Village Hall Talks at Wootton-By-Woodstock

The project was conceived to raise funds to renovate the village hall in Wootton-by-Woodstock, which was built almost entirely from timber over eighty years ago. Few who have attended the talks would disagree that the evenings have been an engaging mixture of serious insight and comedic observation and we think we are catering for the current thirst for live events in smaller venues.

Forthcoming Speakers:
Tim Birkhead  Sir Anthony Seldon   Michael Williams   Tom Heap

The Emma Bridgewater Talk

The Emma Bridgewater Talk
Emma is renowned for creating iconic jaunty pottery designs over the past 30 years and she lifted the early winter gloom on November 11th when she detailed her remarkable career from the early days experimenting with spongeware in a Brixton flat to establishing one of the biggest pottery companies making products only in the UK - employing up to 300 people in Stoke- on-Trent in an operation with a multi-million pound turnover. However, she admitted that,she now realises how unready she was in the early days for the demands that lay ahead.

One of the driving forces behind the designs is her husband, Matthew Rice, who she met at a trade fair in Kensington. and who spoke in Wootton in July 2013 about his book on church architecture, featuring his wonderful watercolours and drawings. Emma told us that lettering-print and typography have held a long fascination for Matthew - and his graphic expertise in creating the lettering patterns is a fundamental strength within the company, especially the Toast & Marmalade range which is first and foremost pottery, but also includes tea towels, tablecloths and shopping bags. At first, it was called Toast & Marmite (the food-spread is Emma's possible choice as a luxury on Desert Island Discs) but this was changed after suggestions it was helping promote another brand. Some of the more fun wording over the years has included "I Love You More Than Chocolate" and "Last Night I Had A Dream About Daniel Craig".

Emma told us there is a constant demand for a stream of new surface designs and she suggested she would have failed the challenge dismally without Matthew's input. The search for inspiration has taken them around the world and, during one visit to the eye-popping displays at the souk in Damascus, she finally "got the hang" of pommegrannates, which she had never really liked - but here they had bright skins and jewel-like scarlet pips, bursting with juice, and they were quickly incorporated into the design range.

Emma added that, all her life, she has been in thrall to romance and that, in her designs, she tries to conjure up that fragile magic which inspires dreams and breeds creativity - making an ordinary day suddenly wonderful. She works in tandem with Matthew to try and create that magic, often featuring his love of birds and sea life such as shrimps and crabs - as well as other animals, inlcudling hens, whippets and Labradors. Indeed, Emma suggested that a black lab will always be a constant source of comfort when some of life's travails kick in - like the ending of a relationship, burning the brownies or even dropping the mobile down the loo and losing all the contacts.

With all the designs, Emma told us there is a constant process that goes back and forth as they juggle dramatic effect with practical application - and that, as a company, they need to push themselves collectively to improve the skills and speeds of the company's decorators, producing dramatic new-looking patterns to catch the imagination of customers. One such bright and breezy design was called Marmalade and emerged from Emma's thoughts of life about 1970 when life was more free-wheeling and cheerier and less anxious - perhaps embodied in her Uncle Mart who once drove to Marrakesh in an ageing car.

However, despite all the brightness, friendliness and gentle humour in Emma's designs, her life has seen some significant set-backs - not least the years caring for her mother, Charlotte, a huge influence in early years, who was seriously injured following a riding accident in Gloucestershire. In addition, there were long and lonely car journeys from Norfolk - to where the family had moved - to the factory in Stoke-on-Trent, whilst juggling the needs of four children. Ultimately, the pressure tools its toll and Emma suffered from stress and anxiety, as well as physical pain with rheumatoid-arthritis, and the decision was taken to hand over much of the company operations to Matthew.

One of the recurring themes in Emma's designs are flowers and she suggested that often the best way to see them is from a car - and recalled how even when she was sitting on an motorway embankment following a tyre blow-out, she was able to admire the beauty of planted cowslips. Two of her favourite flowers are sweet-peas and zinnias and she highlighted the constant process of struggling to try and capture the beauty of flowers. She said it's always a challenge to how best convey the wavy delicacies of sweet-peas, as well as morning glory, and that all designing is a process of distillation and the constant pursuit of the perfect marriage of form and decoration - plucking themes, ideas and moods from all over to try and find the cleanest way to evolve a true signature.

