Previous Courses

Autumn 2022

The Soul of Russian Music    

Russian 19th Century Music

with Marina Burrell

How differently is Russian music perceived by Russians? What do they mean by soul in music? This course contained a continual element of surprise. Its PowerPoint presentations with visuals and extras took us on a fascinating journey with celebrated composers who faced the challenge of linking the European music language with Russian national traditions. We find out how Tchaikovsky struggled with Fate, how Glinka and the Mighty Five managed to transform the perception of Russian music in the world. Ex-students say: “The course was outstanding. Not only was the content fresh, new and meticulously researched, it was presented in a highly imaginative and creative way.

Spring 2022

Behind the Scenes

Comfortable Life in the Country House

with Judith Hodgkinson

How did the country house function?

From candles, privies and open fires, to bell-pulls, electric light and central heating, this course will look at the way comfort was gradually achieved within country houses, and what drove change, Developments in producing food, in hygiene, and in communications will be studied, and servants whose job it was to carry out these labour intensive tasks, will, where possible, speak for themselves,

Autumn 2021

Pushing Boundaries  1900 - 1955
with Judith Hodgkinson

What is - or was - Modernism? Who was involved and when? From Frank Lloyd Wright in the USA to Van Doesburg in Holland, and Henry Moore in the U.K. to Salvador Dali in Spain, a desire for change which began in the 19th century inspired new technology, new materials and new ideas in architecture and the arts across much of the world.

Spring 2020

Arts and Crafts
with Judith Hodgkinson

The Arts and Crafts movement grew out of an increasing anxiety about social injustice (never fully addressed), and a heightened awareness of religion and its architecture generated by the Oxford Movement of the 1830s. This created a fertile intellectual landscape for William Morris when he went up to Oxford in 1854. And it is Morris, and his pursuit of so many fields of craft and design, taking his friends with him by sheer force of personality, who is the central figure of the movement – though it was not really recognised as such until the decade of his death (in 1896). Questions such as What characterises the Arts and Crafts movement? Does it encompass Art Nouveau or Art Deco? Did its influence reach overseas? How far do its echoes reach into the 20th century? Where locally can it be seen? will be illustrated and discussed during the course.

Autumn 2019

History of the English Garden
with Andrew Sankey

A brief history of the English garden from the Roman villa garden through to the modern garden today. Covering Medieval garden, Tudor garden, formal & Dutch gardens, the English Landscape garden, Victorian garden, Dig for Victory garden aand typical 1960's garden. 

King Arthur
with Jane Williams

A look through the various myths, legends and historical theories behind Britain's favourite king and his family and friends, trying to distinguish serious history from enjoyable fiction. We will look at sources from Latin and Brythonic written at the time through the classic works of literature and fiction to films, and with a brief dive into archaeology.

Spring 2019

The American Civil War 
with Dr Mike Muncaster

Autumn 2018

Water Water Everywhere a History of the Fens

with Liz Carter

Starting with an overview of early drainage attempts, this course focusses on the impact on local communities of the major drainage works carried out in the 17th Century and the role of the Bedford Corporation in keeping the Fens drained. We discovered how the local inhabitants reacted to the changing landscape and how it affected their livelihoods. There were floods, riots and epidemics to contend with as well as celebrations, new inventions and new opportunities. We met some of the well-known characters as well as the lesser-known, ordinary folk and heard their stories.
The aim of the course was to to investigate the effect of the draining the Fens on local communities between 1600 and 2000, looking at landscape, social conditions and future options.

Hogarth to Hockney, printmaking in Britain 1600-2000

with Judith Hodgkinson

Every picture tells a story: the print as mass communicator has been around for over 500 years, and those stories, and the often inter-connected lives of the artists, were explored. Original prints were studied each week.
The aim of the course was to clarify the definition of an original print; to examine examples of some of the main methods used: wood cuts, engravings, etchings and lithographs and to include local artists/ examples where possible

Summer 2018

A day course 

Scent, sex and trouble at mill(an)

Opera around 1900 

with Peter Bleasby

       Mayhem at Mill(an) The premier of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly at La Scala, Milan 1904

More mayhem at mill Slashed faces, drowned babies, not many laughs Janacek’s Jenufa 1904
Intermezzo None shall sleep. Love is in the air Richard Strauss’ Feuersnot 1901
Don’t sniff the flowers Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur 1902
Review of the day

2018 Spring Term

Arts and Crafts Gardens

by Andrew Sankey

A course of nine lectures exploring the revolutionary Arts and Crafts Movement  from William Morris and the Red House, to Vita Sackville-West and Sissinghurst Garden, showing how the movement  was extended into the garden and in doing so creating a unity of house and garden and leaving us some of Britain`s greatest gardens.

