The Bible in Basic English Collection

Scope and Content

This archive comprising two series of files relating to the compilation of a Bible in Basic English. The first series (BBE/1) comprises over 600 letters, notes, retained copies and typescripts relating to the Bible in Basic English project, which was run by the Orthological Institute, between 1931 and 1955. The series is mostly composed of correspondence between C.K. Ogden, the Director of the Orthological Institute, or his assistant, Leonora Lockhart, and those involved in the project, notably Samuel Hooke, the editorial director of the BBE project.

The archive includes 116 letters, cards etc. from Hooke; 77 letters, cards etc. from Professor Theodore Robinson, professor of Semitic languages, University College of South Wales, who undertook a review of the translation; 140 letters from the publishers (Cambridge University Press) including many from the Secretary, S.C. Roberts, who took a personal interest in the project. Many of the letters from Professor Robinson contain textual criticisms of the translation. Other correspondents include W.R. Matthews, Dean of St Pauls and various Bishops and leading Churchmen, including an interesting letter from Bishop Barnes of Birmingham.

Of particular interest are: the draft of the original proposal in 1931 and correspondence with Professor Hooke relating to it; the amusing note by Ogden (1939) on vices(drunkenness and adultery) in the Bible and the difficulty of rendering them into Basic English; a detailed report of the Review Committee appointed by the C.U.P; various controversies regarding the translation, most of which were linked to Basic English itself , in particular the attack by C.S. Lewis in December 1944 in the Times Literary Supplement. The material relating to Professor Robinson includes the typescripts of various broadcast talks which he gave about Basic English and his paper on Basic English presented to a meeting of the English Association in 1944.

The second series (BBE/2) relates to a book The Bible, What It Is, and What Is In It, written in Basic English and published in 1938. It comprises 39 letters, retained copies etc. between Professor Theodore Robinson and Leonora Lockhart of the Orthological Institute. Much of the correspondence concerns Lockhart's efforts to ensure that the manuscript submitted by Evans and Robinson was correctly written in Basic English. The book represents a pioneer effort to use Basic English in the work of the Church overseas.

Administrative / Biographical History

Basic English is a controlled natural language, which uses a simplified grammar and vocabulary to reduce complexity. It has been used as an international auxiliary language and as tool for teaching English as a second language. Basic English was devised by the linguist Charles Kay Ogden, who set out its main features in Basic English: a general introduction with rules and grammar (1930). Ogden reduced the English vocabulary to 850 words and 16 standard verbs, with simplified grammatical rules. Basic English conveyed meaning by the extensive use of paraphrasing. Its advocates argued that once versed in Basic English, learners could move naturally to more advanced English usage without having to "unlearn" any methods and techniques. Basic English enjoyed its greatest popularity in the middle decades of the twentieth century, particularly in the post-war period, when it was considered by some to be useful in supporting international co-operation.

Ogden promoted Basic English through the Orthological Institute, based firstly in Cambridge, and from 1943, at Gordon Square, London (orthology was a term coined by Ogden for a new discipline which blended philosophy, psychology and linguistics). One of the Institute's most important projects was the translation of the Bible into Basic English, where there was considerable potential for Basic English to be used in global missionary and evangelical work). The project was run by a committee led by S. H. Hooke, professor emeritus of Old Testament studies in the University of London. Hooke did the majority of the translation into Basic. The Basic English Bible was a translation from Hebrew and the Greek versions; the main text used for the New Testament was Alexander Souter's edition of the Revisers text (Oxford 1910) while Rudolf Kittel's Biblia Hebraica (3rd edition, 1937) was the major text used for the Old Testament. The Basic English Bible used an extended 1000-word vocabulary to take account of certain special terms required for the Bible. The New Testament version was issued in 1941, with a complete Bible being published in 1949.

Charles Kay Ogden (1889-1957) was a scholar with wide interests, which included linguistics, philosophy, literature and politics. He was born at Rossall School, Fleetwood, Lancashire on 1 June 1889, where his father was a schoolmaster. Ogden studied classics at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He was editor of the Cambridge Review from 1912 to 1922. From the mid-1920s, his energies were occupied with the promotion of Basic English. To promote Basic English, Ogden in 1927 founded the Orthological Institute whose headquarters were on King's Parade in Cambridge, until it moved to Gordon Square, London in 1943.

Professor Samuel Henry Hooke (1874-1968) was a Biblical scholar and Orientalist. From 1913 to 1926 he was professor of Oriental languages at the University of Toronto. In 1930 he was appointed Samuel Davidson professor of Old Testament studies at the University of London, where he remained until retirement in 1945. Hooke was president of the Society for Old Testament Study. Another figure involved with Christian texts in Basic English was Theodore Robinson (1884-1964), professor of Semitic languages at University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire from 1927 to 1944. Robinson was a great enthusiast for Basic English, and co-authored The Bible, What It Is, and What Is In It (1938) which was written in Basic English. Robinson gave considerable assistance to the translation of the Old Testament into Basic English in the 1940s.


The archive is divided into two series(BBE/1 and BBE/2). 

  • BBE/1 The Bible in Basic English
  • BBE/2 The Bible - What It Is and What Is In It

Each series consists of a number of items arranged in chronological order. 

  • BBE/1/1, 21 groups of correspondence, containing over 600 items in total.
  • BBE/2/1, 38 items of correspondence.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The archive was purchased by the University of Manchester Library in 1981 from Charles Higham (SPCK), Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone Road, London, NW1 4DU. Charles Higham was a book dealers, associated with the SPCK. Series 1 (BBE/1) was bought for £150.00; series 2 (BBE/2) was bought for £30.00. Both series had the accession number R148800 at the time of acquisition.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The custodial history before it was purchased by the Library is unknown.


None expected.

Related Material

C K Ogden fonds is held at McMaster University in Canada

Related material on C.K. Ogden is also held at UCL Special Collections, MS ADD 381, and at Cambridge University Library, Add MSS 8309-8314.


M. Metzger, Bruce, The Bible in Translation, Ancient and English Versions (Michigan: Baker Publishing Group, 2001) . Ogden, C.K. Basic English: A General Introduction with Rules and Grammar(1930). Evans, E., The Bible, What It Is, and What Is In It (London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1938) .The New Testament in Basic English (Cambridge, University Press, 1941) .

Geographical Names