ACADEMICS, family members and fans gathered in Oxford yesterday to celebrate 100 years since the death of James Murray, chief editor of the first Oxford English Dictionary.

Wreaths were laid at the lexicographer’s grave in Wolvercote Cemetery, Banbury Road, at 11am, led by his great-grandson Oswyn Murray.

One special offering was provided by Oxford English Dictionary staff.

Lynda Mugglestone, professor of history of English at Oxford University, said: “We have taken facsimiles from the original dictionary’s font and the wreath uses those letters.

“He was involved in every single design decision and spent ages thinking about fonts, so it is really nice.”

A procession then visited Sir James’s home in Banbury Road, marked out with a blue plaque since 2002.

Visitors were treated to a rare glimpse of the scriptorium in Sir James’s back garden, where a team of assistants and thousands of slips bearing quotations were housed.

Ms Mugglestone added: “We are having a pilgrimage of lexicography.

“Sir James had an extraordinary life, from humble beginnings to a Victorian scholar who shaped our national monument of the language and the way it still records it today.”

A series of talks was also held at Oxford University’s Faculty of English, Manor Road, on Sir James’s life and legacy.

Born in the Scottish village of Denholm in 1837 and the son of a tailor, he left school aged 14 and worked as a teacher, becoming a headmaster at 21.

Proficient in a plethora of languages including Italian, Catalan, Latin and Hebrew, Sir James was on the council of the Philological Society by 1869 and later became president.

In 1878 he was invited to Oxford to meet delegates of Oxford University Press, who were seeking an editor for a new dictionary containing every word in the English language.

It was expected to take 10 years to complete. Instead it took 50 and was finally published in 1928 with 414,800 words defined over 10 volumes.

Michael Proffitt, present chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, said: “For those of us working on the Oxford English Dictionary, every day provides an opportunity to marvel at Sir James Murray’s work.

“But the centenary of his death is an opportunity to mark publicly the enduring legacy of his work. His dedication and stamina over many decades created not just the first comprehensive historical record of English, but in effect an entirely new set of standards for how the language is researched.”