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.

The Sir Vince Cable Talk

The Sir Vince Cable Talk

With only four weeks to go until the landmark referendum on staying in or leaving the EU, it was suitable timing that Sir Vince Cable, the urbane former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills appeared as our speaker on May 27th. As a leading campaigner for staying in the EU, Sir Vince gave us some behind-the-scenes glimpses of how membership had been beneficial during his time in the Cabinet - such as during the days when General Motors were thinking of closing their Vauxhall factory at Ellesmere Port. Sir Vince flew to the US to discuss the crisis and finally won an agreement for the factory to remain open - just so long as the UK remained within the EU, so that trading benefits were maintained.

Sir Vince suggested being within the EU made business much easier for small companies and quoted an English entrepreneur, creating a cereal-based food, who wanted to break into the Australian market, but abandoned the attempt following endless regulation. In the end, he concentrated his efforts within the EU, especially Holland, and found that his business expanded successfully - largely through the harmonisation of rules. Sir Vince argued that most regulations which small businesses find irksome emanate from UK governments and not the EU - and he added that access to the single market was one of the major reasons why small businesses should vote to stay in the EU.

He said that exporters were not the only beneficiaries. Nearly 30pc of the produce on the shelves of High Street stores comes from the EU and yet, following a Brexit vote, all of those goods would be subject to tariffs, which smaller businesses would then have to pass on to customers. He added that Brussels did not control all aspects of life in the UK - far from it - and quoted as one example the planning system, which is still very much controlled at local level. (However, questions at end of his talk suggested some still had to be convinced about the benefits of EU membership)

Sir Vince admitted the referendum outcome was in the balance but added that, irrespective of who wins, the result might be challenged if it were based on only a 50 per cent turnout. He pointed out there was no guarantee that the UK would be able to negotiate a favourable deal in the case of Brexit and that an uncertainty possibly lasting up to at least three years - with no clear alternative arrangements - would be bad for business and the economy.

As Business Secretary between 2010 to 2015, Sir Vince had to toe the line as member of the Coalition but, after leaving office, he was now in a position to comment and told us his concerns over the current emphasis on consumption rather than investment, the decline in productivity and innovation. as well as the continuing reliance on house-price inflation as the driver of growth. Recently, for example, a Swiss bank put London at the top of their global real-estate "bubble-index".

As for his own achievements, he highlighted various policies, including setting up a British Business Bank, an apprenticeships scheme (as an antidote to "graduate factories"), flexible working and getting more women on to the boards of major companies. However, controlling spiralling executive pay and building more houses (a fraction, he said, compared with when he sat on Glasgow City Council many years ago) had been less successful. Whilst the living-standards of millions of people had stagnated, the top one-per cent of earners had raced ahead, with multi-million pound bonuses, and he told us he would like to see shareholders be more open in their attempts to control soaraway pay-packages - making it an obligation on institutional shareholders to declare how they voted.

Sir Vince's book, called The Storm, analysing events surrounding the 2008 financial crash, was a best-seller and the sequel, called After the Storm, was just out in paperback. It looks at the period 2010-15 from the vantage-point of the Coalition and offers insights into some of the tensions between partners - and provides a perspective on the state of the global financial markets. The UK's recovery is the slowest for a century, real-wages are lower than pre-crisis levels and productivity growth (rise in output per worker) has failed to recover and productivity is 30pc below that in the US, France and Germany. Sir Vince suggested the growing risk of a financial earthquake emanating from China is one reason for serious concerns, with a slow-down there having a hugely damaging knock-on effect on the British economy.

Over 140 people packed into the hall on yet another warm evening to listen to Sir Vince after his demanding day. After starting out in television studios in Manchester, he had taken the train to London for another meeting and then - braving roadworks, traffic-jams and crashes, had taken three hours to travel from Twickenham to Wootton - and he still had to travel on to the New Forest. However, whilst the itinerary was hectic, he said the schedule was still far less intense than when he was Secretary of State

"What a charming, urbane and persuasive politician - Sir Vince put forward such convincing arguments for creating a more equal society in the UK and he seemed frustrated that he hadn't been able to achieve more towards than end whilst in office. His arguments for staying in the EU also seemed to stack up and were hard to was an enthralling evening, offering hope that decent politicians do exist, and it's tempting to think Sir Vince was the best Prime Minister we never had. The thunderous applause - the longest I can remember - showed just how impressive Sir Vince had been - Roy Neild, Oxford


Friday July 1st 2016.

