading to the market fountain. At present there is no coherent story pulling it all together from Nine Wells into the town centre."

Thomas Hobson was a prominent citizen of 17th century Cambridge. He, and others who are commemorated on the obelisk at Nine Wells, were so concerned by the health hazards of insanitary water in the King's Ditch that they funded and implemented the channelling of freshwater from the ancient springs into the city in order to flush out the King's Ditch.  Subsequently a complex system of runnels and underground pipes was laid to provide freshwater accessible to all citizens throughout the city.

Generous people gave their time on June 22nd (National Civic Day 2019) to bring together aspects of this ‘water in the landscape’ story.  We set up four hubs along the route with volunteers from Cam Valley Forum; Cambridgeshire Geological Society; the Board of Trustees of Hobson's Conduit as well as Cambridge City Council's Biodiversity officers, Cambridge Water Company, the Cambridgeshire Collection and the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Early that day some Heritage Watchers set out with blue ribbons which they attached to various trees and posts to indicate a suggested walking trail from the Nine Wells to Cambridge Market Square.

I found myself at the rarely opened Botanic Gate along Trumpington Road.  Two herons were spotted in the rushes on the Hobson River.  It was a wonderful opportunity to view the Botanic Garden through the 18th century gate which was moved to the site from the Old Botanic Garden in 1909.  There was great delight in the sketches and drawings loaned by Jon Harris, artist, and particular interest in his Medieval Map of Cambridge and the King's Ditch.

botanic gardens hobsons brook information board

Finally, two intrepid horsewomen from Swavesey & District Bridleways Association rode Thomas and Choccy through Cambridge in tribute to Thomas Hobson's past kindness to horses.