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Archives and Special Collections

Welcome to the Victorian and Edwardian resource guide

                            This resource guide provides an overview of some of the items and collections held by the University of Exeter that date to the Victorian and Edwardian period (circa 1820 to 1914).

The boxes below provide information about Special Collections' collections of archives and rare books, as well as the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum collections, and contain links to the catalogues, through which you can explore the collections further.

Archives and rare books held by Special Collections are available to everyone. More information about accessing the collections can be found in our Visiting Heritage Collections LibGuide. Please note that there may be some restrictions on accessing and copying (including photography) material in the archives and books held by Special Collections in line with current data protection and copyright legislation. Always make sure to check the access conditions on the archive catalogue and email Special Collections before your visit for more information about specific restrictions.

The resources highlighted in this guide have been identified using our catalogues, but are not exhaustive. You can search our archives catalogue and library catalogue with key word searches to identify further items of interest. More information on searching the catalogues can be found on the Search our Catalogues LibGuide. If you come across any other sources within our collections that you think should be included in this guide, we would be very pleased to hear about them.

A summary of online databases and digital archives relating to the Victorian and Edwardian period available through the University of Exeter Library can be found at the end of this guide. Please contact the University Library for more information.

The Devon and Exeter Institution collections are strong in nineteenth-century fiction, works relating to architecture and periodicals. Exeter University students and staff are able to use the DEI free of charge.The DEI catalogue is hosted by the University of Exeter and can be accessed online.








Special Collections holds more than 470 archives and archival collections, including several dating back to the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Some of these are single items - such as a diary or album - whereas other collections contain a variety of archival materials created or compiled by an individual, organisation or group. These may include documents, letters, photographs, newspaper clippings and ephemera. The archives held at by Special Collections are available for everyone - students, staff and members of the public - to access in our reading room.

Click the next tabs in this box for a list of archives and information on how to search the archives catalogue

Searching for archives:

Archive material can be found by searching the University of Exeter Special Collections archives catalogue

  • Narrow down your search by going into advanced search
  • Enter a keyword, name or title
  • If you already know an item’s reference number you can search by this

Further guidance and tips on using the archives catalogue can be found on the Searching our Catalogues LibGuide

University Archive (EUL UA) The University Archive includes records of the university's predecessor institutions - St Luke's College and the Royal Albert Memorial College - such as admissions registers, annual reports, student magazines and photographs. The can provide insight into higher education for both men and women in the 19th and early 20th century.

Lady Jersey's Personal Papers (EUL MS 10) Papers of a miscellaneous nature, including invitations to events, political satires, and short communications.

William Lynd's diary (EUL MS 14) William Lynd was an actor and had an interest in the latest in science and technology. He was an expert on the phonograph. The diary is a printed pocket daily diary, and is filled in as a daily account of Lynd's activities, but is especially full of information about his record-making activities, describing the machines with which he was supplied, the rates at which he made records and wax cylinders, and his tours demonstrating the invention in England and Ireland.

William Keble Martin papers relating to botany (EUL MS 15) William Keble Martin (1876-1969) was a clergyman and botanical author. The earliest notes are a diary of observations arranged under the headings of scientific names while a student at Oxford. Other notes for 'The Concise British Flora in Colour' are also included, including notes taken from journals.

Simms family papers (EUL MS 18) Most of the letters are addressed to the Revd. Edward Simms or his daughter, Miss M N Simms. Those addressed to his father include several relating to his poetry, especially his lines in memory of Sir Walter Scott, and his translations from Homer.

Art student's diary (EUL MS 21b) The diary begins on 30 Dec 1852 and has extensive, irregular entries on art, art history, friendsand the Royal Academy to 5 Jul 1853. There is one further entry, dated 11 Aug 1853, on which occasion the author notes he was in Colyton.

