Sonning from Rocque's map of Berkshire, 1761
Sonning, named after Sunna, a Saxon lord who settled there with his people, was anciently the seat of a Wessex bishopric. In the reign of Edward the Elder the bishopric was transferred to the see of Sherbourne, but the bishops maintained their palace in Sonning which stood to the west of the present 13th century flint stone parish church.
In 1086, when the Domesday Book was compiled, Sonning is described as a large manor held by the bishop's of Salisbury. It is possible that the river was crossed by a Saxon bridge, helping the town to develop as an important crossing point of the Thames where it divides Oxfordshire and Berkshire.
Royalty visited Sonning and made use of the bishop's palace. The Duke of Cornwall, better known as the 'Black Prince' stayed there in December 1352 and in September 1354. In 1399 it became a sanctuary for Isabella of Válois who fled from Wallingford Castle when her husband, Richard II, was arrested.
In 1574 the manor of Sonning passed from the Bishops of Salisbury to the Crown. The new lord of the manor, Elizabeth I, arrived there in 1601. It seems she chose not to stay in the palace and it was subsequently demolished.
A bronze plaque in Sonning church lists eleven 'Bishops of Sonning' begining with Aethelstan in 909, indicating that Sonning was an important religious centre in the reign of the Wessex King, Edward the Elder.
The church, possibly a simple wooden building at first, was enlarged in the 11th century when the Norman tower was added. In about 1260 the north and south aisles were added, and in 1350 reconstruction and enlargement of the chancel and north chapel began.
Sonning church, which originally served the villagers of Hurst until they built their own church, was the mother church for Hurst, Ruscombe, Wokingham and Aborfield until they became independent parishes.
Sonning Parish Church, 2001
Reading Blue Coat School (formerly Holme Park), 2001
References in main text:
Going to Church