2017 Autumn Term

Animals in Literature

with Candice Kent

Our tutor  explored the literary representation of animals by examining extracts from writing through the ages, taking in authors as diverse as Geoffrey Chaucer (extracts from Canterbury Tales), William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, D.H. Lawrence,  J.M. Coetzee ( Disgrace) and David Garnett (Lady into Fox) among others. Various poems were read, analysed and discussed in detail. These works revealed a broad range of attitudes towards animals. We explored how these attitudes changed according to context, and we discovered how authors use reference to animals to achieve their various fictional ends. We formed into regular discussion groups and enjoyed stimulating discussions with a wide variety of viewpoints and opinions being expressed. A very stimulating and most enjoyable course.

And also

Opera - First the Words
with Peter Bleasby

The world and words of Metastassio, DaPonte, Piave, Boito, Wagner, Giacosa, Illica, Hotmannssthal and more.

2017 Summer Day Course

Great Houses during World War 1
with Adam Smith
The First World War brought immense change to all who lived and worked in England’s country houses through service at the battle front or the conversion of houses to hospitals. Tax laws changed and many owners were dramatically affected by Death Duties.
This one day course looked at these changes and their effects

2017 Spring Term

From Barber Surgeons to the NHS
with Mike Muncaster

Nine lectures discussing the history of the medical profession.
1) Background circa 1800.  Investigation of medical knowledge and types of practitioner during the 18th Century and barriers to medical advancement.
2) Legislation and Education. The process of professionalisation. Development of medical education.
3) Surgery. Developments over the 19th century focusing on anesthesia and antiseptic treatment.
4) Public Health. Why public health became an issue in the 19th century, the impact of cholera and response to it.
5) The 19th Century GP. A study of Dr John Hales of Holt, Norfolk and Dr Dent of Cromer to gain an understanding of the life and work of a GP in the 19th century.
6) Women in Medicine. The struggle of women to qualify as doctors and the emergence of the nursing profession.
7) War and Medicine. Studying the influence of war on medical change.
8) Unorthodox Practice. A look at 'quackery' in the 19th century and the problems it caused.
9) Towards a National Health Service. Charting the political, economic and medical steps towardss a State Health Service.


Practical Art with Jacki Tebbutt
Nine art sessions with tuition and guidance from our tutor.

Week 1 Pencils
Introduction to using pencils and /or developing skills of using pencils through a variety of exercises looking at line and tonal variation

Week 2 - Charcoal and water soluble graphite   
Introduction to using charcoal and water soluble graphite and /or developing skills of using charcoal and water soluble graphite through a variety of exercises exploring tonal variation

Week 3 – Ball point and felt tip pens
Introduction to using ball point and felt tip pens and /or developing skills of using ball point and felt tip pens through a variety of exercises creating texture and tonal variation through cross hatching and stippling

Week 4  – Pastels (Chalky and Oil)  
Introduction to using pastels and /or developing skills of using pastels through a variety of exercises with the introduction of colour

Week 5   – Watercolour pencils and Inktense pencils  
Introduction to watercolour and inktense pencils and /or developing skills of using watercolour and inktense pencils through a variety of exercises exploring colour and washes

Weeks 6 to 9 – Mixed media – Choosing your favourite media to develop - on your own chosen subject or theme

2016 Autumn Term

Thomas Clarkson and the Abolition (of slavery) Campaign by Maureen James
We followed the life and career of Thomas Clarckson from his early beginnings in Wisbech Cambridgeshire through his lifetime campaigning for the end of end slavery.

