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 Martin Wainwright Talk

The Martin Wainwright Talk

Midway through Martin Wainwright's incisive and illuminating talk on April 8th on aspects of the North-South divide in England, he showed us a series of images which highlighted perfectly how preconceptions of the two halves can be wildly wrong. One picture showed the pit-head of a coal-mine - which was actually in Somerset; another showed rows of terraced-houses - which was revealed as Swindon; another showed quaint black-and-white buildings - which was, in fact, central Manchester; one more showed a striking stately-home - which was in North Yorkshire; whilst others showed bucolic rolling fields with hedge-rows - which were largely in the North.

Martin, born in Yorkshire, worked on The Guardian newspaper for 37 years and was the Northern Editor for 17 years until his retirement three years ago when he and his wife, Penny, moved south to the village of Thrupp, near Kidlington. As a result, Martin (our 85th speaker) was especially well-placed to examine the North-South divide and to disentangle reality from the fantasy of the two regions. Whilst the North has traditionally been home to mills and mines - and all the associated misery and hardship - Martin pointed out that the South. although with a more agricultural economy, has also suffered from extreme poverty and misery. This reached such a pitch that in the 1870s up to 40 labourers and their families from Wootton to head for Sheffield to try and find work in the steelworks, with all their worldly possessions on a cart.

Martin pointed out that Wootton was the home-village of Christopher Holloway, a Methodist lay-preacher who led the campaign for improved conditions and wages for agricultural workers in a region where estates often dominated working-life and the gap was immense between the few at the top and the vast majority of people eking a living from the land - and often living in appalling conditions.

The dispute dragged on for nearly two months until the farmers secured the help of soldiers from Aldershot to bring in the harvest - a move which inevitably aroused great hostility in trade union circles. The Duke of Marlborough also threw his weight behind the farmers, through offering to transfer to them any cottages or allotments rented directly from him, so as to improve the farmers' bargaining position. Martin told us that Holloway condemned the move in the strongest terms at a meeting held in Oxford when he told members that there would have to be a revolution rather than go back to the dark ages of being serfs and slaves.

Martin said that many people lived in hovels and that the word "cottage" has romanticised the dreadful reality - and he suggested that, whilst pollution in the North from industry was "productive" in that it came from manufacturing - the pollution in the South was often simply the product of subsistence living. To escape such deprivation, Holloway was hired to organise the migration of Oxfordshire families to start a new life in New Zealand, although he himself returned and became a grocer and a pillar of the local community.

To highlight the beauty of the North - an aspect often lost in images of mills and terraced-houses - Martin had taken great trouble to prepare an interactive chart for which volunteers from the audience placed cut-out shapes of national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty on a map of the North until they pretty much covered all of it. Indeed, he remarked that, whilst Oxfordshire and surrounding counties have their own beauty, he had noticed the absence of some serious hills and that - on a walk towards Bletchingdon - he had been pleasantly surprised when the foot-path started to rise gently.

Another of Martin's passions is moths and he has written extensively about them - and he pointed out there is even a North-South divide between some of the species, although some relatively rare ones are now migrating from the South. He highlighted the Labour MP, Madeleine Moon - the "MP for moths" - who hosts annual Moth Evenings at Westminster. Tony Blair apparently sat up once when Madeleine "Blair's shoulder-knot" during one debate, referring to a species with striking black slashes, which is now widespread but was first recorded in the UK as recently as 1951. It was discovered by a Dr Blair, who lived on the Isle of Wight, a famous first port of call for new arrivals in the UK from warmer countries. He also discovered "Blair's wainscot" in 1945 and "Blair's mocha" the following year

One of the most dramatic species is the extremely rare "death's-head hawk-moth", with a skull shape on its back and a unique ability to squeak. It is mentioned in Bran Stoker's Dracula and it even plays a part in the film of The Silence of the Lambs. According to legend, Martin told us the species was first seen in Britain at the time of the execution of Charles I, but it is more likely to have simply become more common by that time - having arrived with the first transportation of potatoes some centuries earlier. Its real home is in the warmth of southern Europe and Africa, although it regularly migrates northwards to all part of Europe. The favourite food-plants of the moth's caterpillars is the potato (although leaves, not the vegetable itself) and population-levels have been hit by the use of insecticides over the past few decades.

