The first public library opened in Cambridge in 1855, originally as both a library and a museum. It became the obvious institution for Cambridge citizens, who had no connection with the University or its Colleges, to deposit their collections for future generations to enjoy; whether these consisted of books, playbills, maps or works of art. The works of art were almost entirely of local topographical interest or depicted local worthies. Occasionally other works were accepted, such as the Portrait of a Boy in Naval Uniform with a Globe, painted by the British (English) School (at the time said to be of Nelson), given in 1867. Throughout the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century these works of art decorated the walls of the Central Library’s reading room.
The Cambridge Central Library Collection consists largely of portraits mostly dating to the nineteenth century. Eight portraits relate to the Foster family who were bankers in Cambridge from 1804. Richard Foster (1787–1859) who is identified as one of the sitters founded Foster & Co. in partnership with his father. The firm lasted for a century before being absorbed by the Capital and Counties Bank, and eventually becoming part of what is now Lloyds TSB Bank; the Foster name can still be seen over the doorway of the bank in Sidney Street.
Two portraits show Thomas Hobson, the Cambridge carrier, from whom the phrase ‘Hobson’s Choice’ originated. When hiring a horse from his stable you took the next in line, there was no choice other than that. Money left in his will went towards the construction of Hobson’s Conduit, which carried fresh water into Cambridge, and still runs through the streets of the city today.
These works of art are now held in the Cambridgeshire Collection, the Local Studies department of the Central Library, and form one part of a collection of over four million images of Cambridgeshire and its people dating from the sixteenth century to the present.
Chris Jakes, Principal Librarian, Local Studies
Text source: PCF / Cambridgeshire Collection, Cambridge Central Library
This description was originally written for a catalogue.
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