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Visiting Sonning Berkshire a quintessential English village

(pssst George Clooney lives here)

It was another beautiful day in the country when we decided we would take a drive to Sonning, which is literally around the corner from where we are housesitting.  About 3 miles down the road from Twyford Sonning Berkshire is a gorgeous village situated on the Thames River. This town lies on the edges of the Berkshire Downs and the Chiltern Hills at a point where the waters of the rivers Thames and Kennet meet.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village

So gorgeous in fact many celebrities have made it their home.  George Clooney and Amal have a £10 million mansion right beside the Old Mill, which was converted into a dinner theatre in 1982.

Jimmy Page also has a huge home here adjoining the churchyard it is called Deanery Gardens, it is an Edwin Lutyens-designed house with a Gertrude Jekyll garden, well hidden by high walls apart from a good view from the top of the church tower and very private.

Not open to the public, sadly but the garden survives in good condition. Marian Thompson helped restore the garden to its Jekyll-Lutyens condition and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin bought the Deanery.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village
©Garden Visit

History of Sonning Berkshire

In the Middle Ages, Sonning on Thames was an important market town and a centre for cloth-making and milling. The village grew in importance during the Tudor period, when

Sonning Bishop’s Palace – Saxon & Medieval Bishops’ Residence

Little known today, Sonning was once the site of an extensive religious complex centred around a vast Bishop’s Palace. It stood in Holme Park and was excavated early in the twentieth century, when remains of the great hall, the private chapel and other rooms were discovered.

The Bishops of Salisbury continued to have a palace here right up until they sold out to Elizabeth I. She visited twice, but the place later fell into disrepair. Complaints can be found in the historic records of the local population complaining about the state of the Sonning Bridge. There is nothing to be seen of the palace today, though the 16th-century Bull Inn may have been the Bishops’ Guesthouse.

The Mill Theatre

At the Mill, you can have a two-course dinner and a great theatre experience all for around £55, and take in some beautifully produced plays and musicals.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village

There has been a mill at Sonning for many centuries. The Domesday Book of 1086 mentions three mills at ‘Sonninges and Berrochescire’. Sonning Mill supplied flour locally for nearly a thousand years until 1969. The Richards purchased the Mill in 1977 and they decided to convert it into a live theatre venue.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village

The Mill sits across the Thames from the Clooney’s home on the “island”. Aberlash House is a Grade II listed house situated on an island in the River Thames at Sonning. Initially built in the 17th century and formerly owned by the Rich family, Lords of the Manor of Sonning.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village

St Andrew’s Church

Extensively redesigned in its present neo-Gothic style by the architect, Henry Woodyer in 1852-53, the Church contains two prominent memorials, one to the Palmer family and the other in grand Baroque style to Sir Thomas Rich. The former Prime Minister Teresa May is also from Sonning and apparently attends church services every Sunday when she can at St. Andrew’s, the current Prime Minister Boris Johnson also lives around here somewhere.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village

The church is located close to the historic Bishop’s Palace, which has long since disappeared apart from some grassy mounds. Sonning was the location of an early Saxon minster. Some Saxon stonework can still be seen in the church today.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village

The Bull Inn

The historic Bull Inn which dates back to the 16th century is immediately next to the church away from the river and is owned by the church. The Bull Inn, also a hotel and a restaurant, is famously mentioned in Jerome K. Jerome’s classic book Three Men in a Boat.

It was originally known as Church House and probably served as a guest house for pilgrims visiting the old chapel of St. Sarik in St. Andrews. An archaeological dig on the site in 2000 uncovered human remains dating back to 1000 AD, during the reign of Ethelred ‘the Unready’. Historic speculation says these remains could be the result of the Famine in 1003, or perhaps the Black Death or even a Danish raid.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village

The book contains the line: “If you stop at Sonning, put up at the “Bull,” behind the church.

“It is a veritable picture of an old country inn, with green, square courtyard in front, where, on seats beneath the trees, the old men group of an evening to drink their ale and gossip over village politics; with low, quaint rooms and latticed windows, and awkward stairs and winding passages.”

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village

Coppa Club

Coppa Club is housed on the ground floor of a Grade II listed, former Elizabethan coaching inn. The Club features a long curved pewter bar, the original fireplaces and outside of the club, there is a large garden terrace overlooking the Thames. The Club is attached to the Great House Hotel an original coaching inn.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village
©Coppa Club

The French Horn

The French Horn has been providing hospitality for two hundred years. Originally, a coaching inn, it sits next to the bridge on the banks of the River Thames, which provides a stunning backdrop and wonderful views from the rooms above.

The French Horn Restaurant in Sonning Berkshire covered in Virigina Creeper

Robert Palmer Mill Workers Cottages

While we were taking some photos of a very pretty row of houses called the Robert Palmer Cottages, we met a gentleman called Ken who we got chatting to.  Ken told us older folks rented the cottages and he and three other ladies occupied the four units.  Ken was a delight to talk with and he insisted on showing us his tiny little home along with the allotments that were provided at the back of the cottages. 

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village

These cottages were renovated in the ’60s and small kitchens and bathrooms were added to the original Mill worker’s cottages.  The cottages are rent subsided (cost is £241 per month) and allow for retired folks to live in beautiful surroundings very convenient to the Town Hall next door where all kinds of activities and events take place.These cottages were renovated in the ’60s and small kitchens and bathrooms were added to the original Mill worker’s cottages.  The cottages are rent subsided (cost is £241 per month) and allow for retired folks to live in beautiful surroundings very convenient to the Town Hall next door where all kinds of activities and events take place.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village

Sonning Bridge

This grade II-listed bridge spans the River Thames above Shiplake Lock. Built from red bricks during the 18th century, there has been a bridge here since the 12th century and it was replaced in the 16th century with a wooden bridge.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village

Sonning Lock

Sonning Lock is a lock and associated weir situated on the River Thames at the village of Sonning near Reading, Berkshire, England. The first lock was built by the Thames Navigation Commission in 1773 and it has been rebuilt three times since then.

Visiting Sonning, Berkshire a quintessential English Village
©Teddychen81, CC BY-SA 3.0

Everywhere we stopped in Sonning we got to chat with folks who were curious as to who we were and what we happened to be doing in the area.  We met some incredibly friendly and knowledgeable people from a geologist in St. Andrew’s Churchyard to Ken at the cottages and so many more.  It was an incredible feeling to walk around a really lovely village and to be met with such friendliness and hospitality it’s no wonder the rich and famous want to live here.

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Author

  • Faith was born in Ireland raised in Canada and has lived in over 10 countries in Europe including England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Northern Ireland, Wales, along with Mexico, Antigua, the US and has slow travelled to over 40 countries around the world. Graduating with a degree in Anthropology and Women's Studies Faith is a student of history, culture, community and food and has written about these topics for over 40 years.

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