'Bird Book' containing watercolour illustrations of birds and eggs (EUL MS 23) The volume is a bound series of seventy-five watercolour illustrations of birds and one of eggs, some of which are annotated and dated (from 1802 at the earliest to 1831 at the latest) and which seem to be local to the Devon/Cornwall border: some are recorded to have been sketched 'at the boathouse', and Calstock is on the River Tamar. A number of sketches have contemporary manuscript notes attached.

Autograph letter collection of John Marshall (EUL MS 31a) The collection is an autograph collection compiled by Ada Blanche Marshall, daughter of John Marshall, Professor of Surgery, and for the most part being composed of letters sent to Professor Marshall from eminent English people.

John Gendall sketchbooks (EUL MS 37b) The volumes are a series of sketches pasted in at a later date. They include watercolour drawings, pencil sketches, chalk and charcoal drawings of various picturesque locations at Lynmouth and Plymouth (one volume), Okehampton, Gloucester and Tintern (another), and other places (a miscellaneous volume).

R D Blackmore literary papers (EUL MS 41) R.D. Blackmore (1825-1900) was a novelist and poet of the second half of the nineteenth century, often referred to as the 'Last Victorian'.  Four boxes of literary fragments, exercise books, completed drafts and corrected proofs. Includes poems in progress and finished, whole manuscripts and part manuscript novels, plus typescript novels and short stories in proof. There are also a few letters. In addition, a set of 21 printed pamphlets of editions and transcriptions of Blackmore's work by David Blackmore. These include a comprehensive overview of Blackmore's writings, transcriptions of Blackmore’s letters to his sister, and his diary.

Gale and Morant Family papers (EUL MS 44EUL MS 44 add. 1EUL MS 130) [Content Warning: Papers within this collection contain offensive terms or terms that have changed meaning over time] These collections include correspondence, accounts and other papers (1731-1939) relating to the management of family-owned sugar plantations in Jamaica at the height of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Both sides of the family acquired sugar plantations that used the forced labour of enslaved people of African and Caribbean descent.

Glass plate negatives and photographs from the Library of the Imperial Institute, London, covering an extensive range of subjects from all parts of the Empire, India and Africa in particular, 1914-1939 [EUL MS 61]

Imperial institute: sets of photographic cards and leaflets about products and industry of the British Empire [EUL MS 61 add. 1]

Hubert Milner Brown papers relating to the North Uruguayan Railway Company, in the context of British influence in South America in the 19th century (EUL MS 62)

Papers of Stafford Henry Northcote (EUL MS 81) The papers include typed copies of Northcote's letters to colleagues, friends, family and political associates, including many to Gladstone and Disraeli, 1843-1887. In addition there are pamphlets, addresses, typed copies of letters to Northcote, cartoons from magazines, newspaper cuttings, appreciations of Northcote, verses by Northcote, notes for Lord Iddesleigh's biography by T.H. Farrer, anecdotes and other miscellanea.

Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer Collection (EUL MS 110, 114, 186, 236, 110) Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer (1836-1920), astronomer, was one of the pioneers of astronomical spectroscopy and became one of the most influential astronomers of his time. His main interest was sun spectroscopy, and he proceeded to push back the frontiers of spectroscopy and science, discovering the theoretical existence of helium. In 1869 Lockyer founded the journal 'Nature'. The collection contains materials regarding Lockyer himself such as memorials, letters from friends and notes made by Lockyer but also papers relating to the administration of the Norman Lockyer Observatory.

Archive materials from the John Betjeman Library (EUL MS 117) This small collection contains manuscripts of stray archival materials found loose within the working library collection. Included are letters and cards, draft articles and reviews, drawings, notes, manuscript poem drafts/fragments, and original and copy typescripts and manuscripts of unpublished works.

East India Company papers relating to the British factories in Bombay [Mumbai] and Basra, 1778-1820, copies and transcripts (EUL MS 142)

Papers of Dorothy Johnson relating to theatre history and John Lawrence Toole (EUL MS 149) This collection includes theatre playbills; mounted letters and telegrams relating to performances; and an album of mounted engravings of various actors and actresses.

