Sir James MURRAY (1837–1915)

Lexicographer and Editor of the OED

78 Banbury Road, Oxford

James Murray

James Augustus Henry Murray was the son of a Scottish clothier. He became a master at Hawick Grammar School and later at Mill Hill School, near London, where he began work on the New English Dictionary, later known as the Oxford English Dictionary, the OED.

In 1885 he moved to Sunnyside, 78 Banbury Road, Oxford (below) and there he erected in the garden a corrugated-iron building to house the slips of paper on which quotations for the dictionary were written. These slips eventually weighed three tons. A pillar box, still there, was subsequently placed at the entrance to the house to make it easier for Murray to post his voluminous correspondence. He had issued an Appeal for Readers which was sent to libraries and bookshops across the English-speaking world and thereby assembled a vast army of voluntary assistants who sent in slips for individual words. One of the most famous and unusual contributors was the American army surgeon and murderer, William Chester Minor, who was confined in the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane and who dedicated himself to this scholarly cause for his remaining years, contributing 12,000 quotations.

78 Banbury Road

Murray was appointed Editor of the OED in 1873 and continued as Chief Editor until his death. The first part of the dictionary – A to Aunt – appeared in 1879. Although he estimated that the dictionary would be completed by 1891, it was not in fact finished until 1928. Sir James Murray received many honorary degrees, including one from Oxford in 1914, and was the Romanes Lecturer at the University in 1900. He is buried in Wolvercote cemetery.


  • Simon Winchester, The Meaning of Everything (2003)
  • Simon Winchester, The Surgeon of Crowthorne (1998)
  • Hibbert, Encyclopaedia of Oxford (1988)

The plaque was inaugurated at 78 Banbury Road on 21 October 2002 by Hugo Brunner, Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, and the occasion was attended by John Simpson, Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Murray plaque


Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board


Editor of the 
Oxford English Dictionary

Lived here

Oxford Civic Society

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