One of the best hidden gems to tour in Oxford, England is the Oxford University Press Museum. Home of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), this intimate experience is free and comes with a personal historian tour guide. Other cool things to see and do include an early edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 17th and 19th century printing presses, historical printing displays, and fun historical facts from the 15th century to today.

The Oxford University Press Museum is just one of the best things to do in Oxford, England. See my related series of posts on the top experiences in Oxford and England.


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Best free museums in Oxford, England – Oxford University Press

Pictured is James Murray, chief editor of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. He’s standing in what was known as his scriptorium at Oxford in 1900. Bottom right: One volume of the Oxford English Dictionary. Compare the size to a traditional dictionary pictured on the left.

I first fell in love with the Oxford English Dictionary (aka OED) when I was a non-traditional student at the University of Vermont. An etymology lover, I would peruse the many volumes of the OED between classes when I didn’t have homework. Yes, I read the dictionary for fun.

But the Oxford English Dictionary is not your average dictionary. It is THE dictionary that features the entire history of more than 600,000 words in the English language dating back 1,000 years. Of course, you can purchase a more condensed two-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary.

A typical layout of an entry in the multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary. You’ll find the history and usage of every word in the English language dating back 1,000 years.

My primary reason for taking this free tour of the Oxford University Press Museum was to learn more about the Oxford English Dictionary. However, I learned so much more about the five centuries of printing and publishing history at the Oxford University Press Museum. The Oxford University Press was also known as The Clarendon Press.

I get it that this tour may not be for everyone, but if you love etymology, the history of words, history in general, printing and publishing, and off-the-beaten-path museums, then I highly recommend the free Oxford University Press Museum tour.

Pictured: fun facts and stats about the Oxford English Dictionary at the Oxford University Press Museum

Fun facts about the Oxford University Press

The Standhope Press – an iron printing press model from 1812.

Here’s a list of a few fun facts about the Oxford University Press.

  • While the Oxford University Press was founded in 1586, the University actually printed its first book in 1478. That’s just a couple of years after William Caxton invented the first printing press. Previously, books were handwritten in manuscripts (manually written).
  • Oxford University Press is the largest university press in the world.
  • In 1865, Charles Dodgson – an Oxford scholar and teacher known by his more familiar pseudonym Lewis Carroll – asked the Oxford University Press to print his new book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. You can learn the story of how the Oxford University Press botched the first printing and had to recall all copies. On display is an 1866 copy after unbound copies of Oxford’s printing of the story were sold to a New York publisher for the American audience.
  • The Oxford University Press agreed to publish a new dictionary of English in 1859 – initially called The New English Dictionary, which later became the Oxford English Dictionary.
  • It was estimated that this new dictionary of unregistered words in English would take 10 years. But it took nearly 50 years. In fact, it took five years just to publish the first installment that only went through the word ant.
  • That first part, or fascicle, was published in 1884.
  • The final part – 10 volumes – was published 44 years later in 1928.
  • Eventually, the Oxford English Dictionary evolved into 20 volumes in 1989.
  • Recognizing it was cost-prohibitive and unsustainable to continue reprinting all volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary as it is considered a living document, the OED went online in 2000.
  • You can find the definitions and usages of more than 600,000 words in the English language that date back 1,000 years in the OED.
  • Dictionary slips, 6” x 4” slips of paper, which provided the content for the OED, are all archived since 1867. These hand-written slips include definitions, etymologies, and historical usages.
  • The Oxford University Press supported WWII efforts by printing top secret Allied naval code books.
  • Oxford University Press doesn’t actually do any printing onsite anymore. The University now outsources the printing. However, they do publish more than 6,000 titles and more than 110 million units a year worldwide.

What’s the difference between publishing and printing?

Printing means the actual production while publishing means selling.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the Oxford University Press Museum in Oxford, England

Here are a few frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the Oxford University Press Museum in Oxford, England.

