History and Context of Cumbrian Lives

The contributors to the original Victorian Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), which was edited by Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), the father of Virginia Woolf, researched and published 30,000 lives between 1882 and 1900.  None of the subjects in the DNB or the following editions were living; all those included are deceased. By the 1980s the DNB, with its supplementary volumes, had become dated and the decision was made to rewrite the existing lives and broaden the scope of the project.  So the work on the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB) began in 1992 and was finally published in 2004, containing 55,000 lives. More women, sports personalities, entertainers and scientists were by then included and by 2016, the project had accumulated 60,000 lives and was available online. Inevitably there were many Cumbrians whose lives were of local and national interest but had still not been included.

Accordingly, the Dictionary of Cumbrian Biography (DCB) was established in 1998 by a group of local historians, many of whom had either published full length biographies or biographical articles, or were already researching entries for the ODNB. The project was in part inspired and supported in early discussions by the leading historical geographer of Cumbria, the late William Rollinson (1937-2000).

The first meeting of the DCB was called by David A. Cross in 1998 at Charlotte Mason College and chaired by Les Shore. Other attendees included Angus Winchester, Richard Hall, Barry McKay, the late Alan Hankinson, Jackie Fay, Jackie Whiteside, Nicky Godfrey-Evans and Jane Duckworth (secretary). Further meetings established the structure of the project and slowly the DCB grew in scale. We consulted the editors of the ODNB at several points during the planning of the project. By 2020 Richard Hall had done the lion’s share of the preparatory work, having created a remarkable database of more than two thousand names with bibliographical details. During the pandemic, David Cross and Stephen White merged several lists with that of Richard Hall and removed duplicate entries. The names of those already included in the ODNB are indicated thus: John Ruskin (1819-1900;ODNB).

Gradually, whole lives are being researched, written and edited using the format employed by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB). Each life is followed by the sources used.

The editor of the DCB is David A. Cross. For information about him see www.davidacross.org.uk