20th & 21st Century Opera by Peter Bleasby
A course of nine lectures:- 

Impressionism with Debussy and his Pelleas and Melisan
Atonalism with Berg and Wozzeck and Lulu
Romanticism  with Strauss and Der Rosenkavalier
English opera with Britten and Peter Grime
Minimalism with Adams and Nixon in China
Neo – classicism with Stravinsky and The Rakes Progress
Folk Influence – Janacek and Katya Kabanova
Music Theatre Sondheim and Sweeny Todd
Ades (The Tempest)
Turnage (Greek and Anna Nichole)
Nine lectures illustrated with excerpts of opera's to be shown on our big screen with Hi Fi sound 

2016 Spring Term
Who were the Romantics?  by Lindsay Fursland

We explored the writing, art, attitudes and ideas of the so-called 'Romantics' and their times including who “The Romantics” actually were and what they stood for, what they believed in etc. We looked at  what made writers and artists “Romantic” in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including Wordsworth, Coleridge and Mary Shelley.

We studied and discussed how attitudes to Nature and Human Nature changed in the C18th-C19th and how art and literature reflected these changes.

Out lecture topics included:-

* The revolution in public taste re Art and Literature.
* A definition of the word “Romantic”.
* Ideas of the Individual in Society.
* How writers expressed these changing attitudes in their work.
* We examined how they are still influencing us in the 21st century.
* Changes in Society and Politics

2015 Autumn Term

From Les Misérables to the Belle Epoque by David Price
A Social history of 19th century France

Includes Haussmann's Paris, the Dreyfus Affair, The Commune; education and work for women, the peasantry and linguistic diversity; the notorious Courtesans; the Moulin Rouge and the Cancan; art and entertainment.

Slav Opera by  Peter Bleasby

Ten lectures illustrated with excerpts of opera's shown on our big screen with Hi Fi sound 

No thanks. All those bass voices, boring Russian History and interfering women!
Yes, but you also join Sadko on his escapades, spot the influence of Italian opera in Glinka, see Ruslan finally united with his Ludmilla, get a glimpse of the Plovotsian dances, thrill to the love duet from Smetana’s Dalibor,  get a Bartered Bride, growl at Pravda, cheer on Tchaikovsky against the Five (or vice versa), explore the importance of Pushkin, watch a bit of back stabbing for Prince Khovanschy, visit the Invisible City and see Moscow triumph against Napoleon (all on DVD) and afterwards make a note to see the new ROH production of Boris Gudonov at a cinema near you! And hear some of Dvorjak’s sequel Dimitry

2015 Spring Term

The Plant Hunters by Andrew Sankey
Ten lectures investigating the lives and travels of men who forded rivers, climbed mountains, faced danger and even death to bring wondrous plants back to Britain from around the globe. The Tradescants, Joseph Banks, David Douglas, 'Chinese Wilson' and Frank Kingdon-Ward featured with others.  Illustrated with maps and photos. An excellent course enjoyed by all and completed with a trip to Cambridge Botanic Gardens where our lecturer Andrew took us on a guided tour showing us some of the plants grown from seeds which the plant hunters we had learned about brought back to England.

2014 Autumn Term

Stout Boots and Strong Skirts by Liz Carter
Ten lectures investigating the lives and travels of women who explored the world from Tobermory to Tibet, including   West Africa, the Nile, India, North America  and more - on foot, on horseback and by canoe.
Our first week looked at the Egeria, a Spanish Nun in AD 381, and the Pilgrimage of Etheria and the Ascent of Mount Sinai.
Our second lecture covered Celia Fiennes. and her journey, side saddle, on horseback all around England. Following on will be Amy Johnson, Mary Kingsley, Marianne North and others.

German Opera by Peter Bleasby
A series of ten lectures with videos, discussion and instruction.
Opera in German from Mozart’s Seraglio to Zimmerman’s Soldiers
It’s not just Wagner. Discover the importance of Weber, the influence of Spohr (who?) and Vampires. And don’t forget Mack the Knife

2014 Spring Term

Europe Between the Wars with Stephen Corley

Ten lectures looking at the consequences of World War One and the causes of World War Two.
Illustrated with film clips, maps and photos.

