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 Harry Bucknall Talk

The Harry Bucknall Talk

One of the hottest days of the year was the ideal back-drop for Harry Bucknall to describe – in a supremely witty and informative talk - the pilgrimage he undertook two years ago between St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, and St Peter’s Basilica, in Rome. It was a journey covering over 1,400 miles on foot over a route taking him through vineyards and villages, as well as over the Alps and across mighty rivers, like the Po, and which led him to meeting some extraordinary and colourful people along the way.

Harry told us he isn’t particularly religious but has “spiritual wanderings”. Far more people undertake the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, in northern Spain, yet he wanted the challenge of the route to Rome – which is not only longer, but much harder. He walked for 94 days, often in 30C heat and writing copious notes in small A5 note-books, posting them home at regular intervals.

He walked through four countries and over three mountain chains, encountering snow, wind, rain, fog and torrid heat and using 47 maps and two pairs of boots. Harry is a major devotee of walking, particularly in his native Dorset, and suggested that it is not life in the slow lane, but “in the right lane” His pilgrimage was a remarkable journey, and he subsequently turned his experiences into a sparkling book, called Like a Tramp Like a Pilgrim, which was published just a couple of days before Harry came to Wootton on July 18th.

Harry – a former officer in the Coldstream Guards for 12 years – largely followed the Via Francigena, the ancient path dating back nearly 2,000 years and which, in medieval times, pilgrims took en route to visit the Holy See and the tombs of the apostles, Peter and Paul. In those times, the church controlled every aspect of people's lives and completion of the walk meant, in part, they were absolved from all their sins. Harry told us, with a twinkle on his eye, that he believed all his sins were now absolved.

The route took Harry him through France, Switzerland and Italy and provided him with vivid tales of saints and kings, as well as war and revolution. The Via Francigena is usually considered to have its starting-point in Canterbury and – in a fascinating aside – Harry filled in details of the life and death of Thomas Beckett, who became archbishop and was subsequently slain in 1170 on the orders of Henry II after a disagreement over the rights and privileges of the church (soon after his death, he was canonised by Pope Alexander III).

Once in France, Harry visited Agincourt, the cathedral city of Reims and lingered happily in the champagne region, working his down through the country and crossing the Alps through the St Bernard Pass, before dropping down into Italy and passing through the cities of Lucca, Siena, San Quirico d’Orcia, Bolsena and Viterbo en route to Rome and the Vaticam. He confessed to us there were a couple of particularly difficult stretches – one between Reims and Bernisson, which he said was very flat and boring, and another crossing the Apennines, when the gradients were appalling

Despite being used to roughing it in the Army, Harry stayed on occasions in some dubious accommodation, describing one particularly fraught night when fleas in his blankets attacked him voraciously. Always with Harry was his pilgrim’s key - made by an engineer-friend in his home village in Dorset and which dangled merrily from his back-pack. In one hilarious interlude, Harry told us of the time he’d misplaced the key and gave us a wonderful impression of an Irish woman he met who prayed to St Anthony – the patron saint of list things – for it to turn up….and it appeared very soon afterwards.

Harry also carried his pilgrim’s passport, which helped him find accommodation on occasions in monasteries. Until relatively recently, interest in the Via Francigena was limited to scholars, but – more recently – many others have discovered it and even marked its trails and paths with paint. Some bar-owners even took advantage and claimed the route took pilgrims virtually through their premises.

Fellow pilgrims included a paraplegic woman in a wheelchair, as well as a bearded wanderer, called Andreas, and Harry’s driver from his Army days, who kept him company for a while. There was also a group of young Polish priests, who were making their own pilgrimage – but he told us that what struck him most forcefully was the endless kindness of strangers along the way.

After leaving the Army, Harry had worked in the oil and mining industries and later produced theatre on the London Fringe and sat on the Olivier Awards panel. His first book, called In The Dolphins Wake, chronicled a 6,000-mile journey through the Greek islands in the Ionian and Aegean Seas, visiting 36 islands – and it won high praise from the acclaimed travel writer, Jan Morris, as well as Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, considered Britain’s greatest living travel writer until his death in 2011.

Despite his book on the Rome pilgrimage having been published just before Harry appeared in Wootton, it had already won huge praise, including from Alan Titchmarsh, John Julius Norwich, the historian, and even Martin Sheen, the Hollywood film star, who described it as “wonderful”. Harry sold many copies of the book and proceeds from the evening for hall maintenance were over £400.

“From his first words to last, Harry was a simply terrific speaker – deeply informative and witty in turn and the pace never faltered. Readings from his book on the pilgrimage to Rome were given with an engaging vivacity and his modesty and self-deprecation were so endearing. Harry is a total star” - Caroline Austin, Oxford --

Mark Avery

Friday September 19th 2014

Mark is one of the country’s leading conservationists and worked as the RSPB’s charismatic Director of Conservation for 13 years. He has been at the heart of all major conservation battles of recent years – from wind-farms to the persecution of birds of prey by landowners.

