Following the Prime Minister’s announcement, we will be temporarily closing the institution on the 5th of November for one month.
We are planning to open again on the 3rd of December.
We will be running an online programme during this short period of closure for our members and supporters.
Contact us:
[email protected]
[email protected]
[email protected]

Books in isolation

Explore highlights from our collections, from the 15th century to the present day.

The celestial mechanics of Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827)

As a politician, Pierre Laplace (1749-1827) had an 'incapacity for administration'; as a mathematician he was one of the greatest scientists of all time. His thinking brought him close to the origins of the universe and he was one of the first scientists to suggest the existence of what we now refer to as black holes. This guest blog is written by Edward Maunder following his rediscovery of the first four volumes of Laplace's Traité de mécanique céleste (1798-1805) in our early science collection.

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Mayflower: marking 400 years

Daniel Neal (1678-1743), a historian and nonconformist minister, published the first volume of The History of the Puritans in 1732; the final fourth volume appeared in 1738. Neal’s story starts with the Protestant Reformation and concludes with the Act of Toleration in the reign of William and Mary. The second volume includes an account of the voyage of Mayflower to the new ‘Promised Land’.

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John Newte (1755-1792) – a Devonian sonneteer

Sonnets to Eliza was published in London by John Murray in 1790. The anonymous work, written ‘by her friend’, is extremely rare. The English Short-Title Catalogue lists only one copy (T207964), held at the National Library of Wales. No contemporary sources offer a clue to its author – but an inscription on the copy at the Devon and Exeter Institution suggests it was written here in Devon.

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Lithographs of the Great Western Railway by John Cooke Bourne (1814-1896)

From his home in London, John Cooke Bourne (1814-1896) witnessed the construction of the London and Birmingham Railway, the first main-line railway to enter London. The London and Birmingham Railway Company was founded in 1833 and work soon began on a London terminus. Engineers George and Robert Stephenson chose a site on the edge of the city; a station with two platforms and two hotels was designed by Philip Hardwick (1792–1870) with a huge 70-foot Doric portico marking the gateway to the north. London Euston station officially opened on 20 July 1837. The following year a temporary terminus opened on Bishop’s Bridge Road in Paddington heralding the expansion of the railways to the west.

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John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera

Originally from Barnstaple in Devon, John Gay (1685-1732) became one of London’s most renowned dramatists. His satirical ballad opera, The Beggar’s Opera, opened at Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 29 January 1728 and ran for 62 nights. Gay’s assault on the topsy-turvy morals, double-standards and self-interests of 18th century politics and aristocratic society remains one of the few 18th century plays still performed today.

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Joseph de Mendoza y Ríos (1761–1816) and the ‘Longitude Problem’

Successful sea navigation relies on being able to determine latitude (how far north or south you are) and longitude (how far east or west). When the Greenwich Royal Observatory was founded on 22 June 1675, sailors were able to measure latitude at sea by observing the altitude of the sun at midday, but once out of sight of land they had no easy means of determining longitude.

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An intricate and arduous undertaking: George Montagu (1753-1815) and his collection of shells

Beautiful, intricate and varied, shells have adorned our clothes, our homes and our objects of art for centuries. From the end of the 17th century, natural scientists began to collect, organise, observe and draw them in earnest. George Montagu’s Testacea Britannica (1803) is one of the most important works of natural history to come out of the Age of Enlightenment – and it has a special significance for Exeter.

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William Savage’s Practical hints on decorative printing (1822)

From the early 19th century, Koenig & Bauer’s new steam-powered double-cylinder printing press, capable of printing over 1100 sheets an hour, disseminated information fast. The circulation of The Times newspaper increased from 5,000 to 50,000 by the middle of the century. However, not all printing was about speed – in 1822 William Savage published his guide to fine art printmaking – still a popular art form today.

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