Opera - Verdi and Puccini with Peter Bleasby

Verdi and Puccini are the Italian giants of Italian Opera (put that way because Mozart also set operas in Italian.). How similar, how different were they? How did they get on with their librettists, publisher(s), politics, affairs of the heart, failures, successes and critics. How did they respond to a united Italy? Who were their Italian contemporaries? Was Wagner an influence? Why do they still dominate the repertory? Are they best heard in Italian or should they be heard in the language of the country of performance.?
Over ten leisurely weeks we explored with the help of CD, video and their own words and works all of the above.

Study Day April 2014  The Berlin Wall with David Price 

Particular characteristics, cultures and even different political systems combined to undermine the Soviet Union’s protective barrier against the West, symbolised by the Berlin Wall. This day course examined the reasons why the Eastern European communist systems ultimately collapsed in 1989.

  • The communist takeovers in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
  • Why East Germany and Poland were particularly difficult to integrate into the new Bloc.
  • The uprisings of 1953 and 1956.
  • Why, despite his more liberal approach, Khrushchëv felt it necessary to build the Berlin Wall.
  • Why the Prague Spring was not tolerated by Brezhnev.
  • The “secret police” organisations and how they dealt with dissidents like Vaclav Havel.
  • How Solidarity came to be formed in Poland; why the election of a Polish Pope crucially undermined the Polish government’s authority.
  • The Gorbachëv effect: why his election contributed to the fall of communism.
  • The events of 1989: from “totalitarianism” to multi-party democracy in each country.
  • The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

2013 Autumn Term

Songs, Satire and Social Commentary by David Price

We enjoyed an entertaining look at history through operettas and musicals – covering both the events depicted in them and the historical context in which they were written.

The course included France in the 19th century (Les Misérables, Orpheus in the Underworld); Weimar Germany (Cabaret, The Threepenny Opera); Belle Epoque Paris and Vienna (The Merry Widow); Depression-era America through Hollywood film musicals; racial tensions in America (Show Boat, West Side Story); the real story of the Trapp Family portrayed in The Sound of Music; pop musicals of the 1950s and 60s and the so-called “Sexual Revolution”; and what some of today’s blockbusters can tell us about our own time.

Illustrated with film clips and musical extracts, photos and cartoons from satirical magazines.
Typical lecture

The course so far- hand outs from each weeks lecture with clips and links from the lectures.

2013 Spring Term
The Story of the English Parish (Wed mornings)
 A series of ten lectures tracing the history of the English Parish from it's origins throgh to today's civil parish including a look at the Parish officers and important parish people, he Reformation and the parish and the Civil Parish and its buildings. For more details click here.     The story so far - notes from each week's lecture

Italian Opera (Tue afternoons)
A series of ten lectures studying the development of Italian opera from it's origins, including, how opera houses were run and Gluck’s reforms. Monteverdi's Orfeo, bel canto. operas by Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini, Verdi and Puccini.
The story so far - notes from each lecture and further reading

2012 Autumn Term
The Golden Century of Spain
A look at just over 100 years of Spanish history, examining Spain’s rise to prominence  and the role Spain played in the affairs of 16th century Europe. We studied the period during     which Spain reached the zenith of its influence and power, controlling territory including the   Americas, the Low Countries, lands in Italy and territories now in France and Germany. We examed Spain’s political influence in Europe and her military dominance. The Armada was studied in detail.   

For an introduction to the course clickhere.

Further reading here

2012 Spring Term
London Artists, Artists London with Terry Sladden
A look at the work of London artists, where they worked in London and
how their work has influenced the City and left us a wealth of cultural treasures.

2011 Christmas Study Day 7th December
Stir Up to 12th Night with Brian Jones
A humorous and informative run through of Christmas traditions, superstitions and
ceremony’s from Roman times to the present day

2011 Autumn Term
Hark Hark the Dogs do Bark with Liz Carter
From the Great Pestilence to the Poor Act 1834, we observed how government legislation
and social attitudes combined to regulate the everyday life of the labouring poor.

2011 Summer Study Day 8th June
From Ragtime to Rock and Roll with Brian Jones - study day.
A run through popular music from the early blues in the 1890's to Rock and Roll with Elvis in 1954

2011 Spring Study Day 6th April
Appreciating Film Music with Laurence Staig
A profile of two major composers of film music. A study of the functions of film music including
how it works with an analysis of a Hollywood musical.