Papers relating to Ballets Russes (EUL MS 158) Ballets Russes was a Russian émigré ballet company formed and directed by Serge Diaghilev (1827-1929). This small collection contains two programmes of the Russian Ballet's seasons at the Theatre du Chatelet, Paris, 1912-1914. Included are many colour illustrations of costume designs, as well as photographs and illustrations of various dancers and text about various ballet productions.

Papers relating to Sarah Bernhardt (EUL MS 170) This collection contains theatre pamphlets and other papers relating to Bernhardt's life and career.

Theatre Royal (Exeter) playbills collection (EUL MS 202) Nearly 2,400 playbills are held, relating to all types of production at the theatre over a fifty year period. Included are bills for ballets, plays, variety and revue performances, musicals, operas, pantomimes and film showings.

Papers relating to George du Maurier (1834-1896)  illustrator, cartoonist and novelist. EUL MS 207/2 includes drawings, artwork and correspondence. George du Maurier was a magazine illustrator, working for both 'Once a Week' and 'Punch' as a cartoonist. He illustrated the novels of Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins. His illustrations were published in London literary magazines throughout his life. He was also a successful novelist, publishing 'Peter Ibbetson' (1889), 'Trilby' (1894) and 'The Martian' (1897). See EUL MS 144/2 for literary papers. See EUL MS 462/3/2 for further letters and drawings by George du Maurier. 

Papers relating to Gerald du Maurier (EUL MS 207/3) Gerald du Maurier was an actor and theatrical manager. These papers include items regarding his acting career, such as press cuttings and photographs.

The Hudson Transparencies (EUL MS 214) Created by Hudson to illustrate his lectures, the 'Hudson transparencies' are a collection of 58 large framed paintings on paper screens. These visual teaching aids illustrate microscopic organisms and were designed to be viewed backlit in a darkened room.

Musical papers of Florence Salter and Bertha Salter (EUL MS 228) This small collection consists mainly of programmes of nationwide recitals and other performances of the Salter sisters 1895-1917 (including a 1903 programme signed by the conductor Henry J. Wood, amongst others).

Leopold Hartley Grindon: Plant specimen album (EUL MS 277) This bound volume is entitled 'Illustrations of the grasses indigenous to Great Britain and a few typical examples of British Cyperacae', 1866. The volume contains pressed plant specimens, with printed attached labels. An index is available.

Russel Harris: Algae specimen album (EUL MS 278) Bound volume entitled 'Marine algae collected in Plymouth', containing pressed specimens, with printed attached labels, late 19th / early 20th century

Papers of Deborah Alcock, novelist (EUL MS 281) Diary for 1871; bound manuscript notebook, containing notes entitled 'Wars of the Roses', [n.d.], a collection of letters, 1838-1849, and French exercises [n.d.]; bound volume of reviews, cuttings, letters etc, c 1870.

Scrapbook of John Stokes Bennett of the Theatre Royal, Exeter, and other papers relating to theatre history (EUL MS 11) This item comprises one volume scrapbook of mainly newspaper cuttings, 1820-1824, compiled by John Stokes Bennett (actor and theatre manager of New Theatre and Theatre Royal, Exeter), also containing 18th and 19th c theatrical posters (playbills).

Somerfield supermarket and related organisations: papers (EUL MS 326) The collection dates from the 19th century when the company was named J H Mills to the 1960s, and includes ledgers of accounts, minutes for AGMs and directors' meetings, share certificates etc and other official records for Somerfield.

Syon Abbey archive (EUL MS 389) The archive of the Bridgettine nuns of Syon Abbey includes a wide variety of records such as correspondence, diaries, account books, personal papers, photographs and artwork. Between the 19th and early 20th century, the community lived in Lisbon (Portugal), Spetisbury (Dorset) and Chudleigh (Devon).

Cecil Harmsworth archive (EUL MS 435) Cecil Harmsworth (1869-1948) was a politician, businessman and the first Baron Harmsworth of Egham. The archive includes diaries, correspondence and papers, speeches and literary papers, photographs, and printed material. A highlight of the archive are the collection of diaries kept by Cecil Harmsworth between 1900 and 1948, which are full of observations and notes on domestic and foreign policy, parliamentary colleagues, and his political duties as an MP.

