Website usage

WebsiteOur project website has reached its second anniversary and so here are some statistics for the last year (courtesy of Google Analytics). Last year’s figures are in brackets.

Number of visits: 14480 (7253)

Number of page-views: 38729 (18412)

Number of unique visitors: 11995 (5988)

Number of countries from which pages have been viewed: 136 (117), of which 65 (48) have been the source of 10 or more visits

Greatest number of visits in one day: 918 on 10 Dec 14 (148 on 27 Feb 13)

Most visited pages:



We are continuing to work towards implementing our plans for electronic publication of the DMLBS and we will announce further details on this if and when we are in a position to do so. We regret that at present we remain unable to confirm if or when a version of the DMLBS will be available online and on what basis. (The full printed dictionary is of course now available and so the fruits of our long-running research are gradually making themselves known across the world, with many hundreds of copies already purchased.)

Little Domesday f. 49v

Little Domesday f. 49v

It’s important to us that any eventual electronic publication tries to meet the needs of the community from the Dictionary’s text, and we are thus interested in current and potential DMLBS users and their work. Accordingly with a view to online publication we’d be interested to hear from current or potential users of the Dictionary about their use of the existing Dictionary and other lexical aids.

A brief survey about this is now available: if you’re a present user of the Dictionary or a possible future one, please click on the Domesday image above to take the survey and let us know how and for what you (might) use the Dictionary. We hope to use the results to help guide some of the decisions that will need to be taken when any development work for an online dictionary gets going.

Photo credit: Andrew Barclay via Flickr

Second anniversary

Miniature of a scribe writing at a desk (thought to be Bede), from the preface to Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert

MS British Library Yates Thompson 26 f. 2: Miniature of a scribe writing at a desk (thought to be Bede), from the preface to Bede’s prose Life of St Cuthbert

It is two years since this blog was launched, and so here are some statistics about the blog and the project over the last year (and ever). See last year’s statistics here.

Number of posts: 50 (70)
Number of pages: 2 (2)

Blog posts/pages viewed: 1980 (3145)
Number of countries from which post/pages have been viewed: 50 (59)
Most viewed identifiable post: A Lost Plea *

Number of fascicules published: 1
Number of pages published: 400 (SYR to Z)

The anniversary of our website is coming soon, and we will report some statistics for that in due course.

* This is the top individual post page visited. The homepage is again our most frequently visited page: it displays the five most recent posts, and WordPress doesn’t allocate views per post to these individually according to what was displayed at the time it was viewed.

‘Dictionary mongers’


This letter from Nov 1937 came to light among our archive collections. We are grateful to Dr Chris Stray for elucidating the context of this extraordinary outburst in this guest post:

The writer of this characteristic letter was Robert Gunther (1869-1940), founder of the Museum of the History of Science; it was addressed to Harold Johnson, Secretary of the Medieval Latin Dictionary Committee.

Gunther’s father, Albert Günther, was a naturalised German who had been employed at the British Museum to classify snakes in 1857, and ended up as its Keeper of Zoology 1875-95.  Gunther senior was a prolific writer, built up his department’s collections and library, and was prone to issue biting criticisms of other scholars.  In all of these aspects, his son resembled him. Robert Gunther entered Magdalen College in 1888, applying to the college because it had its own (Daubeny) laboratory. Gaining a first in morphology (zoology) in 1892, Gunther was appointed college lecturer and then tutor in natural science (1896-1920). As well as running the laboratory, he also acted as curator of the nearby University Botanic Garden for several years. Work on a history of the laboratory (published in 1904) led him into antiquarian research; meanwhile he was building up its collection of old scientific instruments and its library. During World War One, Gunther planned to open a museum of the history of science in the Old Ashmolean building, and was encouraged by his friend Lewis Evans, who in 1924 presented his valuable collection of scientific instruments to the university.  Gunther persuaded the university authorities to make two rooms on the upper floor of the Old Ashmolean available to house the collection, his leverage coming from the donation of a collection worth £12,000 to the University.

Gunther’s long-term plan was to take over the whole Old Ashmolean building for a history of science museum, but he faced resistance from several quarters. His fellowship at Magdalen had been ended in 1920, and he had had lost his main patron with the death of Sir William Osler in the previous year; but he was a vigorous and determined fighter, and battled on regardless. His opponents included the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans (ironically, Lewis Evans’ brother) and D.G. Hogarth, Keeper of the (new) Ashmolean Museum, who had their eyes on the Lewis Evans collection. The Bodleian Library, which used the basement as a book stack, wanted to expand into the rest of the building. The middle floor, consisting of a single grand, pillared room, had been used since 1901 by the staff of the Oxford English Dictionary. The Dictionary reached the end of the alphabet in 1928, but a supplementary volume was then worked on till its publication in 1933. At that point Gunther, who had been pressing for more space for the collection, stepped up his campaigning, deploying the Friends of the Old Ashmolean, a pressure-group he had set up in 1928: but in vain. The OED team had already been joined by the editors of the new (9th) edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, which was published in fascicles between 1925 and 1940. Later on, after the completion of the OED Supplement, they were joined by a team working on the Oxford Latin Dictionary, which eventually appeared between 1968 and 1982. In his biography of Gunther, his son Albert wrote (pp.216-7):

It had always been maintained by the compilers of the [Oxford English] Dictionary that proximity to the Bodleian was essential. One lexicographer to hold most strongly to this view was Professor H. Stuart Jones (Camden Professor of Ancient History), a member of the Hebdomadal Council who, engaged on a new edition of Liddell and Scott, maintained that the work could not be done elsewhere, until, that is to say, he moved to Aberystwyth, where work on the Lexicon continued.

