20th May 1883

Dictionary publisher William Chambers dies

Born in Peebles in 1800, William Chambers is best remembered for the dictionary that still bears his name. Although long interested in publishing, he wasn’t always a book producer in his own right. He had previously run his own bookshop in Edinburgh and printed his first books in the early 1820s, but didn’t found his publishing firm – W & R Chambers Publishers – with his brother Robert until 1832.

Early publishing efforts

Initially, the firm’s output concerned itself primarily with material concerning Scotland and Scottish interests, but in the 1860s it produced an encyclopedia that was designed to be both inexpensive and accessible. It was published as a weekly part work over the course of ten years, with each instalment costing three and a half pence. It was regularly updated and continued to be published until the end of the 1970s.

With Encyclopaedia Britannica also produced in Edinburgh, this would have made the Scottish capital an important seat of learning.

The encyclopedia was followed by Chambers Dictionary, which was first published in 1872. Popular with crossword setters and solvers, Chambers Dictionary was, for a long time, the official dictionary of the board game Scrabble.

Elected Lord Provost

Chambers was elected Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1865. In this role he was chair of the city council, and Edinburgh’s official representative. As such, he made several long-lasting changes to the city, such as the building of several streets, including Chambers Street, which was named in his honour, and the restoration of St Giles Cathedral. He also paid for Greyfriars Bobby’s dog licence.

When he died in 1883, his funeral was held at St Giles, which had reopened following the restoration initiated by Chambers three days after the publisher’s death. While he may not have seen the cathedral officially opened, he did benefit from the works, as his public funeral took place there on 25 May, after which his remains were taken by train back to his birthplace, Peebles.



Other events that occured in May

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