With her renowned modesty, Emma told us that there can be blank faces at parties when she's introduced as "the potter". She corrects them and says, in her words, that she's a "grubby industrialist" but, even then, the person is none the wiser - until she tells them she's behind the range of pottery with polka dots and then there is a flicker of recognition. Since 2002, it's estimated that well over two million pieces of polka-dot pottery have been produced across almost every Emma Bridgewater shape.

Following their time in Norfolk, Emma and her family moved to Jericho, in Oxford, but Matthew hankered after more space and has always had a life-long longing to develop a whole thought-out landscape (indeed, on their first date, Matthew took Emma to West Wittering, in Sussex, where she says he built sand-estates rather than sand-castles on the beach). This need prompted a move to the Oxfordshire village of Bampton, where they bought a run-down property from one of the colleges and set about renovating the buildings and the grounds, including gardens which were Matthew's creation and which are sometimes open to the public in summer.

Following her talk to an audience of over 120, Emma signed copies of her books, Pattern - featuring some delightful photographs of both pottery designs, animals and food - as well as the paperback Toast & Marmalade which chronicles her extraordinary life. People had travelled from far way for the evening - and Emma used a dedicated pen to sign some of the pottery audience-members had brought along.

"Emma was charming, unassuming, friendly and modest - yet she's had more than her share of set-backs, not least her mother's terrible accident, in the process of establishing a pottery company which is one of the country's great manufacturing success stories. With all the recent political upheaval in the world, it was uplifting to be reminded of all the creative goodness which can brighten up countless lives and allow in sunshine on a daily basis - Alan Leece, Warwick


Friday December 2nd 2016.

Tim is a professor at the University of Sheffield where he teaches animal behaviour and the history of science. He is making a return visit to Wootton by popular demand following his compelling appearance in March 2012 when he spoke so wonderfully about his book, called Bird Sense.

On this occasion, Tim, a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and multi-award winning author, will be speaking about his latest publication, called The Most Perfect Thing (Inside and Outside a Bird’s Egg) , in which he examines such key questions such as - how are eggs of different shapes made, and why are they the shape they are? When does the shell of an egg harden? Why do some eggs contain two yolks? How are the colours and patterns of an eggshell created, and why do they vary? And which end of an egg is laid first – the blunt end or the pointy end?

These are just some of the issues that The Most Perfect Thing answers as the journey of a bird's egg from creation and fertilisation to its eventual hatching is examined - with current scientific knowledge placed within an historical context. Beginning with an examination of the stunning eggs of the guillemot, each of which is so variable in pattern and colour that no two are ever the same, Tim then looks at the eggs of hens, cuckoos and many other birds, revealing weird and wonderful facts about these miracles of nature. Woven around and supporting these facts are extraordinary stories of the individuals who, from as far back as Ancient Egypt, have been fixated on the study and collection of eggs - but not always to the benefit of their conservation.

Sir David Attenborough wrote in BBC Wildlife magazine recently: "We are in the golden age of science and nature publishing. I'm just reading a book by Tim Birkhead called The Most Perfect Thing, which is about birds' eggs. It's magnificent science without any highfalutin' technology. It's just sheer thought and it uses terms and concepts that any eight-year-old could understand".

As Thomas Wentworth Higginson proclaimed in 1862 - "I think that, if required on pain of death to name instantly the most perfect thing in the universe, I should risk my fate on a bird's egg".