19th manuscript book of poetry from Cornwall, probably by a Thomas Bolitho (EUL MS 437)

Book Collections

Special Collections holds more than 50,000 books across several rare book collections. You can identify books in our collections by searching the University of Exeter Library catalogue using key words, names or subjects.

The Chris Brooks Collection, John Betjeman's Library, the Baring-Gould Library and the Hypatia Collection are particularly strong in 19th and early 20th century books and periodicals.

The books held at by Special Collections are available for everyone - students, staff and members of the public - to access in our reading room.

Click the next tabs in this box or a list of book collections and information on how to search the library catalogue The Fireside

Searching for books:

Rare books can be found by searching the University of Exeter Library catalogue

  • Narrow down the search by selecting the catalogue tab, then go into advanced search
  • Enter a keyword, title or author
  • Use the dropdown arrow beside “Collection:” to select Special Collections
  • Restrict the date to a specific century if required by entering a date range (e.g. for works from the Victorian and Edwaridan period use a date range of 1820-1914)

Further guidance and tips on using the library catalogue can be found on the Searching our Catalogues LibGuide

Baring-Gould Library A collection of approximately 3,000 books, the majority of which were collected by Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), and include many of his own works. The Library includes books written in a variety of languages and on many different subjects, including literature, history, theology folklore, fairy tales, religion, music, art, architecture, geography and natural history. The earliest book dates to 1534 and the most recent to 1975, but the majority of books in the collection were printed in the 19th and early 20th century.

  • The collection is catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Baring Gould Library'.

John Betjeman's Library The working library of the poet and architectural historian Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984) contains more than 4,000 printed books and pamphlets from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. The collection is arranged into the following subject categories: poetry, churches, architecture, topography, art, theology, Victorian bindings, biography, early twentieth-century schoolboy novels, and the English public school.

Blackmore Collection A set of 21 printed pamphlets of editions and transcriptions of R D (Richard Dodderidge) Blackmore's works, donated to the University of Exeter Library by R D Blackmore's relative, David Blackmore in 2018.

  • The collection is catalogued and an entry appears on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Blackmore Collection'

Chris Brooks Collection A collection formed by Professor Chris Brooks (1949-2002), one of Britain's leading cultural historians of the Victorian period. His library was donated to the University Library in 2002. The collection supports a wide range within the field of Victorian culture and adult and juvenile fiction of the Victorian and Edwardian period forms a major emphasis in the collection. The Periodical collection contains a complete set of Punch, indexed by Brooks and as such provides an insight into his research topics. Other titles include All the Year Round,The Boy's Own PaperCornhill MagazineFireside, and Good Words.

  • Find out more about the collection on the Special Collections webpages
  • The collection is catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Brooks'. Periodicals are catalogued under the classmark 'Brooks P'.

Lois Deacon Collection A collection of 224 books and pamphlets collected by Lois Deacon, author and writer on Thomas Hardy. The strengths of the Lois Deacon collection lie in her lifelong interest in Thomas Hardy and his home county of Dorset.  The collection is rich in archival content with a number of books having been heavily annotated by Deacon and it includes correspondence with publishers and fellow Hardy critics. Of particular research value is a collection of Pocket editions of Hardy’s works which were published by Macmillan in the 1920s. These have been heavily annotated by Deacon and contain a number of letters, postcards and memos.

  • The collection is catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Lois Deacon'.

Edmund Collection of Local History The majority of the items (which includes books, pamphlets, periodicals and maps) covers various aspects of the west country, notably the history of towns and villages and their residents. Social history is well-represented with material on religion, transport (particularly railways), education and local myths and legends.

  • Find out more about the collection on the Special Collections webpages
  • The collection is catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Edmund'.