Gunther had secured approval of the collection as a university museum in 1933, and in 1935 was appointed (though without salary) Reader in the History of Science. But his museum was still confined to two rooms on the top floor of the building. Even here, he was apparently reminded of the dominance of the dictionary-makers. He wrote in 1933 that

The Delegates [of the Clarendon Press] never realized what a monkey house their employees made of the Old Ashmolean. How their young male assistants used to keep rushing up the stairs with their latest lexicographical slips to the upper room where shrieks of feminine laughter rewarded their lexicographical discoveries.

 (Gunther, article on the Old Ashmolean, Oxford Magazine 18 May 1933, 670, quoted by A.E. Gunther, p. 217)

The request from Johnson for Gunther’s help thus touched the tenderest of nerves. It is possible that Johnson was unaware of the history of the issue, and Gunther’s was simply one of several names written to for assistance; if not, the letter was surely with tongue in cheek. Robert Chapman, named by Gunther as chief villain, was Secretary to the Delegates of OUP from 1920 till 1942. Chapman had begun his career as Assistant Secretary in 1906 after gaining a first in Greats. His published work centred on the editing of Jane Austen and Samuel Johnson, but he had a lifelong interest in lexicography, and contributed to the revision of Liddell and Scott. As a science fellow of Magdalen, Gunther had struggled against the opposition of the classical tutors to some of his schemes; he will have seen the resistance of Chapman and his allies to his museum scheme as a continuation of this battle between science and humanities.

Gunther died in 1940, his ambitions for the Old Ashmolean still frustrated. In the following year, however, the lexicographers moved from the Dictionary Room to new quarters in the Bodleian Library’s Old Schools Quadrangle. The Museum of the History of Science now occupies the whole building, just as he had planned.


A. Gunther, Robert Gunther:  A Pioneer in the History of Science, 1869-1940 (Oxford: OUP, 1967).

J. Morrell, Science at Oxford 1914-1939 (Oxford: OUP, 1997), 263-7.

A.V. Simcock, Robert Gunther and the Old Ashmolean (Oxford: Museum of the History of Science, 1985).


My thanks to Richard Ashdowne, Peter Gilliver and Ian Jackson for their help.

Send more books

The British Academy’s Medieval Dictionary Committees’ first major task was the assembly of the evidence on which the eventual dictionary was to be based. Whitwell’s original proposal called for this to be done by what amounted to a small army of volunteer readers, in the manner of the reading programme adopted for the Oxford English Dictionary, to which he had been a prolific contributor. This was indeed the course of action eventually adopted.

Among these volunteer readers was B[ernard] W[inthrop] Swithinbank (1884-1958), a District Commissioner in the Burmese Division of the Indian Civil Service, who read many dozens of texts over the course of around two decades from the mid 1930s and sent in many thousands of slips during his time in Rangoon, Burma and later back in England, where he lived in Maidstone in Kent and was a leading member of the Kent Archaeological Society.

Project folklore has handed down tales of him reading his texts sitting on top of an elephant on his travels through Burma. Sadly the extensive correspondence with Swithinbank in the DMLBS archives has failed to confirm this particular detail. However, folklore also hands down that he would send telegrams back from Burma asking the project to ‘send more books’. Here the archives confirm this account. Scores of letters reveal his seemingly insatiable appetite for texts to read and excerpt for the project over the years, many of which were bought by the project and shipped to him in Burma, sometimes arriving but sometimes going astray, presumably due to enemy action.

We have here two telegrams, from 1940 and 1941, sent by Swithinbank from Rangoon, the first acknowledging receipt of a parcel but anxious for more work, and the second confirming his view (expressed also in letters from the time) that a parcel of books that had been shipped from Blackwells had not been delayed but in fact lost (at sea).



Note in the second of these that Charles Johnson, who had been joint editor of the Medieval Latin Word-List from British and Irish Sources, was working at HMP Shepton Mallet in Somerset, to which large quantities of Public Record Office documents had been moved for safekeeping during the Second World War. Johnson had retired from the PRO in 1930 but was recalled to service in 1941 (aged 71), working again until 1946. He worked tirelessly for the cause of the dictionary project right up until his death in 1961, just as the Revised Word-List was on the point of completion and plans were starting to be discussed for work to start on the dictionary proper.

Without the contribution, however, of readers such as Swithinbank — and the surviving correspondence shows there were many such readers, though few as prolific as him — the eventual dictionary would scarcely have been possible. Here is one of the thousands of slips he produced (with annotations from the editorial team):

Swithinbank slip