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18th February 2015

Introducing the Exeter College Special Collections Blog

You might often hear a library described as “old” but how often do you hear one called “a mystery”? Well, Exeter’s library and its collections are not only extremely special, but they are also old and can be at times rather mysterious. The “old” bit is obvious – and we don’t just mean the Victorian gothic building of 1857 that we all know and love. In fact, there has been a College library in some form at Exeter inspiring our students since the 14th century.

But why a mystery? Well do you know much about the extent and content of the material locked in the rolling stacks under the Library Annexe and in the Library and Archives Strong Rooms?

Exeter has a treasure trove of some very special collections which include mediaeval manuscripts, early printed books, incunabula, and some unique treasures from the 12th century onwards. Some of you will know of the Bohun Psalter, the beautifully illustrated manuscript from the 14th century which used to belong to Elizabeth of York and then later to Katherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII’s first wife. However, you may not know that Exeter also possesses a manuscript of Suetonius’ “Lives of the Twelve Caesars” which was once owned by Petrarch and bears the poet’s annotations. There are also of course all of the unique and fascinating documents in the College archive which dates back to the foundation of the institution in 1314.

You will find more on all this in the new blog which has been launched by our Librarian, Joanna Bowring, at

Over the coming weeks Joanna Bowring will write about the unique “Tinners’ Charter” and the manuscript of “Cripps the Carrier” by novelist RD Blackmore (author of Lorna Doone) which celebrate our connection to the West Country, as well as about some fantastic travel works such as the great “Description of Egypt, or the collection of observations and research which were made in Egypt during the expedition of the French Army” (1809-29) and David Roberts’ “Holy Land” (1855), both beautifully illustrated and, at present, stored in the library stacks with 30,000 other books and manuscripts.

Part of the purpose of the blog, which we hope you will follow, is to get us ready for the move of our special collections into Cohen Quad on Walton Street. The special collections reading room is being created alongside the climate controlled space that will be used to store these treasures. By cataloguing and conserving over 1,000 metres of our collections before they move, we will be better placed to ensure they become accessible to scholars – including our own students. Our Fellows in History, Professor Fara Dabhoiwala and Professor Christina de Bellaigue, already have plans to teach from our own primary material once the move is completed.

Follow the Librarian’s blog at and find out more.

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