What is the Oxford University Press Museum known for?

Alice in Wonderland book in Oxford University Press in England
An early edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on display at the Oxford University Press Museum

The main points of interest at the Oxford University Press Museum include:

  • Centuries of printing and publishing history – from the 1400s through today
  • An early edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the printing plate for The Mouse’s Tail on display
  • Home of the 600,000-word Oxford English Dictionary – and unique archived history dating back to its inception in 1867
  • First edition of volume 1 of The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, published in 1894
  • Printing presses from the 17th and 19th centuries
  • Cool displays demonstrating typesetting, facts and figures, pigeonholes that stored paper dictionary slips of all the research done on every word
  • Fun facts and timelines of the Oxford English Dictionary

Oxford English Dictionary timeline and OED story

Where is the Oxford University Press Museum located?

The museum is located within the main Oxford University Press offices on Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, OX2 6DP. Use this entrance to check in at the main reception desk rather than the front entrance on Walton Street.

Is the Oxford University Press Museum wheelchair-accessible?

Yes, the Oxford University Press Museum is wheelchair-accessible. However, the main entrance to access the reception area and the Oxford University Press Museum features a flight of exterior stairs (pictured above). You can notify the Oxford University Press in advance if you require step-free access via the inquiry form on their website.

Is the Oxford University Press part of Oxford University?

Yes, the Oxford University Press is a department of Oxford University.

Is there parking at Oxford University Press Museum?

Parking throughout Oxford is limited and very expensive. Thankfully, Oxford is a very walkable city or you can use public transportation or take an Uber to the Oxford University Press Museum.

Where can I purchase tickets for Oxford University Press Museum? Does Oxford University Press Museum cost anything?

You can only book guided tours of the Oxford University Press Museum online via their website with a minimum of one-day advanced notice. The Oxford University Press Museum is free.

What are the hours for the Oxford University Press Museum?

The Oxford University Press Museum in Oxford, England is open every Monday through Friday except Bank Holidays. Tour start times are 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Additionally, the museum closes mid-December through the first full week in January.

How long does it take to tour the Oxford University Press Museum?

The Oxford University Press Museum is small and the guided tour takes an average of 50 minutes. Although small, you’ll learn a lot of intriguing history.

How big are the tour groups at the Oxford University Press Museum?

The tours at Oxford University Press Museum can accommodate up to 20 people (typically school groups). I was the only person scheduled for a tour when I visited the Oxford University Press Museum.

Are the tours of the Oxford University Press Museum self-guided?

Your booked tour includes a guided tour of the Oxford University Press Museum. Please note that the tour does not include any other areas of the site.

Can you take photos in Oxford University Press Museum?

Yes, you can take photos and record videos at the Oxford University Press Museum. However, always ask first because they do display some rare exhibits. Additionally, flash photography is typically forbidden in most museums to protect the integrity of its historical contents.

Does Oxford University Press Museum have a restaurant?

No, the Oxford University Press Museum does not have a restaurant. However, there are several dining options nearby.

Are there public restrooms at the Oxford University Press Museum?

Yes, a public restroom is available at the Oxford University Press Museum. Check in at the front desk for directions as the Oxford University Press is an operational business.

Does the Oxford University Press Museum have a gift shop?

No, the Oxford University Press Museum does not have a gift shop.

What other attractions are located near / nearby the Oxford University Press Museum in Oxford, England?

Oxford Castle and Prison Haunted Crypt best day trip from London
I highly recommend touring nearby Oxford Castle and Prison. In fact, I toured the Oxford University Press in late morning. And then walked to the Oxford Castle and Prison for a hosted afternoon tour. Opinions are always my own.

See my related post: Itinerary of the top things to do in Oxford, England. I actually toured the Oxford Castle and Prison in Oxford, England in the afternoon. That attraction is just over a half-mile if you’re walking – about a mile if driving. See my related post: Guide to Oxford Castle and Prison in Oxford, England.

