Hobson’s Choice is effectively no choice – you get what you’re given.
Thomas Hobson was a coachhouse (livery stable) keeper in Cambridge – about fifty miles north-east of London – in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
To ensure that the horses in his stable were used equally and to prevent the over-use of the more popular or stronger horses, Hobson’s choice was always the horse in the stall nearest the door.
It clearly paid off, Thomas Hobson was a very successful businessman, in 1614, he helped fund a much needed new water supply into Cambridge by building a causeway from ‘Nine Wells’ near Shelford into Cambridge city centre. The ‘Hobson’s Ditch’ channels still run along Trumpington Street.
Hobson was wealthy enough to be able to acquire and extend ‘Anglesey Abbey’ – a country house about five miles outside Cambridge and now owned by the National Trust.
Hobson’s Choice was quoted in ‘England’s Reformation’ – a poem by Thomas Ward published (posthumously) in 1688 :
Where to elect there is but one,
‘Tis Hobson’s choice—take that, or none.
Hobson’s Choice inspired a play of the same name, by Harold Brighouse and first performed in 1916, it was subsequently filmed in 1954 by the prominent film director David Lean, starring Charles Laughton.