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:
Andrew Gant   John Goodall   Bel Mooney   Alexander Sturgis

The Julie Summers Talk

The Julie Summers Talk

Julie first spoke in Wootton in November last year when her theme was the 1924 British Everest Expedition, which included George Mallory and her great-uncle, Sandy Irvine. On November 13th this year, she focused on another illustrious member of her family – her grandfather, Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Toosey, who was the senior Allied officer in charge during the Second World War at the Japanese prisoner of war camp at Tamarkan, in Thailand, from where the men helped build the notorious Bridge on the River Kwai.

In civilian life, Toosey was a merchant banker on Merseyside but, after the outbreak of war, found himself in the Far East. Following the fall of Singapore in 1942 – the biggest military defeat in British history – Toosey refused to join the evacuation and insisted on staying with his men. They were put to work building railway bridges over the Khwae Yai, near where it joins the Khwae Nai to form the Mae Klong, in Thailand.

This was part of a project to link existing Thai and Burmese railway lines to create a route from Bangkok to Rangoon to support the Japanese occupation of Burma. About a hundred thousand conscripted Asian labourers and 12,000 prisoners of war died on the whole project, which was known as the Death Railway.

However, Julie pointed out there were enormous differences between the Hollywood film, Bridge on the River Kwai, featuring the fictitious Colonel Nicholson, played in an Oscar-winning performance by Alec Guinness, and the real story. The irony was that, in the film, Colonel Nicholson had to help the Japanese build their bridge, whereas in reality the Japanese were skilled engineers and the main role of Toosey was to ensure that the men under his command suffered as little as possible.

At the Tamarkan camp, Julie said that Toosey worked courageously to ensure that as many as possible of the 2,000 Allied prisoners would survive. He endured regular beatings when he complained of the ill-treatment of prisoners, but as a skilled negotiator he was able to win many concessions from the Japanese by convincing them that this would speed the completion of the work.

Toosey also organised the smuggling in of food and medicine and worked with Boonpong Sirivejjabhandu, a Thai merchant who supplied camps at the southern end of the railway, taking great risks - and he was honoured after the war for his bravery. Toosey maintained discipline in the camp and, where possible, cleanliness and hygiene. His policy was one of unity and equality and so refused to allow a separate officers' mess or accommodation – and he also ordered his officers to intervene, if necessary, to protect the men.

Behind the backs of the Japanese, Toosey did his best to delay and sabotage the construction without endangering his men, as a refusal to work would have meant instant execution. Termites were collected in large numbers to eat the wooden structures and the concrete was badly mixed. Toosey also helped organise a daring escape, at considerable cost to himself (in the film the fictional colonel forbids escapes.) The two escaping officers had been given a month's rations and Toosey concealed their escape for 48 hours. After a month, the two escapees were recaptured and bayoneted, whilst Toosey was also punished for concealing the escape.

Julie added that the Japanese surprised their enemies by completing the railway within 16 months, albeit at vast human cost - British Army engineers had estimated five years. Two bridges were built - a temporary wooden bridge and, a few months later, a permanent steel and concrete bridge, which was completed in 1943. At the end of the Hollywood film, the wooden bridge is destroyed by a commando raid when, in reality, both bridges were used for two years until they were both destroyed by Allied aerial bombing – firstly, the steel bridge, bombed in June 1945 following several previous missions. This steel and concrete structure was later repaired and is still in use today.

After completion of the steel bridge, the majority of fit men were moved to camps further up the line. Toosey was ordered to organise Tamarkan as a hospital, which he did so, despite difficulties, including minimal food and medical supplies. Julie said that the Japanese considered it the best-run prisoner-of-war camp on the railway and gave him considerable autonomy.

In December 1943, Toosey was transferred to help run Nong Pladuk camp, and, in December 1944, he was moved to the Allied officers' camp at Kanchanaburi where he was the liaison officer with the Japanese. He and some other officers had been separated from his men at Nakhon Nayok camp and he was being held there as a hostage when Japan surrendered in August 1945. At that time, Toosey weighed 105 pounds - before the war, he had weighed 175 pounds. Despite his weak condition, Toosey insisted on travelling 300 miles into the jungle to oversee the liberation of his men. For his conduct in the camp, Julie said, he won the undying respect of his men and he was considered by many to be the outstanding British officer on the railway.

