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 Alexander Sturgis Talk

The Alexander Sturgis Talk

It was quite apt that Alexander Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, should begin his talk on May 6th with a magic trick before discussing the strategies that artists use to deceive the eye. Alexander, an accomplished magician performing under the name The Great Xa, tore up a copy of The Sun newspaper and then - through the power of illusion - appeared to bring it back again, completely intact.

Alexander explored several aspects of the ways in which artists perform deception, including the trompe l'oeil of Flemish masters, such as Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts, who also specialised in still-life to trick contemporary viewers into believing that the painted, two-dimensional illusions were real three-dimensional objects. Forced perspective is a comparable illusion in architecture and, in more recent times, Gavin Turk exhibited a piece which appears to be a standard black bin-bag but, on closer inspection, it is actually cast in bronze - showing how illusion can elevate the banal and give it longevity.

Although the phrase trompe l'oeil originated in the Baroque, when it refers to perspective illusionism, Alexander told us the concept dates much further back and was often employed in murals, with examples found in Greek times and also at Roman Pompeii. He recounted the story of the contest between two renowned Ancient Greek painters - Zeuxis, who produced a still-life painting so convincing that birds flew down to peck at the painted grapes. His rival, called Parrhasius, asked Zeuxis to judge one of his paintings that was behind a pair of tattered curtains in his study. Parrhasius asked Zeuxis to pull back the curtains, but Zeuxis found he could not as the curtains were included in Parrhasius's painting....making Parrhasius the winner.

The Dutch painter Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten was also a master of trompe-l'œil and wrote about the role of art as the life-like imitation of nature and he was especially skillful in his trompe l'oeil still-lifes, where the reality of a scene of apparently haphazard objects often has deeper meanings. Alexander said Van Hoogstraten also employed his skill with perspective to construct "peepshows" or "perspective boxes", such as A Peepshow with Views of the Interior of a Dutch House - which is a box with convincing 3D views of the interior of a Dutch house when viewed through peepholes on either end of the box. Trompe-l'œil can also be found painted on tables and other items of furniture, on which a deck of playing-cards might appear to be sitting on the table - with a particularly impressive example at Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, where one of the internal doors appears to have a violin and bow suspended from it in a trompe l'œil painted around 1723.

Earlier, added Alexander, there had been fascination with perspective drawing in the Renaissance when Italian painters such as Andrea Mantegna and Melozzo da Farli began painting illusionist ceiling paintings, generally in fresco, which created the impression of greater space for the viewer below. Well-known examples of this trompe l'œil illusionism are the Camera degli Sposi in Mantua and Antonio da Correggio's Assumption of the Virgin in the Duomo of Parma. Similarly, Vittorio Carpaccio and Jacop de'Barbari added small trompe-l'œil features to their paintings, exploring the boundary between image and reality - such as a fly apparently sitting on the painting's frame, or a curtain appearing to partly conceal the painting. Similarly, a piece of paper might seem to be attached to a board, or a person might appear to be climbing out of the painting altogether - all in reference to the contest between Zeuxis and Parrhasius.

Perspective theories in the 17th Century allowed a more fully integrated approach to architectural illusion to "open up" the space of a wall.. Examples include Pietro da Cortona's Allegory of Divine Providence in the Palazzo Barberini and Andrea Pozzo's Apotheosis of St Ignatius on the ceiling of the Roman church of Sant'IgnazioAnd the interiors of Jesuit churches in the 16th and 17th century often included such trompe-l'œil ceiling paintings, which optically "open" the ceiling or dome to the heavens with a depiction of a saint's ascension or assumption.

Alexander also explored another aspect of illusion - the waxwork - noting the more recent trend of people being photographed close to a replica, such as teenage girls kissing a sculpture of Justin Bieber. He highlighted waxworks of David Hockney and Henry Moore - the latter made for Madame Tussauds in 1995 and restored at the Holburne Museum in Bath, where Alexander was previously Director. He pointed out that waxwork portraits have to be maintained, so they have as much impact as when first created - although he claimed that the illusion of reality is quickly broken when viewing them close-up. Over 130 people filled the hall on a warm spring evening - when a highly informative and entertaining talk and perfect weather combined to create such a memorable event.

"What a tremendous evening! Alexander had our rapt attention from the start with his wonderful magic-trick - and had the packed audience in the palm of his hand as he he explored illusion and deception in art, offering some of the most sublime examples of technical wizardry and leaving many of us utterly amazed at how certain effects had been achieved. Thank you so much for a truly wonderful event - Gordon Loughlin, Oxford


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 Britain’s 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 would like to go on the waiting list for this talk please Contact us


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 are interested in attending this talk or would like to reserve a ticket 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


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

Village Hall Talks | Contact Us

Site Maintained ByWorldWideWebs