Wargrave Local History Society

Armine Edomonds: Sonning Village Walk.

July 1998

Record of  a guided historic walk of Sonning.

Armine began in one of the quiet spots of the village, overlooking the site of the Bishop's Palace, by telling us of Sonning's early history. A new diocese had been created by the Church for Wessex in 909, for Ramsbury and Sonning. Bishops of Sonning continued into the late 11th Century. These Saxon Bishop's had no permanent base - although there was a hall on the area to the south west of the Church - but owned much land, including the Manor of Sonning, which included Sonning Common at that time. It was during this period that the Parish Church was built, to serve a rich and large parish. In 1075, the diocese was incorporated into the bishopric of Salisbury. The Bishop of Salisbury built an imposing residence near the earlier hall, and this was later enlarged. Excavations earlier this century had revealed a water-gate, a land gate, a courtyard and a chapel, the finds being deposited in Reading Museum .

In 1574, the Bishop and the Crown agreed to exchange holdings of land - the former gaining areas of Salisbury when Sonning passed to Queen Elizabeth. Although she probably visited the village, she did not live there, and the palace fell into disrepair. It was eventually sold by Charles I, in 1628, to Sir Thomas Rich, a wealthy merchant. He built a mansion to replace the palace, and the family remained in Sonning for about 150 years. Of the other 70 or so houses in Sonning at that time, only 2 were privately owned, the rest belonging to the Rich family or Mr Palmer of Hurst. When the Rich family had no male heir, Mr Palmer bought the Sonning Manor estate, pulled down the old house, and had a new one built on the site just before 1800. The Palmers were great benefactors to Sonning, and its daughter churches at Woodley, Earley and Dunsden. In later time, the house was changed from its original Georgian to a Victorian Gothic style, and the entrance gates added in 1881. The estate was eventually sold in 1912, and so the formerly 'closed' village became an 'open' one. Holme Park became a preparatory school, and following use by the Royal Veterinary College in WW 2, became Reading Blue Coat School in 1947.

Amongst the many interesting older houses in Sonning village is a former ale house - the Rich's Arms. This is now called 'Turpin's', for it had been owned by Dick Turpin's aunt, and he is said to haveused it as a hideaway. Many of the other cottages date from the 17th and 18th centuries, with a few from the 16th. The Deanery Garden - built on the site of the deanery for the Dean of Salisbury - was designed by Lutyens, and the garden by Gertrude Jekyll. The Bull public house had been a hostel for pilgrims to the pre-reformation chapel to St Siric.

Sonning Church is dedicated to St Andrew, and includes a relatively long chancel - in order to accomodate the many clergy accompanying the Bishop of Salisbury. Canon Hugh Pearson, vicar for 40 years, had the Victorian restoration undertaken, but the Church includes many earlier features, such as a mediaeval arch, 15th century memorial brasses, and what looks to be Saxon carving on the tower. The Chancel ceiling was decorated in 1903, as a memorial to the former vicar.

Further information about Sonning