Mark’s new book, called A Message from Martha, traces the extinction of the North American passenger pigeon, with September 1st marking the centenary of the death of the last surviving bird, called Martha, in 1914. The extinction is truly shocking because the passenger pigeon went from being one of the most prolific species in the world to extinction through hunting and habitat destruction – all within 50 years.

The bird had lived in vast migratory flocks, with one in 1866 in southern Ontario once estimated to be one mile wide and 300 miles long, taking 14 hours to pass, and holding in excess of 3.5 billion birds. And this figure would probably represent only a fraction of the entire population at the time.

Estimates suggest there were up to five billion passenger pigeons in North America when Europeans first arrived. A large reduction in numbers occurred through deforestation and also when pigeon meat was commercialized as a cheap food for both slaves and the poor of the 19th Century – resulting in hunting on an almost mechanized scale.

A slow decline between 1800 and 1870 was followed by a catastrophic decline between 1870 and 1890 – and Martha was the world's last passenger pigeon when she died on September 1, 1914, at Cincinnati Zoo.

Mark’s last book, called Fighting for Birds - 25 Years in Nature Conservation, won widespread acclaim and it is seen as the Bible for saving wildlife, with Bill Oddie claiming it was required reading by anybody interested in conservation. British Wildlife magazine said the book showed how every conservation battle had been a fight every inch of the way, whilst Countryfile magazine described Mark as a “troublemaker – but in a nice way”.

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

David Hone

Friday October 24th 2014 (Sixth Birthday Evening)

Suitable for children over the age of 12

David has an international reputation as a palaeontologist specialising in dinosaurs and pterosaurs. He broadcasts widely and teaches a range of courses at Queen Mary’s College, London, focusing on evolution, ecology, vertebrate diversity and global change biology.

He has also written a number of scientific papers, naming a number of new dinosaurs. These include Zhuchengtyrannus magnus– a Tyrannosaurus-sized carnivore from China; Limusaurus inextricabilis Anchiornis huxleyi - a bird-like feathered dinosaur close to the origin of birds; and Linhenykus monodactylus - a small bird-like dinosaur with just one finger on each hand.

David also has a blog on palaeontology (hosted by The Guardian) called “Lost Worlds” and he has also been writing the blog “Archosaur Musings” for over five years, where he talks about dinosaurs, pterosaurs and science in the media.

He also helped launch a new site focused on pterosaurs – “Pterosaur.Net” which has it’s own blog, as well as a series of essays on various aspects of the biology of these animals. However his biggest project is called “Ask A Biologist” which he set up in 2006, when he recruited a number of international researchers to answer the public’s questions and, so far, they have replied to nearly 7,000 biology-related queries. He is also currently writing a book on dinosaurs for the Sigma series of science titles for the Bloomsbury Press.

David has also written for the National Geographic magazine and the BBC Walking with Dinosaurs website. He has appeared on many television networks, including the Discovery Channel, commenting on dinosaur stories, He has also appeared on television in China, where he lived for three years whilst carrying out research.

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

Julie Summers

Friday November 21st 2014

Julie Summers is an internationally-renowned biographer and historian, often focusing on people in taxing situations. For her talk in Wootton, Julie will tell the story of her great-uncle, Sandy Irvine, who was a key member of the 1924 Everest Expedition, along with George Mallory – the third British expedition to the world’s highest mountain, with this year the 90th anniversary.

While attempting the ascent of Everest, Irvine and Mallory disappeared somewhere high on the mountain's northeast ridge in one of the great mountaineering mysteries. The pair were last sighted only a few hundred metres from the summit and Mallory's body was subsequently discovered in 1999, although the body of Irvine, who was only 22, has never been found.

Julie’s book about the expedition, called Fearless on Everest, chronicles Irvine’s part in the climb, and there have been many competing theories on whether the pair reached the summit – 30 years before Hillary and Tenzing. Julie also contributed to the IMAX feature film about the climb, called The Wildest Dream, which was also broadcast on BBC Two.

Julie is 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.

It was also recently announced that ITV is making a six-part drama based on Julie’s book, Jambusters, which chronicles the work of the WI on the Home Front during World War Two – and which is due to be broadcast in the autumn of 2015.

Julie’s other books include the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who was caught in the icy deserts of Antarctica and The Colonel of Tamarkan – about Sir Philip Toosey, who spent years in the steaming jungle around the Death Railway, where he helped build the bridge on the River Kwai.

