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Desks, Drudgery and the Dictionary Samuel Johnson’s Garret Lexicography:

From July 3, 2024. Free with standard admission

This summer, visit our exhibition showcasing new aspects of Johnson's garret lexicography, exploring why the garret was so important in Johnson's move to Gough Square. We'll also be exploring how Johnson and his assistants worked on the Dictionary before it was published in 1755. As part of this, we'll be presenting the history – and mystery – of Johnson’s 'Dictionary Desk'.

The star attraction of this exhibition is Johnson’s ‘dictionary desk’, currently at Pembroke College, Oxford, which will be returned to the garret for the first time since the dictionary was written here. This exhibition charts the journey of the desk of the past 250 years, and how the dictionary was compiled. Join us to explore the desk's links to Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, and Johnson's lost godchildren.

This exhibition is the result of a collaborative project funded by TORCH at Oxford University: ‘Rethinking Johnson's House of Words’. The research project redirects attention to the garret in which Samuel Johnson completed his English dictionary in 1755 as a writerly and collaborative space, and the birthplace of a book of international cultural significance. It is a close collaboration between Celine Luppo McDaid, the Director and Curator of Dr Johnson's House, and Prof. Lynda Mugglestone, professor of English Language at Pembroke College, Oxford, and will reunite physical space and lexicographical practice.

Table and chair in the Garret

"You can make a poem walking in the fields or lying in bed. But, in every case, composing a Dictionary requires books and a desk"


Supported by:


In-kind support was also received for this exhibition from Mace and Lucas UK.

old cups in a table

Curated by Prof Sheila T. Cavanagh of Emory University and Dr. Johnson’s House, with thanks to the Emory Fund for Public Scholarship, the Guildhall Library in the City of London, the London Metropolitan Archives.

‘Gratifications of the Palate’: Cuisine in the Age of Samuel Johnson  
From July 2023 Free with standard admission

Join us to discover 18th  century society through the medium of food and drink.

Johnson greatly esteemed companionship and conversation and was known for celebrating conviviality, and as such he highly valued opportunities for dining with friends. This exhibit is inspired by his attitude to the value of sharing food and drink with family and friends, and offers an insight into what was typically available, from the richest to the poorest of plates, during the ‘Age of Samuel Johnson’.

People have a foolish way of not minding, or pretending not to mind, what they eat; for my part, I mind my belly very studiously and very carefully, and I look upon it that he who does not mind his belly, will hardly mind anything else.’

Samuel Johnson

Past Exhibitions

Dr Johnson's House stages regular exhibitions, often involving artistic, theatrical or scholarly commissions. We have worked in collaboration with universities such as Oxford, Glasgow, and Aberystwyth as well as cultural organisations such as the Arab British Centre and St Bride Foundation.

Past exhibitions

Blue Lady Of Dissent poster
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