At the end of the war, Toosey had saved the life of Sergeant-Major Saito (not a colonel, as in the film). Saito was second in command at the camp and was considered to be less violent than many of the other guards. Toosey spoke up for him and, as a result, Saito did not stand trial.

Over 200 Japanese were hanged for their crimes and many more served long-prison sentences. Saito respected Toosey greatly and they corresponded after the war. Julie said that Sarto had said that Toosey had showed him me what a human being should be - and he changed the philosophy of my life. After Toosey died, Saito travelled from Japan to visit the grave and, following Saito's death in 1990, his family discovered he had converted to Christianity..

Over 100 people attended Julie’s talk. and she also sold many copies of her book, The Colonel of Tamarkan, and an award-winning audio-version, as well as Jambusters, which chronicles the WI during the Second War – and which was the inspiration for the ITV drama, Home Fires, recently commissioned for a second series.

“Julie’s talk last year on the 1924 British Everest Expedition was so captivating and informative and her recounting of the wartime career of Philip Toosey was just as magisterial and possibly even more moving – highlighting human dignity in the face of such appalling conditions and, ultimately, men from opposing sides during the war being reconciled. A flawless, emotional evening" – Bill Harrison, Chipping Norton --


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. He will be joined by members of the North Cotswold Chamber Choir, who will be singing several carols to illustrate his talk..

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


Friday January 22nd 2016.

John is Architectural Editor of Country Life, and responsible for the magazine’s celebrated weekly articles on country houses. He is also the author of two award-winning books, God's House at Ewelme (2001) andThe English Castle (2011).

For his appearance in Wootton, John will be talking about his most recent book, called Parish Church Treasures. The Nation's Greatest Art Collection

John read history at Durham University and subsequently took both an MA and a doctorate in architectural history at the Courtauld Institute of Art, in London. He worked for several years as a freelance writer and scholar, before publishing God's House at Ewelme, which was joint-winner of the Royal Historical Society Whitfield Prize..

John has written several guide-books for both English Heritage and the National Trust, as well as contributing to numerous books and journals on historic English architecture. In 2003, John joined English Heritage as a senior properties historian and, in 2007, acted as series consultant for the major BBC 1 series, The Way We Built Britain, presented by David Dimbleby.

John has contributed to Country Life since 1994 and became its Architectural Editor in 2007, later being involved in a debate over the National Trust's presentation of its houses, speaking on the subject both at the Hay-on-Wye Festival and also the National Trust's AGM.

John's second book,The English Castle, received numerous accolades - the Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion; the Large Format Illustrated Book of the Year Award at the Spear's Book Awards; and the 2013 Historians of British Art Book Prize (pre-1800). It also received the G. T. Clark Prize for 2007–2012, recognising "the most distinguished published contributions to the study of the history and antiquities of Wales and the Marches during the previous quinquennium".

Other recent projects include contributions to the photographic book The English Cathedral by Peter Marlow and a chapter on the siege of Dover in 1216-17 for the book accompanying Dan Snow's Battle Castles television series.

John is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and also sits on the Fabric Advisory Committees of St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle and St Albans Cathedral. He is also a part-time Humanities staff member at the City and Guilds of London Art School.

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


Friday February 12th 2016.

Bel has been one of this country's best-loved journalists and authors for over 40 years. She has written six novels and over thirty children's books, as well as a best-selling memoir, "A Small Dog Saved My life"

For many years, she was also a regular on BBC Radio 4 with her series "Devout Sceptics". Over the past ten years, Bel has written a widely-read and unique advice column, first for The Times and now the Daily Mail, reaching over six million readers.

Her new book, "Lifelines - Words to Help You Through", is an anthology of her wise counsel - a book of uplifting and thought-provoking passages to turn to again and again. She has also collected some of the quotations from great writers, which give her page extra levels of meaning, and introduces the book with a long, thoughtful essay about what it means to be an advice columnist and what it has taught her.

In Wootton, Bel will be reading from the book and talking, with the candour and warmth for which she is famous, about her life and work and sharing some of her thoughts on how we can change our lives. --

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


Friday April 8th 2016.

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 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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