Author Archives: gpoulton

Syon Abbey manuscript and book collections

We are lucky enough to care for some amazing collections here in Special Collections and one of our most widely used and most beautiful are the Syon Abbey collections.

The community of Bridgettine nuns at Syon Abbey, South Brent, Devon is unusual in being able to trace an unbroken tradition reaching back to their Abbey’s foundation. The order founded at Syon Abbey in 1415 became a major focal point of religious activity in the sixteenth-century and was well-known for its publication of religious literature. A surviving set of rules for Syon Abbey emphasises the importance of books and instructs the sisters in their proper care. Both the nuns and the monks had their own libraries but no catalogue of the nuns’ medieval library has survived and little is known about what physically happened to either of the libraries following the Abbey’s dissolution in 1539.

At the dissolution, the nuns went into exile and lived first in the Low Countries and later in Portugal. From the mid-sixteenth-century to 1809, when the nuns returned to England, the sisters lived as an English community at Lisbon. The collection of archives and books attracts considerable research interests from throughout the world.

The collections contain liturgical and theological manuscripts, dating between the 15th and 17th centuries and the extensive book library contains pre-1850 titles from the library of Syon Abbey.

Information on the archives can be seen on our online archives catalogue here and the books are catalogued on the library catalogue. There is further information on our website at

Using the Hypatia Collection

We have a wide range of collections covering most subject areas for teaching and research available in Special Collections. One of the most popular and well used is the Hypatia Collection.

The collection contains books and journals exclusively by or about women. Its richness stems from the 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.

The collection is used extensively, both in seminars and independent study. The range of subject areas, from the academic to the ephemeral allows for wide areas of study to find material relevant to their research or assignments by both undergraduates and postgraduates.

The Hypatia Collection is fully searchable on the library catalogue by following the instructions below:

Browse the titles by selecting ‘local classmark‘ on the ‘Search’ options and by typing ‘Hypatia’ and the first 3 letters on each subject: ie‘Hypatia Bio’ for Biographies; ‘Hypatia Dom’ for ‘Domestic Science’… etc.

The books are arranged alphabetically within subject sequences: The American Woman; Archaeology; Art; Biographies; The Cornish Woman; Crime; Diaries; Domestic Science; Education; Fiction; Health; History; Humour; Literature; Marriage and the Family; Myths and Legends; Natural World; Nursing; Occupations; Performing Arts; Poetry; Politics; Religion; Science; Topography; Travel; Women and War.

All items in the collection are reference only and are available to consult in the Special Collections reading room. Reserve an item in the collection by contacting us at or via our web pages at

University of Exeter archive

The University archive contains a diverse range of photographs, student publications and other material from throughout the history of the University of Exeter and its predecessor institutions from the late 19th century through to the present day, and covers the building programme for the Streatham campus, student and academic life, including Guild and Athletics Union activities. Coverage for some periods is patchy, perhaps in some cases due to the fact that the University Registry was bombed during the Second World War.

Students outside Gandy Street, c1929

The archive is arranged and catalogued to reflect the progression of the University from the city centre site at Gandy Street to the development of the Streatham Campus, the individuals who have shaped its history throughout this period and the various events or activities which collectively have created the University’s particular identity.

Sir Stafford Northcote began the quest for higher education in Exeter, with plans for a cultural quarter that would enable what he felt would establish ‘a very important system of education’. In 1861 land in Queen Street was donated for this purpose.

The Exeter Technical and University Extension College began offering day classes in 1895. In 1900 the college became the Royal Albert Memorial College and began to offer degrees from the University of London.

By the early 1920s the Streatham estate had been donated by the former Mayor of Exeter, W.H. Reed and the institution was granted University College status.

Football team, 1926 – 1927

The University College had applied for university status before; on the 21stDecember 1955, the University received its charter – the Principal became the Vice- Chancellor and the President the Chancellor. In 1955 there were around 1,000 students. Post-war expansion and a large building programme ran through the remainder of the 1950s and on into the 1960s until the present day.

Arial view of campus, 1956 showing the construction of the chapel and the completed Hatherly building.

The university archive is administered by Heritage Collections. Our webpages are at . The Special Collections reading room is open from 10am – 5pm, Monday to Friday.