The Wytham Estate: Histories and Communities


The Wytham Estate was acquired by the University in 1942, mainly as a gift, and is a site of exceptional scientific interest and biodiversity. It encompasses precious ancient woodland and other key habitats, and is home to 500 species of plant and 800 species of moths and butterflies.

It has inspired and nurtured ecological projects over many decades. But the importance of Wytham goes beyond the natural ‘communities’ to which it is home: it has a rich social, economic, and architectural history, too.

For all its close associations to Oxford, Wytham was part of Berkshire until as late as 1974. There was a settlement of ordinary people by the time of the Domesday Book with a church built originally by the early twelfth century. The wealthy and important abbey of Abingdon owned most of the lands here and there were connections with the neighbouring nunnery of Godstow. The stone manor house was built in the sixteenth century and became the residence of lords of the manor, the Lords Norreys and the earls of Abingdon, who in the 19th century redesigned the house, calling it Wytham Abbey, and landscaped the surrounding parkland. After World War One the earls sold the estate to the ffennell family who used it, with the riches they had amassed from gold mining in South Africa, to fulfil a range of philanthropic activities, most notably the ideal of giving children from communities in Oxford and from London’s East End the chance to experience the countryside and the outdoors. That tradition continues at the Hill End site on the estate, beloved of many Oxford schoolchildren.  

Wytham Estate is one of the University’s greatest treasures. This interdisciplinary day school, presented as part of a wider University community history project, will enhance your knowledge and understanding of the history, buildings, and natural environment of this extraordinary place, and perhaps whet your appetite for research into the many facets of its past that remain to be explored. 

Please note: this event will close to enrolments at 23:59 BST on 15 November 2023.

Programme details

Registration at Rewley House reception

Wytham Woods past and present
Nigel Fisher and Keith Kirby

History of the Wytham estate
Bob Evans

Tea/coffee break

The pre-history of the Wytham area
Chris Gosden 

Medieval Wytham
Elizabeth Gemmill 

Montagu's Monuments: new light on Wytham Abbey and Church
Edward Impey and Nick Wright

Lunch break 

The ffennell family at Wytham and Hill End
Mervyn Hughes

Charles Elton and the pioneering biologists who worked at Wytham, 1940-70
Caroline Pond

War, words and wonder in Wytham Woods 
Georgina Montgomery 

Tea/coffee break

A place of possibilities: Hill End present and future
Lucy Crittenden

Wytham Woods as a resource for research and teaching of ecology
Thomas Hesselberg

Community history at Oxford
Priya Atwal 

End of day



Description Costs
Course Fee (includes tea/coffee) £99.00
Baguette lunch £6.50
Hot lunch (3 courses) £17.60


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit or are a full-time student in the UK you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Mr Nigel Fisher


Nigel Fisher is the Conservator of Wytham Woods. The Woods are one of the most researched areas of land in the world. Nigel has worked in the field of nature conservation for almost thirty years, and has been involved with conservation courses within the Department for Continuing Education for the last decade.

Dr Keith Kirby


Born in Essex, Keith Kirby read Agricultural and Forest Sciences, followed by a D.Phil at Oxford, before a career spent mainly with Natural England and its predecessors as a woodland ecologist. In 2012 he retired back to Oxford and has since become involved with the long-term research in Wytham Woods. His particular interest is the changes to its structure and composition.

Prof Bob Evans


Regius Professor of History emeritus, University of Oxford. Prof Evans is a specialist in the modern history of central and east Europe. He has a long-standing interest in local and community history, especially of Oxford and its region; in environmental history; and in the history of Wales.

Prof Chris Gosden


Chris Gosden holds a research professorship in archaeology and has worked extensively on the archaeology of Oxfordshire since 1994, as well as carrying out fieldwork in many other parts of the world. He is author of a wide-range of books including The History of Magic. He is currently writing a world history, entitled Humans: The First Seven Million Years.