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Guide to Oxford University Press Museum in England

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Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller

40 comments

  1. I loved reading this and all of the wonderful photos..I dreamt of going to Oxford when I was a kid…ended up going to college in Portland, OR instead but I did marry a Brit so I guess it all works out haha! I will have to make it a point to visit the Oxford University Press Museum the next time I am across the pond…looks wonderful!

    1. Portland, Oregon is one place I need to visit. I’m so glad I decided to check out Oxford. So many cool historical places to explore like the Oxford University Press Museum.

  2. As an English major in college, this post made me think of the projects and papers I did using the Oxford English Dictionary they had in the library. For one project, I had to take a section (I chose a volume with the letter F for some reason, but I didn’t have to do the entire volume I selected, thank goodness!) and do statistics on the entries, like country of origin and age. It was a fascinating project, really. If I were in Oxford, I definitely want to check out this museum. It would be cool to learn more about the dictionary.

    1. I was an English major also! So cool that someone else knows and appreciates the Oxford English Dictionary. I know you would love touring the Oxford University Press Museum…so many fascinating highlights.

  3. A thorough guide to Oxford University Press. As soon as I started reading, I was trying to place it in the historical context of Caxton’s press, and you covered that as well!

    Too bad, they don’t have a gift shop. I would have loved to take something back home from there

    1. I wasn’t sure either so was so happy to discover the Oxford University Press offered tours of its museum. It’s a running business so was grateful for the opportunity.

  4. I love Oxford, it is so full of history and a visit to the Oxford University Press museum highlights what how it is full of amazing places. Alice in Wonderland’s first edition is divine and the facts you give quite mindblowing. A must-visit on a trip to Oxford.

    1. It was a last-minute decision to go to Oxford during my trip to England. And so happy I stayed for a few days to explore and discover all the history. I especially loved touring the free Oxford University Press Museum.

    1. So good to hear! I want sure if anyone but me would appreciate the Oxford University Press Museum. So much history and love reading and learning more about the Oxford English Dictionary.

  5. Although I am a bit of a history nerd myself, I never would have thought of reading the Oxford Dictionary! But I see how that can be incredibly interesting, such a fun article!

    1. Thank you so kindly! I find all the word history in the Oxford English Dictionary so fascinating. Absolutely loved my tour of the Oxford University Press Museum.

  6. I would not have thought to visit the Oxford University Press Museum on a trip to Oxford. But I must admit I don’t have the same curiosity about the Oxford dictionary. But interesting indeed to learn more about the history of printing. Good to know that the tour must be guided.

  7. Oh wow, I had no idea there was a museum you could tour. Looks like such an interesting place to visit. I will definitely check it out next time a take a trip to Oxford, thanks for sharing!

    1. You’re welcome and my pleasure. I hope you get the opportunity to tour the Oxford University Press Museum. It’s fascinating.

  8. The Oxford Unversity Press Museum sounds fascinating. I’m sure it’s one of those places journalists love to explore.

    1. It really was cool to learn more about the history of the Oxford English Dictionary. Loved my tour of the Oxford University Press Museum.

  9. The Oxford University Press Museum looks so interesting! I love the written word and am positive I would enjoy this museum. I would love to see the early edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – what a treat!

    1. Yes, it was pretty special to see an early edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I highly recommend touring the Oxford University Press Museum.

  10. I’d love to go to Oxford! And while there it wails be so fun and interesting to visit Oxford University Press.

  11. This is an incredible guide to the Oxford University Press Museum. Thank you for sharing.

    1. English was mine too! So happy to hear you enjoyed my review of my fascinating tour of the Oxford University Press Museum. I’m a huge fan of the Oxford English Dictionary. While I have the condensed two-volume version, I wish I had the space and budget for all 20 volumes.

    1. Awesome! I highly recommend if you love etymology. It was so cool to learn the history of the Oxford English Dictionary and about the Oxford University Press. I found it all fascinating.

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