THE DEVON & EXETER INSTITUTION was founded in 1813 by some two hundred gentlemen of the county and city,
‘for promoting the general diffusion of Science, Literature and Art, and for illustrating the Natural and Civil History of the county of Devon and the city of Exeter’.
A lease, later to be followed by a freehold, was obtained from the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral of the former town house of the Courtenay family and one-time home of the Parliamentary general, Sir William Waller. Retaining part of the Tudor house at the rear, which still stands, and the gatehouse range fronting the Close, the founding fathers demolished the old hall and kitchen and in their place and on the former courtyard built two lofty libraries lit by domed lanterns, each library with its own gallery, glazed cupboards and extensive shelving. The building, unchanged except for the installation of electric light and gas-fired central heating has a Grade II* rating in the statutory list of historic buildings in the city.
THE LIBRARY, by gift and purchase, has reached a size of some 40,000 volumes. These include long runs of nineteenth century journals, many early scientific books, the works of local authors, and a great deal of printed historical source material. The collection of bound volumes of local newspapers, some dating from the eighteenth century is unique. There are many early illustrated books, topographical and travel literature, maps, prints and drawings and a very comprehensive holding of standard books and journals for the study of South West England. This last collection in particular is being continuously consolidated and enlarged. In 1972 the day-to-day administration of the Institution's Library was taken over by the University of Exeter, one of whose staff is in attendance. The Institution also serves as the headquarters of the Devon and Cornwall Record society and it has close links with Devon County Library services, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, the Exeter Civic Society and other local organisations.
In addition to housing a fascinating library, the Institution serves as a comfortable, quiet place for members to enjoy lunch, meet friends or relax over the day’s newspapers away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. A programme of lectures by invited speakers on matters of local interest takes place each autumn and spring. Those on a Friday evening are for members, but the general public are welcomed free of charge and without booking to those held on a Monday lunchtime. In addition, the Institution arranges occasional outings for its members to local places of interest.
The Library holdings are incorporated into the University of Exeter
Library online searchable catalogue http://lib.ex.ac.uk/