Dr Elizabeth Gemmill

Speaker and Course Director

Elizabeth was appointed in October 2006 as a University Lecturer in Local History in the Department for Continuing Education, and in 2010 as Director of the Department's Weekly Class Programme. She is a Fellow of Kellogg College. She was named in 2012 as ‘Most Acclaimed Lecturer’ in the Department for Continuing Education by Oxford University Student Union.

Dr Edward Impey


Edward Impey studied history and archaeology at the University of Oxford and held a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Oriel College. He served as Curator of Historic Royal Palaces in the 1990s and then as a Director of Heritage Protection and Planning at English Heritage (as was). From 2013 to 2022 he was Master and Director General of the Royal Armouries. His research interests and publications cover aspects of history, architectural history, Oxfordshire and Berkshire history, military architecture and more recently, arms and armour. 

Nick Wright


Nick Wright studied history at the University of Reading, and worked in publishing for 20 years before undertaking a Master's degree in Historic Building Conservation at Oxford Brookes University in 2018. He now works for Donald Insall Associates as a Senior Historic Buildings Advisor, in which capacity he has made a special study of Wytham Abbey.

Mr Mervyn Hughes


Mervyn was an Advisory Teacher for Oxfordshire County Council, teaching in primary and secondary schools. He has researched the ffennell era in Wytham Wood for ten years, as well as writing on the history of the Hill End Centre and the trenches in Wytham Wood. Mervyn has also done considerable research into Romany culture and the history of their medicines before the modern era. In addition, he has undertaken projects for the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust and The Story Museum, as well as publishing history-based articles for sports publications.

Dr Caroline Pond


Dr Caroline Pond attended Charles Elton’s lectures during 1968 B.A, Zoology, Oxford University St Hilda’s College; 1971 D.Phil. Oxon. She taught evolutionary and comparative physiology & anatomy, veterinary anatomy, general biology in the UK, USA and Tanzania, ending in Professor of Comparative Anatomy, The Open University, Milton Keynes until her retirement in 2010. She is currently Associate Fellow of Green Templeton College. From 2013 - 2015 she transcribed 0.34M words of manuscripts held by the Hope Collections, OUMNH, compiled 1942-62 by Charles S. Elton, FRS, plus numerous related documents, and is working at home as a GLAM volunteer for Bodleian Library’s ORA.

Dr Georgina Montgomery


Dr Georgina Montgomery is an interdisciplinary scholar with research expertise in diversity and inclusion in science and the history of long-term field sites. She is a full professor at Lyman Briggs College, a science and society college at Michigan State University, USA.

Mrs Lucy Crittenden


Lucy is the Director of Hill End, a much-loved outdoor education centre just outside Oxford. She joined Hill End in 2018 shortly after the centre became an independent charitable trust and became director four years later. She has always been passionate about nature and education, and has worked previously at the Environment Agency, University of Oxford, and in schools teaching secondary science.

Dr Thomas Hesselberg


Thomas is a zoologist who has studied spiders, insects and worms for more than 15 years in both temperate and tropical climates. In addition to his teaching for the Department for Continuing Education, he is a lecturer in biological sciences at St. Anne's College.

Dr Priya Atwal


Dr Priya Atwal is the Community History Fellow at the University of Oxford, where she is leading the launch and development of a new programme of research and public engagement activity in local, community and public history. Her academic research specialisms lie in the history of monarchy, empire and cultural politics, and she is the author of Royals and Rebels: The Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire.


Please use the 'Book' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.


Accommodation is not included in the price, but if you wish to stay with us the night before the course, then please contact our Residential Centre.

Accommodation in Rewley House - all bedrooms are modern, comfortably furnished and each room has tea and coffee making facilities, Freeview television, and Free WiFi and private bath or shower rooms.  Please contact our Residential Centre on +44 (0) 1865 270362 or email for details of availability and discounted prices.