Exeter Law Society Collection The collection formed part of the Exeter Law Library, founded 1833, and was deposited in the University Library by the Exeter Law Library Society in 1990. The collection comprises 122 books dating from 1588 to 1906.The collection is strongest in its support of study into the history of English law. It contains books, statutes, and law reports, including Ashby and White’s The Great Question (1705), Sir Matthew Hale’s The History of Common Law (1779), 4th Ed., and F. Const’s The Laws Relating to the Poor (1800, 1807).

  • The collection is catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Exeter Law Society'.

Hypatia Collection The Hypatia collection exclusively contains books and journals by or about women. Part of its richness stems from the inclusive collecting habits of its creator, Dr Melissa Hardie, who acquired many ephemeral titles and books on subjects and by writers traditionally excluded from the academic canon in her aim 'to make available published documentation about women in every aspect of their lives'. The collection is strongest on biography, social life, occupations and history, as well as on literature (especially fiction) and the arts. In addition there is also the Cheris Kramerae Gift of books on second-wave feminism and related topics. 

  • Find out more about the collection on the Special Collections webpages
  • The collection is catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Hypatia'. Nineteenth and early twentieth-century periodicals, especially those aimed at women, are catalogued under the classmark Hypatia/Jou.

Nursing Ethics Heritage Collection The collection comprises almost 500 books, periodicals and articles, including works dating from 1888 to editions of ‘Nursing Ethics: An International Journal for Health Care Professionals’ published as recently as 2017. Many of the books contain the names of former owners inscribed within, as well as annotations and underlined words in the text, highlighting their importance in shaping the study and work of nurses. Though predominantly consisting of English-language works, the collection also includes texts in Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, Russian and Japanese.

  • Find out more about this collection on the archives catalogue, where the books are catalogued individually under the reference number EUL MS 472/NEHC

Manuscripts and Book Collections relating to members of the Powys family The core of the Collection is based around the works of John Cowper Powys (1872-1963), Theodore Francis Powys (1875-1953) and Llewelyn Powys (1884-1939) and their immediate circle of family and friends.

  • Find out more about this collection on the archives catalogue, where the books are catalogued individually under the reference number EUL MS 433

Reserve Collection of post-1700 rare books The books in the Reserve Collection include individual volumes transferred from the Library's main sequence of loan books, as well as gifts and purchases. The historical aspect of all academic subjects taught at the University are represented, from art history to literature, from the history of science to the history of law.

  • Find out more about the collection on the Special Collections webpages
  • The collection is catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Reserve'

Society of Friends Collection The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) have been active in Exeter since the late 1650s, with a Meeting House first constructed in 1691. The collection comprises 129 items and represents what is believed to be part of a monthly meeting library and was transferred from the Quaker Meeting House in Exeter. The collection is focused upon Quaker history, and contains a number of biographies, memoirs, journals alongside a small number of Christian commentaries and books relating to personal religion. Included within the collection is the Friends Library. These 14 volumes were published in Philadelphia between 1837-50 and contain articles on Quaker life, memoirs and scholarly thought.

  • The collection is catalogued and entries appear on the University Library's online catalogue under the local classmark 'Soc of Friends'

University Collection This collection charts the history of the University of Exeter through official publications, such as the University Calendar, and more ephemeral student publications, such as student magazines and newspapers. Amongst the earliest items in the collection is the first volume of The Students' Magazine, The Social Organ of the Exeter Technical and University Extension College (September 1888). The collection also holds long runs of the student newspaper, The South Westerner, which is an excellent source of social and educational history in Exeter from 1938 to 1979.

Bill Douglas Cinema Museum


The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum is both a public museum and an academic research centre, housing one of Britain's largest public collections of books, prints, artefacts and ephemera relating to the long history of screen practice. There are over 80,000 items in the collection. Holdings include many examples of nineteenth-century panoramas, dioramas, magic lanterns, stereoscopes, peepshows, optical illusions, and early cinema handbills. Artefacts are complemented by printed works relating to nineteenth-century science, technology, domestic leisure and popular entertainment. is home to one of the largest collections of material on the moving image in Britain.

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