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.


We were sorry to hear of the death of David Nobbs, the comedy writer who spoke so brilliantly in Wootton in October 2012. David was creator of the landmark comedy series, The Rise and Fall of Reggie Perrin, starring Leonard Rossiter, as well as many other highly successful television comedy shows.. He also wrote for many of the greats of British comedy, including Les Dawson, Frankie Howerd and Tommy Cooper, in addition to penning 18 novels. David and his wife, Susan, spent the night in Wootton and said they had thoroughly enjoyed their time in the village.

Forthcoming Speakers:
Clare Mackintosh   Julie Summers   Andrew Gant

The Robin Lane Fox Talk

The Robin Lane Fox Talk
On a warm and sunny June evening, after countless of days of wind and chill, Robin Lane Fox made a much-anticipated return visit to Wootton following his first appearance here in April 2011. Again, his theme was primarily gardening but he made several amusing forays into life at New College, Oxford, where he is now an emeritus fellow, but retains the title of Garden Master - overseeing the maintenance of the celebrated borders and lawn.

As well as being a former reader in ancient history at Oxford University, Robin has been the gardening columnist on the Financial Times since 1970 and has not missed a single Saturday edition for 45 years, dispensing advice and opinions in over 2,000 articles and rarely repeating the same theme. A similar level of expertise was dispensed on June 5th when Robin explored different areas of gardening from his previous talk four years ago – but also revisited some hilarious episodes (well worth the retelling) such as his experiences with badgers at his home in Milton-under-Wychwood.

As ever, Robin held firm views on several areas of gardening, including how best to create a wildflower area and also the best varieties of plants, such as buddleia, for attracting butterflies, like the wondrous painted lady, migrating from North Africa every summer. He also examined the most productive, self-propagating, species for gardens, including types of iris and poppy, and offered finely-honed advice on the most rewarding small trees to plant and which nurseries in central and southern England offer the greatest range of plants – and the best quality.

Creating the perfect lawn was another of Robin’s themes and he told the excruciating story of how gardeners at New College once misread the instructions on a packet. Thinking the contents were fertiliser, they liberally sprinkled them over the large lawns at New College – only to see them turn orange a few days later when they discovered that the packet had, in fact, contained the powerful weed-killer, Roundup.

Yet even within this horticultural horror, Robin managed to find an amusing angle – and recounted how some academics, recently returned from sampling the beauty of the fall in the north-eastern states of the US, told him they were pleasantly surprised to see lawns also turning orange in an English autumn. However, the story had a positive ending after Robin oversaw the sowing of appropriate grass-seed and, after several years, the lawns at New College are recovering their former glory.

Robin also enthused greatly over the quality of large-scale gardens in the US, in particular Pennsylvania, finding them some of the best in the world and urged us to visit them, if ever considering a garden-tour. And despite not being fond of New York City itself, he suggested the botanical gardens are some of the finest in the world – and painted a glowing picture of the head curator, a Trinidad-born woman, who found her calling as a teenager and rose to the heights, marshalling her team at 5.30 every morning and walking them through the glasshouses, pointing out where work was necessary and offering praise when due.

As ever, Robin was sceptical about some trends in horticulture and the apparently endless need of garden-designers to come up with new trends in both types of species and layout to offer to their clients. He suggested the key was to simply pursue beauty – and that he found the English countryside in summer a vision and that, with his advancing years, he could not bear the thought of - one day - not experiencing it again. And yet Robin wondered about the uncertain prospects for gardening in this country when young people are leaving university with such vast debts and unable to buy a house for many years in which to develop and hone their gardening skills.

On the note of mortality, one audience-member asked Robin what tree he would like planted in his memory in the garden at New College. Rather modestly, he said he doubted he would be offered that honour – but, on reflection, thought that a type of magnolia, blooming to perfection after 20 years, would fit the bill.

About 120 people came to Robin’s talk, with many buying his book, Thoughtful Gardening, which one reviewer described as the best gardening book in the past 30 years and that Robin remains the best gardening writer in Britain today, combining both information and wit. After his talk in Wootton, few would disagree with that assessment.

To add both fragrance and colour, Marlene Fisher had produced a spectacular flower arrangement, using six vases to create a display over four-feet wide. All the flowers had been picked that afternoon from a garden in nearby Begbroke – and were further testament to the glories of an English garden in June.

“On a lovely June evening, it was invigorating to listen to Robin Lane Fox so wittily extolling the virtues of horticulture and the beauty of an English garden – and the life-affirming qualities it can produce. Few would disagree with that assessment and I’m sure many people in the hall couldn’t wait until the following day – when they could head straight into the garden to try and create the botanical beauty which Robin had described so vividly – Richard Kenwright, Oxford


Friday September 18th 2015.

Clare spent twelve years as a senior police officer, including a spell in CID, as well as a public order commander with Thames Valley Police, before leaving in 2011 to become a successful writer.

Clare’s debut novel, called I Let You Go, became the fastest-selling title by a new crime writer this year and roared into the best-seller lists of both the Sunday Times and Amazon, selling over 250,000 copies so far. It has been already selected for both the prestigious Richard and Judy Book Club and ITV’s Loose Women’s “Loose Books”.