2011 Spring Term
A History of Landscaped Estates and Gardens with Brian Jones
An examination of the developments of landscaped parks and gardens from the time of Henry V111 to the early
20th century, the gardeners who designed them and the estate owners who commissioned them.

2010 Winter Study Day 1st December
Great Films which you may, or may not know with Laurence Staig
A study of five which have some importance in cinema history including extensive clips and background
information on just why these are ‘must see’ titles.

2010 Autumn Term
Introduction to Film with Laurence Staig
Micro and Macro analysis of cinema films, analysing films from the perspective of genre and narrative.
Learning to ‘read’ a film. A study of authorship, auteur, acting style, sound, colour and camera work.

2010 Spring Term
Gilbert and Sullivan with Dr Mike Muncaster

An entertaining and often hilarious review of the comedies produced by two artists who were
temperamental opposites.
2009 Autumn Term
In and out of the Workhouse with Liz Carter
A comprehensive look at the rules and routines of life in the workhouse, the life on the inmates,people who ran them and the design and location of the workhouse buildings.

2009 Spring Term
British Art since the 16th Century with Terry Sladden
 Identifying art styles, eg Romanticism, Vorticism, Pop-Art, minimalism. Reviewed the work of Hogarth, Stubbs, Blake and Turner. The Victorian Art World.

2008 Autumn Term
Antiques and Collectables with Peter Edwards
A look at the concept of antiques and mysteries of the antique trade.
 A review of a variety of topics such as a furniture, ceramics, paintings, clocks, textiles, jewellery and more.

2008 Spring Term
Strong Minded Women with Liz Carter
A study of strong-minded women (and some men) whose thoughts and actions radically changed attitudes in the
19th and 20th century.

2007 Autumn Term
Monastic Settlements in the Fenlands with Brian Jones
A review of Early Christianity, pre-Norman progress, Norman building era,Monasticsm at it’s medieval height, decline towars the Tudor period, Henry VIII and Dissolution.

2007 Spring Term
Sensation Shock and Scandal with Terry Sladden
A study of art from the classical period through the Renaissance, the Victorian period and up to Modernism as viewed through our modern eyes
2006 Autumn Term
Space: Missions to the Planets with David Earl
Having established basic astronomical ideas, various current missions, mainly by NASA, were reviewed, including Voyagers to the outer planets, Galileo mission to Jupiter, Cassini to Saturn and others.

2006 Spring Term
History of British Architecture from 1600 to Today with Terry Sladden
A course to examine, demystify and analyse the story of British architecture with a review of the work of Norman Foster, Edward Lutyens,Gilbert Scott, William Morris, Augustus Pugin, John Nash, Inigo Jones and others..

2005 Autumn Term
American Civil War with Dr Mike Muncaster
Troop movements reminiscent of the Napoleonic Wars, up against modern industrial devastation. The first conflict to use steam power, torpedoes, submarines and armour plated warships.Battle scenes and personalities on both sides.

2005 Spring Term
Broadcasting, Entertainment and the Arts during WW2 with Stuart Antrobus
A time of emergency when Bedford’s Corn Exchange became a focal point of public moral, through broadcasting of music and comedy; the role of film;popular song, ENSA, CEMA, the American influence; high art.

2004 Autumn Term
Introduction to Astronomy with David Early
Mankinds oldest science; the classical view of eyesight heavenly bodies and religious objections to alternative thesis seen through the telescope. Sun, moon and planets; comets, meterorites, astroblemes; nebula and black holes.

2004 Spring Ter
From Sleeping Giant to Superpower with Dr Mike Muncaster
A look at the USA over the period from 1880 to 1980 when it rose from isolation to become a dominant world power. Examination of the key domestic issues, looks at the influential personalities and assessment of the impact of the USA on world events.

2003 Autumn Term
The Great War and its aftermath with David Willis
Using diaries, memoirs and archetectral film, the course looks at Causes, major battles, trench-life, weaponry, and the postwar political changes in Britain and the new European nations after 1919 –the collapse of monarchy and “Red Mirage”.

2003 Spring Term
World History; Latin America; SE Asia; the Balkans
Detailed evaluation of thee areas of notale on-going conflict, Latin America from the Iberian colonial incurtions to nationalism and revolution in the 19th century. SE Asia “one of the world’s crossroads”. Cultural differences between indigenous peoples and competing European nations anxious to gain control over trade; concluding with disastrous wars in the 20th century. The Balkan Question from 300AD through the Ottoman occupation to current political and religious issues, unresolved on conclusion of the course.

