Sonning (occasionally called Sonning-on-Thames) is a village and civil parish in the English county of Berkshire, a few miles east of Reading. The village is situated on the River Thames and was described by Jerome K. Jerome in his book Three Men in a Boat as "the most fairy-like little nook on the whole river".
Sonning village is at , at a crossing point of the River Thames, where the narrow arched Sonning Bridge on the B478 crosses the river to the hamlet of Sonning Eye on the Oxfordshire bank. Just upstream of the bridge is Sonning Lock. The old village is now joined to further housing along Pound Lane and the A4 Bath Road. It lies some three miles east of the major town of Reading. In other directions this would put it within the Reading suburban sprawl, but Sonning remains a clearly delineated small village.
The historical name of the village is Sunning, derived from the name of the Saxon Sunna. Older, more traditional villagers still pronounce the name of the village in this way and the spelling can be found on old maps and documents. In Saxon times, the village was of considerable importance as the lesser centre of the bishopric of Ramsbury, sometimes called the see of Ramsbury and Sonning. The church was a secondary cathedral and the present structure contains re-used Saxon carvings.
Sonning prospered as an important stopping post for travellers, both by road and by boat. There were a number of ancient hostelries where they could have stayed, notably the Great House on the site of the original ferryman's cottage. The Bull Inn had the added bonus of being near the church where pilgrims could worship a relic of Saint Cyriacus. The Bishops of Salisbury succeeded those of Ramsbury and Sonning and had a Bishop's Palace in the village until the 16th century. King Richard II's young bride, Queen Isabella of Valois, was kept captive there during his imprisonment and deposition.
The Great Western Railway passes about half a mile south of the village, in a two mile long cutting, Sonning Cutting. It was opened in 1840, and was the scene of one of the first railway disasters in 1841, when a goods train ran into a landslip. Nine passengers died in the accident, being thrown from the open trucks just behind the engine. Many were stone masons working on the Houses of Parliament, and the disaster led to changes in the Railways Act, which required that third-class passengers be carried in stoutly constructed carriages rather than open trucks. The Act also created Parliamentary trains for third-class passengers.
Just outside the village, above the lock, is the independent secondary school, Reading Blue Coat School, in the 19th century manor house, Holme Park. Built in the 'Home Park' of the old palace, it replaced a georgian mansion erected for the Lords of the Manor who eventually superseded the bishops. The first of these was Laurence Halstead, partner to the great Reading cloth merchant, John Kendrick.
In the early 20th century, a second country house was built in the village, the Deanery. It provides a fine example of an Edwin Lutyens house with a Gertrude Jekyll garden, originally designed as a show house for the founder of Country Life magazine.
Notable former and current village inhabitants include:
The following recipients of the Victoria Cross are buried in the churchyard of St Andrew's Church:
Sonning Hockey Club, Reading Hockey Club, Reading R.F.C., and Berkshire Shire Hall R.F.C. can all be found on Sonning Lane. Sonning Hockey Club was the first club in the county of Berkshire to be awarded Club 1st National Hockey Accreditation for junior coaching and development. Sonning Hockey Club also has squash courts and tennis courts.
Sonning Regatta restarted in 2000 and is held every two years just upstream from Sonning Lock. There is sailing and waterskiing on the Caversham Lakes across the river and the Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake has recently be created there as well.
Sonning Parish Magazine, established in 1869, serves Sonning and the neighbouring village of Charvil, and the Sonning Village Show is held every September at the village primary school.