Early-Enlightenment London discovered

A new book by Paul Holden sheds unexpected light on early 18th-century London.

The London Letters of Samuel Molyneux, 1712-13 with an introduction and commentary by Paul Holden, hardback, 168 pp., illustrated in colour and B&W, 26.5 x 18.0 cm. Publication no 171 (2011), £20

In October 1712 Samuel Molyneux travelled from his native Dublin to be elected Fellow of the Royal Society inLondon. During his stay in England he corresponded with his learned uncle Thomas Molyneux, bestowing intellectual and well-measured accounts of some of the most noteworthy connoisseurs of the day as well as first-hand descriptions of ecclesiastical and secular buildings, historic royal palaces, parks and gardens and notable public and private libraries and art collections. For the modern reader these seven meticulously written letters offer an erudite and discursive analysis of early-Enlightenment London providing a fascinating insight into the author’s intimate and voluminous knowledge of the cultural and scientific world. Over a century after Molyneux’s death copies of these letters found their way into the archives of the Corporation of Southampton, now Southampton City Archives. They have now been published for the first time in their entirety by the London Topographical Society.

The London Letter’s of Samuel Molyneux, 1712-13 describes first-hand visits to key art collectors, bibliophiles and scientists of the day. Before the next half a century was over, many of these collections and libraries had become the nuclei of the British Museum and British Library.

Molyneux also visits Oxford and Cambridge where detailed first-hand descriptions of the Ashmolean Museum and the colleges are given. The letters also provide details of daily life in the winter of 1712/13. Overall the book contains valuable source material for art, architecture and the history of collecting.

The book is published by the London Topographical Society and is available through their website http://www.topsoc.org/books.htm The National Trust Photographic Library and BritishMuseum have been gracious in supporting the book’s illustration.


St Paul’s Cathedral

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Hall

Palace of Westminster

Tower of London

Royal Society

Museum of John Kemp

Collections of Lord Pembroke

Hampton Court Palace

Bushy Park

New Park

Bishop of London

Chelsea Physic Garden

Chelsea Hospital

Kensington nursery of George London & Henry Wise

Kensington Gardens

St James’s Palace

Somerset House

Banqueting House

Buckingham House

Marlborough House,Berkeley House

Dr Woodward’s Museum

Harleian Library

Greenwich Observatory

Charlton House

Windsor Castle and Windsor Park

Trinity, Baliol and University College, Oxford

Bodleian Library, Oxford

Anatomy, Astronomy, Geometry and Divinity schools, Oxford

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

University Church and ‘All Hallows’, Oxford

Blenheim Palace and Woodstock

House of Correction, Bridewell

John Petiver’s Museum

Littlebury House, Essex

Trinity College, Cambridge


About paul holden

Architectural historian working as a House and Collections Manager for the National Trust at Lanhydrock House in Cornwall. Author of 'The Lanhydrock Atlas' (Cornwall Editions,2010) and 'The London Letters of Samuel Molyneux, 1712-13' (London Topographical Society, 2011). Contributor to many scholarly journals and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
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7 Responses to Early-Enlightenment London discovered

  1. Do you know if any portraits of Samuel Molyneux exist?

    I have a portrait of Sir Thomas Molyneaux but I would really like one of Samuel –


    • paul holden says:

      Thanks for the enquiry. Yes there is a portrait of Samuel Molyneux. It took some finding but it came up for auction in the sixties and us now lost. However a poor photograph exists in the NPG, which has been reproduced in my book. Hope that helps. Was Samuel Molyneux a mason?

      • The fact that the Manuscript in question was originally in his possession would suggest so. The ‘Trinity Tripos’ of 1688 indicates that ‘Speculative’ Freemasonry was in Trinity College in 1688 and he may have become a mason during his time there. The official date of the constitution of the Irish Grand Lodge is 1725 and Molyneux had left Ireland in 1712. There are no masonic records from this time.

        Thank you for your prompt reply.


  2. Chris Streek says:

    Dear Paul,
    Would you happen to have a record of the NPG reference number for the Samuel Molyneux photo ? We are hoping to reproduce the photograph but the NPG don’t seem to have it on file. Any help would be much appreciated.

    • paul holden says:

      Dear Chris
      Thanks for the enquiry. The picture is in the NPG Molyneux files, I know as that is where I got it from. There was a bit of a relunctency to let me publish it because the portrait’s whereabouts is unknown, so therefore we could not get permission. May I ask where you are keen to use it?

      All best

      • Chris Streek says:

        Dear Paul,
        Thank you for the reply. We are hoping to reproduce the portrait on an exhibition panel within a new gallery at the Tower of London. The gallery panel will outline visitors impressions of the Tower throughout its history. I don’t know if it would be more convenient, but my direct contact email is chris.streek@armouries.org.uk if that would be okay to get in touch? Thank you again for all of your help!

        Kind Regards,

  3. Gerard Molyneux says:

    Yes there was a portrait of Samuel Molyneux which was at Castle Dillon near Armagh. ( This is in the inventory circa 1914 as paintings belonging to Mrs. Julia Talbot). A photograph of the portrait was shown to me when I visited the museum in Armagh may years ago. I know that this painting was taken to a house in Monmouthshire by William Molyneux (d.circa 1924) and then sold in a Bath saleroom, around 1980. I also know the lot number and that the purchaser sold it on to a sale room in the States.
    His uncle Sir Thomas Molyneux was my ancestor, the reason that the papers are amongst the ‘Pit Collection’ at Southampton is because his wife Lady Betty nee Capel had eloped with St. Andre and moved to Southampton (see Mary Toffs the Rabbit Woman). After her death he married his housekeeper named Pitt.
    Samuel’s father William was a brother to Sir Thomas, if you require any further information, I would be happy to oblige….email …..gmlx@fsmail.net

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