2002 Autumn Term
Life and Times in Victorian Britain with David Willis
Social aspirations and class structure are examined through the changing scenarious of housing, health, education, diet and leisure, and the gulf between rich and poor. Pubs, music hall, rail excursions and prostitution!

2002 Spring Term
Tudor Times with Robin Leleux
Beginning th the rise of “Englishness”, this turbulent period saw Civil War (Roses) a new dynasty on the throne, problems with female monarchs, the Protestant Reformation, the Elizbethan Settlement – and Spain.

2001 Autumn Term
Architecture of English Cathedrals with Robin Rowe
Development of the English diocese, changing architecture, visit to Ely Cathedral, the glorious rise of great monuments and their adaption – opr desecration- to changing religious dogmas. The masons and the clergy.

2001 Spring Term
History from Literature with Andrew Rayment
A widespread study of writing from Shakespeare to 1945, contemporary and retrospective. The war poets, “themes of disquiet” – Blake, Cobbett, Dickens, Hardy and the times of the “social idyll” exemplied by Jane Austin.

2000 Autumn Term
History of Forenisc Science with Jenny Ward
A study of changing techniques used by police authorities since 1820; and examining specific cases of “the poisoner”, the pathologist, explosives, food adulteration, finger-printing and the benefits of DNA.

2000 Spring Term
The World of Brother Cadfael with Robin Leleux
Cadfael’s country was a violent one, whether Saon England, Norman Conquest or Welsh campaigns. The Civil War (1135-54), the Monastic Orders and the Crusades form part of  mediaval scenario, whilst economic life thrived and England became a “woollen” trading nation and part,later, of the Hanseatic League.

1999 Autumn Term
The History of Medicine, BC to 20th Century.
From the “four humours” of Ancient Greece to modern medicines against killer diseases, and technical inventions, such as the stethoscope, this course reviewed superstion, alternative remedies and modern surgery.

1999 Summer term
Agricultural Life, 400AD to the Present with Ann Hagen
From back-breaking labour to modern machinery, this course reviewed changes, which slow for centuries, accelerated with new seeds and inventions from te 18th century on. Demography and animal breeding.

1999 Spring Term
Making Tracks with Robin Leleux
Prehistoric tracks to the resurgence (and congestion ) of modern roads, “ways” were studied moving merchandise, drove animals, post, through the systems of turnpike roads, inland waterways, and rail.

1998 Autumn Term
Britain Europe and the World with Roger Cornwell
Where does Britain belong in Europe (membership?), and in the world (ex-colonist?) and how has the concept of a United Europe been ‘seen by other powers i.e. SA, the Soviet Bloc, India, China.

1998 Summer Term
Cornucopia of Garden History with Jenny Burt
Reveiw of Public Parks, Botanical Gardens, the Folly Landscape, and the Great Estates for a delightful insight into the aspirations of Landowners and their gardeners. Visit to Horton, Northants.

1998 Spring Term
The Landowner in Bedfordshire, to 1914 with James Collett-White
Commencing with evidence from the Domesday Book (1086) the Country was reviewed through its distribution of Monastic Settlements, prior to the Tudor Reformation. Influences of Civil War, pestilences, riots, industrial development and a rising population have all modified the nature and ownership of Bedfordshire’s Estates.

1997 Autumn Term
Conflict and Change with Roger Cornwall
Maintained by the lecturer as the most murderous century in British history and nations, in Europe, Asia and the Americas, systems of political and society variety were scrutinised.

1997 Summer Short Course
The History of Gardens with Jenny Burt
A chronological study of the changing fashions in garden design at ‘noble’ houses, from the parklands, hunting grounds of medieval time to fastidiously designed gardens of the Elizabethans and Victorians. Included visits to Drayton and Sudborough.

1997 Spring
Beyond the Pale with Ann Hagen
Subtitled ‘ Threats to Nineteenth century Literature’ this compared texts an Behaviour, Etiquette, Horror, Sexuality, and morally diverse views expressed through Dickens, Freud, Darwin etc.