The Most Perfect Thing is beautifully illustrated and has won rave reviews. Nick Davies, author of Cuckoo wrote: "The title is also a perfect description of the book itself - full of wonder and surprise and beautifully written”, whilst The Sunday Times described it as: “Eye-opening ….thoroughly engaging, it also gives us a thrilling sense of the vast, unmapped territories that lie beyond, waiting to be discovered”. The Observer said: "“Birkhead's approach to writing – hard, clear sentences; deep, revelatory looking – has the same effect as his microscope, bringing objects to light that were previously hidden, making us see the familiar with new eyes“ and BBC Wildlife magazine added that Tim is "justly acclaimed for his brilliance at explaining complex science in a beguilingly lively style ….I suspect that this beautifully written volume will end up the best bird book of 2016”

Tim's research has taken him all over the world in the quest to understand the lives of birds. He has written for The Independent, New Scientist, BBC Wildlife and among his other books are The Wisdom of Birds, Great Auk Islands, The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Birds, which won the McColvin medal, and The Red Canary - winner of the Consul Cremer Prize.

If you would like to go on the waiting list for this talk please Contact us


Friday January 13th 2017.

Sir Anthony, currently Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, is a leading contemporary historian, educationalist, commentator and political author.

He was Master of Wellington College, in Berkshire, one of Britain's leading independent schools, until 2015. Sir Anthony is also the author or editor of over 40 books on contemporary history, politics and education, including biographies of Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He was co-founder and first director of the Centre for Contemporary British History and he is also co-founder of Action for Happiness, as well as being honorary historical adviser to 10 Downing Street.

Sir Anthony's many other activities include being Chair of the National Comment Awards, a member of the First World War Centenary Culture Committee, and a governor of The Royal Shakespeare Company.

If you are interested in attending this talk or would like to reserve a ticket please Contact us


Friday February 10th 2017.

His talk is called: The Joy of Railways

Michael is a leading author, journalist and academic – writing, broadcasting and blogging on transport, society and the media. He is the best-selling author of several highly-acclaimed books on Britain's railways, including On the Slow Train (Twelve Great British Railway Journeys); Steaming to Victory (How Britain's Railways Won the War); and his recently updated work, The Trains Now Departed (Sixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain's Railways). His talk will be packed with nostalgia – and some enjoyable armchair travelling for a winter's evening.

Michael is also a leading travel writer, reporting on journeys around the world for a variety of publications. In his academic role, he is co-editor and author of the book The Future of Quality News Journalism. Formerly, he was Deputy Editor of the Independent on Sunday, Executive Editor of The Independent, Head of News and Features at the Sunday Times; and he was also on the staff of The Times. Michael still regularly contributes to the national media, including the BBC, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, New Statesman, the Tablet, The History Channel, as well as the specialist and business press.

In addition, Michael is chairman of the Springdene Care Homes Group in London and external examiner in the School of Media and Communication at Goldsmiths University, in London. He lives with his family in Camden Town, London.

If you are interested in attending this talk or would like to reserve a ticket please Contact us


Friday March 3rd 2017.

Tom is one of the main presenters on BBC One's award-winning Countryfile programme which regularly attracts upwards of six million viewers on a Sunday evening, and appeared during the summer at Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace.. He has had an extensive career in the BBC, including presenting special investigations for Panoroma. In addition, Tom has been a regular presenter of Costing the Earth on Radio 4 and, for the past four years, he has also been Director and media presenter of the company, Checked Shirt TV Limited.

Tom began his broadcasting career with Sky News as a sound mixer before joining a trainee scheme with BBC News and worked on the Today programme and the BBC News 24 Channel. He later became a correspondent specialising in rural affairs, science and the environment and then took on the newly-created role of Rural Affairs Correspondent in 2012.

After making contributions to Countryfile, he took over the investigative reporter role from John Craven in 2012 and, among his many highlights, was an interview with the Princess Royal on the controversial issue of badger-culling. He also hosted a series of live broadcasts for the BBC from the Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest in 2013 when the team covered the 50th anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing reaching the summit.

Tom went to Oakham School, in Rutland, and his father was John Arnfield Heap, a former scientific adviser who became the head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Polar Regions Section from 1975 to 1992. During one edition of Countryfile, it was revealed that Tom is the great nephew of Thomas Gillespie, Olympic rowing medallist, who was killed in action, aged 21, at La Bassee, France in October, 1914.

If you are interested in attending this talk or would like to reserve a ticket please Contact us


OX20 1DZ

John Lloyd & John Mitchinson Talk, Summer 2009

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Ashmolean Museum

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