To conclude his talk, perhaps Martin's most telling illustration of the North-South divide and its misinterpretation was when he showed the celebrated black and white advert for Hovis bread, featuring a small boy pushing a bike up a steep hill, with cobbles, from a bygone era. Surely this is the classic image of the northern street with terraced houses? In fact, the film was shot on Gold Hill, in Shaftesbury - in the very southern county of Dorset

Over 120 people attended Martin's highly entertaining and informative talk - for which he had even knitted knitted a lapel-badge with "85" on it - to mark our milestone event. As part of the celebration, Ann Day had prepared her usual delicious sandwiches, but she had also baked a couples of cakes - with a hardly a crumb left.

"I had always suspected that the received wisdom about the North-South divide in England wasn't all quite what it seems. This was confirmed when Martin showed us images which looked like stereotypes of the North and South but, in fact, turned out to be the complete opposite. I haven't been to the North as much I would like - but Martin's incisive and highly researched talk will make more determined to try and go there more often. Another highly interesting evening. Here's to the next 85 events! - Brian Bishop, Oxfordshire


Friday May 6th 2016.

The talk is called: Fooling the Eye

(The ability of images to deceive the eye and to make the absent present are central to their power and the way in which they have been thought about and written about since antiquity. This talk considers the different strategies that artists and image makers have used to deceive the viewer and how, in doing so, they both respond to tradition and draw attention to the power of their illusions)

Alexander "Xa" Sturgis was appointed as the new Director of the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, in 2014 following nine years as the distinguished Director of the Holburne Museum, in Bath, where he oversaw a major renovation, including a £13 million extension.

Prior to becoming the Director of the Holburne, he had worked for 15 years at the National Gallery, in London, where he held various posts, including Exhibitions and Programmes Director. He studied history at Oxford and then completed a doctorate at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.

His publications include Rebels and Martyrs: The Image of the Artist in the Nineteenth Century (2006) and Presence: Sculpture and the Portrait(2012).

In his spare time, he performs as a magician under the stage-name The Great Xa.

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


Friday May 27th 2016.

Sir Vince is an economist and a former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in the coalition government between 2010-15 - before losing his seat as the Liberal-Democrat MP for Twickenham at the 2015 General Election.

Sir Vince studied economics at Cambridge University and was an economic adviser to the Kenyan Government, as well as the Commonwealth Secretary-General, before lecturing at Glasgow University. Later, he was Chief Economist at Royal Dutch Shell, before becoming an MP in 1997. He was elected as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2003 and became Acting Leader in 2007 for two months following the resignation of Sir Menzies Campbell - but resigned from both positions when he became Business Secretary in 2010. He was knighted in August 2015.

For his talk in Wootton, Sir Vince will be discussing his latest book, called After the Storm - which is the sequel to his highly-praised account of the events surrounding the great crash of 2008. His new book is an analysis of the global economy, and Britainís place in it, between 2010 and 2015 - as viewed from the vantage point of a senior member of the Coalition. In it, Sir Vince warns of the dangers of economic growth driven by house-price inflation, soaring levels of household debt and a financial system where large parts are unregulated.

Sir Vince received significant acclaim during his tenure as Acting Party Leader, with particular praise for his strong performances at Prime Minister's Questions. He was particularly popular within the party and media for his attacks on the government's record over Northern Rock (calling for its privatisation) and HMRC's loss of 25 million individuals' child benefit data - but his career was not without controversy.

As Business Secretary, Sir Vince oversaw the privatisation of Royal Mail in 2013 - when the share price increased by 38pc within a day and by 70pc in a year. The National Audit Office said that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills had been too cautious when setting the sale price, but that a planned postal workers' union strike also affected the government's sale price. Sir Vince declined to apologise and said that the Government had been right to take a cautious approach, pointing out that the sale had raised £2 billion for the taxpayer, with a further £1.5 billion from the 30pc stake in Royal Mail which it had retained.

In a less controversial move, following the earlier example of the Conservative MP, Ann Widdecombe, Sir Vince appeared as a contestant in the BBC's Christmas 2010 Strictly Come Dancing contest - but failed to win.

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


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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