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 John Goodall Talk

The John Goodall Talk

One of the enduring delights of the English countryside is the extraordinary range of parish churches, with their astonishing diversity of architecture and internal features. And, as John Goodall highlighted in his captivating talk on January 22nd, it is possible to walk into most parish churches and stand in front of (and often touch) cultural riches, which may have been in the same position for centuries.

There are about 10,000 parish churches in the UK, with each offering an insight into the local area through their design and incomparable variety of features, such as fonts, monuments and rood-screens. John told us that - because church treasures usually remain in the buildings they were created for - they can tell the history of the nation, its people and their changing religious observance. Indeed, he said it is a wonderful experience to savour "the click of the latch and the yielding door" before sampling some of the most unpredictable and compelling features of country life.

John, Architectural Editor of Country Life, pointed out that parish churches, with their living history, have virtually no equal in Europe. Fine art and architecture combine with the functional, the curious and the naïve - from prehistory to the present day - to form an unsung national museum, which presents its contents in an everyday setting without curators or formal displays. Sadly, though, unlike with museums, there is no funding from the State.

During his talk, John summarised the history of churches around five key turning points - the change from wood to stone for construction about the time of the Norman Conquest; late medieval enlargement to accommodate formalised liturgy; the stripping of churches as a result of the Reformation, the re-orderings in the 19th Century and the widespread changes currently taking place to make churches more practical for a wider community use.

As examples of continuity, he highlighted the Church of All Saints, at Rudstone, in Yorkshire, where Britain's largest surviving monolith, 29ft tall, stands in the churchyard. It dates from 2,500-3,000BC and the erection of the parish church there long follows the first Christian use of the site. Similarly, at Escombe, in County Durham, the 7th Century church stands in circular graveyard, which is also evidence that it also occupies the site of a prehistoric monument.

John's talk was based around his latest book, Parish Church Treasures - The Nation's Greatest Art Collection, which expands his weekly series in Country Life celebrating objects in and around churches which are of outstanding artistic, social or historical importance. He suggested benignly that, because objects are housed in "living buildings" which are still used, we may not fully appreciate them. Perhaps we think these objects may not be important. whereas, in fact, they can be of huge social and cultural interest.

For instance, the carved font in the Church of St Mary Magdalene at Eardisley, in Herefordhire, dates from about 1140 and features a remarkable series of figures in stone. Elsewhere, the Church of St Mary at Selling, in Kent, has a virtually complete 14th Century window of stained-glass above the high altar - and St Michael's Church at Stanton Harcourt, in Oxfordshire, has a remarkable stone canopy, which is an extremely rare survival of a medieval shrine and part of a 14th Century structure.

Detailed work on doors and porches alone, from Norman times to the 20th Century, he added, can be striking in their own right before visitors even venture into the main body of the church. The 12th Century porch of Malmesbury Abbey, in Wiltshire remains a striking feature after Sir William Stumpe, a wealthy 16th Century clothier and the local MP, bought the abbey following the destructive activities of Henry VIII, and donated the nave, including the porch, as a parish church. In more modern times - but no less impressive - are the magnificent bronze doors at the Church of St Mary, in Nottingham, designed in 1904 by Henry Wilson, the Arts and Crafts metalworker and architect.

John suggested that the art and architecture of a parish church has the power to forge a common cause for both churchgoers and non-churchgoers because they are not simply the possession and responsibility of their congregations - but belong to us all. He urged more people to take ownership of parish churches because - if we do not treasure them - they will continue to be under threat. That said, John suggested that churches (although still in crisis to some extent) have probably never been in such good shape in modern times - mostly as a result of the dedication and hard work of local volunteers.

In response to one question on his favourite church, he highlighted the Church of St Mary the Virgin, at Ewelme, in Oxfordshire - indeed, his book on the building was joint-winner of the Royal Historical Society Whitfield Prize. Over 130 people attended John's exhilarating talk and he sold 22 copies of his book on parish churches, beautifully illustrated by photographer, Paul Barker, at the end of an evening which proved the perfect start to our 2016 series.


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 March 11th 2016.

Guy is a writer, humorist and film director - but also combines his keen wit with a serious career as a business writer, publishing books such as Innervation: Rewire Yourself for the New Economy and Grass Roots Management, alongside humorous columns, like Weak at the Top in Management Today.

Guy wrote the How To column in The Guardian between 1999 and 2009, having previously written about office politics and social climbing. His collection of columns from The Guardian, called Never Hit a Jellyfish with a Spade and Never Push When it Says Pull, were bestsellers - and translated into eight languages. He also writes the Sidestroke cartoon in the Sunday Times with Janet Brown.

Guy's latest book, How to be Normal, was published in November 2014. His humour is gentle and incisive and steers clear of political comedy and cruelty - and his lines appear regularly in books of quotations.

Guy was educated at Magdalen College School, in Oxford, and Lady Margaret Hall. He started out in the comedy duo, Dross Bros, with the actor and writer, Patrick Marber, before going into advertising with Darcy Macius Benton Bowles, where he was responsible for the line, "Delicious Meaty Chunks in a Nutritious Gravy".

He went on to become the Creative Director of Added Value before setting up his own business, Smokehouse, in 1997. Guy has been a regular on BBC Radio 4, including two series of Weak at the Top, starring Alexander Armstrong.

Guy lives in Kingston Bagpuize and, in 2009, started directing his first film, calledTortoise in Love, which is set around the village. On Thursday May 24th 2012, villagers decamped en masse to view the premiere of Tortoise in Love as part of the opening of the newly-refurbished Leicester Square in London. The film was released in the UK in July 2012 and went on to be shown in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

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


Friday April 8th 2016.

Martin worked as a journalist on The Guardian newspaper for 37 years, including 17 years as the paper’s Northern Editor. He was born in Leeds (son of Richard Wainwright, former Liberal MP for Colne Valley) and has spent half his life in the north and half elsewhere in the UK - before his retirement in 2013 when he and his wife, Penny, moved to Thrupp, near Kidlington, in Oxfordshire.

The main part of Martin's working life was spent trying to understand the north of England and explain it to others, during the course of which he came to feel that it has been grossly misrepresented (both outside its boundaries and within). This is the subject of one of his books, True North, as well as much of his journalism. However, Martin says he came to suspect that the "south" had been almost equally misunderstood - and that he has found no reason to alter that view since moving to Oxfordshire.

Martin's talk in Wootton will be the first he has given on the north-south since leaving Yorkshire (other than a BBC Radio 4 series last year, which was commissioned before he left), And he says he is keen not to be one of those northerners who preach about the North whilst not actually living there. So, Martin will be talking about the North historically - up to 2013, but not beyond.

The paperback of one of Martin's books, called The English Village, is due out this summer and his research bolstered his views about misrepresentation, particularly of non-northern rural areas.

His other books feature countryside topics, including a biography of the unrelated Alfred Wainwright, author of iconic walking guides to the Lake District and beyond; and Martin has also written a guide to the Coast-to-Coast walk. He also published books on sixty years of the Morris Minor (“Britain’s favourite car”) and fifty years of the Mini car. He also wrote Wild City: Encounters with Urban Wildlife and publishes a blog about his other major passion – moths.

One of Martin's two sisters, Hilary, is a radical academic and has long been associated with the Red Pepper magazine. Martin’s two sons are both journalists – Oliver is The Guardian's architecture and design critic, whilst Tom is Mexico City bureau chief for The Economist. --

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


Friday May 6th 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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