Oliver is a historian based at Oxford University and will be talking about the work of the great landscape architect, Lancelot "Capability" Brown - with the 300th anniversary of his baptism celebrated in August this year. Brown is often referred to as "England's greatest gardener" and designed over 170 parks and gardens surrounding the finest country houses in Britain.

Brown's work still endures at Blenheim Palace, Croome Court, in Worcestershire (where he also designed the house); Warwick Castle, Badminton House in Gloucestershire; Harewood House, in Yorkshire; Bowood House in Wiltshire; Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight; Milton Abbey in Dorset; and, in traces, at Kew Gardens - as well as many other locations.

He was called "Capability" Brown because he would often tell his landed clients that their estates had great "capability" for landscape improvement.His style of smooth undulating grass - which would run straight to the house, clumps, belts and scattering of trees and his serpentine lakes formed by invisibly damming small rivers - was a new departure within the English landscape, a "gardenless" form of landscape gardening, which swept away almost all the remnants of previous formally-patterned styles.

Oliver has a doctorate from Oxford and has published widely on Gothic Revival architecture, landscape gardening, patriotism, and is currently writing From Addison to Austen: A Short Guide to the Long Eighteenth Century. He created the Thames Valley Country House Partnership in 2013 as a way of linking entrepreneurial ideas in the heritage sector with researchers at Oxford.. In his position as Knowledge Exchange Fellow, he has co-ordinated a range of collaborative projects with country houses, and is the Knowledge Based Supervisor for Trusted Source - a Knowledge Transfer Partnership in partnership with the National Trust.

Oliver is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Council Member of the Oxfordshire Records Society, and a member of Arts Council England’s Designation Panel

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


Friday September 16th 2016.

Robert is a Visiting Professor in the Department of Mathematics at Aston University and science consultant and columnist with BBC Focus.

After reading physics at Oxford, Robert worked for various newspapers and for 15 years was the Science Correspondent of The Sunday Telegraph. At the same time, he has maintained an academic career, where his research interests have spanned many fields, from astronomy and code-breaking to medicine and mathematics. His research has been published in leading journals such as Nature , and in 1996 he won an Ig Nobel Prize for his study of the physics of Murphy's Law and its effect on toast landing butter-side down.

Robert has written several acclaimed popular science books and, in Wootton, he will be talking about his latest, called Chancing It, which looks at the impact of chance, risk and uncertainty on our lives.

Most of us aren't very good at dealing with probability, and even experts can - and have - been caught out by its often counter-intuitive rules.

In his talk, Robert will describe some of the secrets of mastering these rules described in his new book. He'll show how to make sense of - and even predict - coincidences and reveal the Golden Rule of Gambling that shows when a bet makes sense. He'll also be explaining an astonishing powerful technique used by Alan Turing to break the Enigma cipher - and how it can help reveal whether a new scientific claim is a genuine breakthrough or just baloney.

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


Friday November 11th 2016.

Emma Bridgewater has become a household name, having spent 30 years building up a hugely successful pottery business, with products most recognisable in her trademark mugs, bowls and plates. Emma was educated at Oxford High School and at London University, where she read English.

With no formal training, she quickly established the business bearing her name - and which now employs 250 people in London and in Stoke on Trent, where she spearheaded a revival in traditional craft skills in the Potteries.

A refusal to outsource manufacturing to low-wage economies abroad has led Emma to a role as a champion of British industry and in particular of manufacturing in the UK - something about which she feels very strongly. Emma is married to illustrator and designer Matthew Rice, who spoke in Wootton in July 2013, and they live with their four children near Oxford.

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


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.

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 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


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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