Julie’s book, Remembering Fromelles, 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. Julie has additionally released the audio book of The Colonel of Tamarkan, read by Anton Lesser, which was a runner-up in the Best Audio Book of the Year Award in 2010.

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 about 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


December 2014

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

Richard Ovenden

Friday January 9th 2015

Richard was appointed as the 25th Bodley’s Librarian, in Oxford, last February, having worked at the library since 2003. As executive head of the Bodleian Libraries, he is the steward of more than 11 million printed items, in addition to 50,000 e-journals and a vast quantity of other material.

Richard has been at the forefront of the Bodleian’s efforts to acquire the personal archive of William Fox Talbot – considered the godfather of photography - in order to preserve one of the world’s most important collections and to encourage research in and around it at Oxford University.

The Bodleian’s appeal to raise £2.2 million to purchase the archive was launched in December 2012 and a large grant of £1.2 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund gave the appeal a vital boost. With a recent gift of £200,000 from the Art Fund, along with donations from numerous other individuals and charitable trusts, the Bodleian has managed to secure almost £1.9 million towards the purchase of the archive.

In spring 2014, sixteen images by leading contemporary photographers were donated for sale at Sotheby’s to support the campaign. They included Hiroshi Sugimoto, the New-York based Japanese photographer and architect; Miles Aldridge and John Swannell, the fashion photographers; Nadav Kander, London based photographer, artist and director, known for his portraiture and landscapes; Candida Ho?fer, internationally-renowned photographer from Germany; Massimo Vitali, Italian photographer; and Martin Parr, award-winning British documentary photographer, film-maker and photojournalist.

Richard has worked as a professional librarian since 1985 and served on the staff of Durham University Library, the House of Lords Library, the National Library of Scotland (as Deputy Head of the Rare Books Section), the University of Edinburgh, as Director of Collections, and since 2003 at the Bodleian Libraries - first as Keeper of Special Collections and then, from 2011, as Deputy Librarian.

On his appointment as Bodley’s Librarian, Richard emphasied that the Bodleian stands at the heart of the university, working in partnership with all of the academic disciplines and supporting international scholars, as well as the people of Oxford and throughout the world who access the Bodleian digitally or visit its exhibitions.

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

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Friday February 6th 2015

Lucy is a cultural historian and author of The Pike, the smash-hit biography of the debauched Italian poet, daredevil and fascist Gabriele D’Annuzio, which won universal and unequivocal praise from reviewers and was garlanded with awards.

Last year, the book won the Samuel Johnson Prize and it was also given the 2013 Costa Book Award for biography, the Duff Cooper Prize, as well as being shortlisted for the Paddy Power Political biography of the Year. The Pike recounts how, in September 1919, D’Annunzio, a successful poet and occasional politician, declared himself Commandante of the city of Fiume in modern-day Croatia.

His intention was to establish a utopia based on his fascist and artistic ideals - and it proved the dramatic pinnacle to an outrageous career. D’Annunzio became a national hero and his evolution from idealist romantic to radical right-wing revolutionary is seen as a political parable. His ideological journey, culminating in the failure of the Fiume project, reflects the political turbulence of early 20th-century Europe and the emergence of fascism.

In The Pike, Lucy addresses the cult of nationalism and the origins of political extremism – and at the centre of the book stands the charismatic D’Annunzio - a figure as deplorable as he is fascinating.


Sunday Times - Hughes-Hallett has a great talent for encapsulating an era or an attitude …The fact that almost 700 pages flew by bears testimony to how pleasurable and readable those pages were.

Francis Wheen, Daily Mail - This is a magnificent portrait of a preposterous character … D’Annunzio was deplorable, brilliant, ludicrous, tragic but above all irresistible, as hundreds of women could testify. His biographer has done him full justice.

Daily Telegraph - Hughes-Hallett chooses not to judge, taking the position that disapproval is not an interesting response. Instead she teases apart the man from his self-made myth… She is never seduced by her subject, repeatedly reminding us of his fundamental lack of empathy, something elegantly encapsulated by the cover image itself: D’Annunzio mirrored, frozen in self-admiration.

Lucy is also the author of Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions, which won both the Fawcett Prize and the Emily Toth Award. She also wrote the highly-praised Heroes: Saviours, Traitors and Supermen. Lucy has written book reviews for all the major newspapers, in particular The Sunday Times. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

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



John Lloyd & John Mitchinson Talk, Summer 2009

Local Links

The Oxford Photography Festival 2014

The Woodstock Bookshop

The Killingworth Castle

Adrian Arbib Photography

Wootton Stores - The Village Shop

Robin Laurance Photography

Ashmolean Museum

The Bodleian Library - Exhibitions and Events

U3A - Woodstock University Of The Third Age

Village Hall Talks | Contact Us

Site Maintained ByWorldWideWebs