Glowing reviews all mention the brilliance of the novel’s unexpected twist, with the Sunday Mirror saying: “With a debut as good as this, the force’s loss is crime-writing’s gain”, whilst the Daily Mail described it as a “sensational debut”.

Clare, a mother of three, also set up the Chipping Norton Literary Festival four years ago, which has attracted major writers, and it is has now established itself as one of the country’s leading book events.

Clare's talk is called - From Crime Fighter to Crime Writer

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


Friday November 13th 2015.

Julie Summers is an internationally-renowned biographer and historian, often focusing on people in taxing situations. She is returning to Wootton by popular demand after her magisterial talk last November on the 1924 British Everest Expedition, which included her great-uncle, Sandy Irvine, and George Mallory.

On this occasion, Julie will give an illustrated talk about the similarities and differences between the film, Bridge on the River Kwai, and the real story of the bridge on which the film is based. Over 680 bridges were built by allied prisoners of war and Asian slaves along the 417-kilometre length of the Thailand Burma Railway.

Julie will look at the personality of Colonel Nicholson, played in an Oscar-winning performance by Alec Guinness, and that of Julie's grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey, whose role it was to oversee the construction of the bridge at Tamarkan. He was a hero to his men and an enigma to the Japanese.

Julie's book about the railway was called The Colonel of Tamarkan and the audio-book that she released, read by Anton Lesser, was a runner-up in the Best Audio Book of the Year Award in 2010.

Her book, Jambusters, which chronicles the work of the WI on the Home Front during World War Two, was also the basis of the scheduled ITV six-part drama series, called Home Fires

Julie is also recognized widely within the mountaineering literary world and is a judge at various events, such as the Banff Mountain Festival, and is chair of the Mountain Heritage Trust and represents the sport at Our Sporting Life, a major sports heritage event.

She has also been involved for many years in the mountain festival at Kendal, in Cumbria, and has hosted the ceremony for the Boardman Tasker Prize - where she has interviewed climbers and writers, such as Chris Bonington, Ranulph Fiennes and Stephen Venables. The £3,000 prize commemorates the lives of Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker and is awarded for an original work which has made an outstanding contribution to mountain literature.

Julie’s other books include the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who was caught in the icy deserts of Antarctica, and Remembering Fromelles, which was published in combination with an exhibition at The Imperial War Museum to mark the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s first new cemetery in half a century. The cemetery was constructed to hold the remains of up to 400 British and Australian soldiers found in a mass grave in Fromelles in Northern France.

In addition to writing, Julie is an exhibition organizer and has masterminded ten exhibitions for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission over the past two years. She has also appeared on Radio 4’s Start the Week discussing her book, called Remembered, which is a history of the Commission’s work, and has made numerous appearances on Woman’s Hour to discuss her work, including the book, Stranger in the House, which examined the effect on women of men returning from the Second World War. She has also lectured at the Royal Geographical Society, in London.

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


Friday December 11th 2015.

Andrew is a leading musician, singer, composer and author who will be discussing with musical illustrations his very popular new book, Christmas Carols - from Village Green to Church Choir.

Andrew has sung with most of the country's leading choirs and vocal ensembles, including The Sixteen, the Monteverdi Choir, the Cambridge Singers and the Tallis Scholars.. He has also held posts as a church musician at Westminster Abbey, Selwyn College, Cambridge, the Royal Military Chapel (the Guards' Chapel), and Worcester College, Oxford.

In September 2000 he was appointed Organist, Choirmaster and Composer at Her Majesty's Chapel Royal. He has led the Chapel Royal choir at the funeral of the Queen Mother, the Golden Jubilee service in St Paul's Cathedral in 2002, the wedding of. Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, the annual Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph and the annual Royal Maundy service.

Andrew set to music the text of the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, to create A Hymn for the Golden Jubilee as part of the 2002 celebrations, at the request of Buckingham Palace. This piece was sung at many places across the world and to the Queen at a concert at Windsor Castle. It was also featured on the official Jubilee CD produced by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Andrew's other compositions include "The Vision of Piers Plowman", an oratorio for the 2002 Three Choirs Festival, "A British Symphony", premiered by the Philharmonia in 2007, "May we borrow your husband?" an a capella opera, "Don't go down the Elephant after midnight", an opera for soprano Patricia Rozario, a song-cycle for counter-tenor James Bowman, and several works for choir. Andrew also plays bass in his band, The Gant Project.

Andrew attended Radley College before reading Music and English at St John's College, Cambridge.. He was a choral scholar and sang in the College Choir and subsequently studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music and completed his PhD at Goldsmith's College, University of London.. He is Stipendiary Lecturer in Music at St Peter's College and St Edmund Hall, at Oxford University

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

Local Links

The Woodstock Bookshop

National Gardens Scheme (Oxfordshire)

The Killingworth Castle

Adrian Arbib Photography

Wootton Stores - The Village Shop

Robin Laurance Photography

Ashmolean Museum

The Bodleian Library - Exhibitions and Events

Woodstock U3A - University Of The Third Age

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