YOU probably haven’t heard of Lindley Murray. No real reason why you should have: except that in the late 1700s and early 1800s, his books sold in their millions.

Murray was the York scholar who helped found Esther Tuke’s School in Trinity Lane – the forerunner of The Mount School. In 1795, following a request from three Esther Tuke’s teachers, he published his Murray’s English Grammar: a compilation of the rules of grammar, with examples.

Much of the book was written in a tiny summerhouse in the grounds of Murray’s garden at Holgate Road – a wooden, octagonal structure which now belongs to Mount School, and is listed. The book became a bestseller, and earned Murray the name ‘the father of English grammar’. Indeed, so famous was he in the 19th century that he even became the butt of a Victorian music hall joke.

“Did you hear the one about why Charles Dickens never became a spiritualist?” it went. “At a seance, he asked to see the spirit of Lindley Murray. The spirit came in, and Dickens asked, “Are you Lindley Murray?’ ‘Yes, I are,’ replied the spirit.”

Okay, so its pretty staid by modern standards – but it shows just how famous Murray was in his day.

The story of Lindley Murray is just one of countless stories in this sparkling new book from David Crystal, one of our greatest linguists and wordsmiths, and his speech therapist wife Hilary.

The book is a journey through the history of the English language, starting with the Anglo-Saxons and leading up to the latest American imports. As grammar pedants so often forget, language is a living thing. The two Crystals follow the English language’s twisting, shifting journey, going on an epic adventure through English history as they do so that takes in the ancient British warlord King Vortigern; Chaucer, Shakespeare and Wordsworth; the biblical Wycliffe and Tyndale; and the Anglo Saxons Byrhtnoth and King Alfred.

A book to change the way you think about your mother tongue.