Sonning is a small attractive village on the River Thames, three miles east of Reading and just over an hour’s drive from London. It is often featured in the media, due to the number of celebrities who have set up home in the village. There are several expensive riverfront mansions. Jerome K. Jerome, in his book, Three Men in a Boat, described Sonning as, “the most fairy-like little nook on the whole river.” It is located on the border with Oxfordshire and the narrow Sonning Bridge crosses the River Thames here to Sonning Eye in Oxfordshire. Unfortunately, the bridge is only a single carriageway controlled by traffic lights which often causes traffic congestion in the village. Next to the bridge, is The Great House at Sonning, an historical public house and now a hotel and restaurant.
Only a short walk along the bank upstream from Sonning Bridge, is Sonning Lock. The path continues to Reading, but most walkers stop at the Lock to enjoy the food and drink provided by the popular Sonning Lock Tea Rooms. A weir existed at Sonning back in the 1500s and in 1773, a “pound lock” was built by the Thames Navigation Commission. This early lock was constructed of wood and it was not until 2005 that steel gates replaced the wooden ones. James Sadler was the lock-keeper from 1845 until 1878. As well as his navigation duties, he was also a poet and beekeeper.
For a small village, Sonning has several attractions, in addition to its location on the River Thames. On Sonning Eye, an island on the River Thames, is The Mill at Sonning, a dinner and theatre venue. It is a converted 18th century flour mill and offers a 215 seat air-conditioned theatre and a restaurant providing meals before the theatre performance, with a bar where the original waterwheel can be seen. The Mill at Sonning has earned international praise. Next to the bridge at Sonning, is The French Horn Hotel on the banks of the River Thames. It was originally a coaching inn and has provided hospitality for two hundred years. It has a loyal customer following from London and local towns. The garden terrace overlooking the River Thames, is very popular in the summer. The Bull Inn, next to St. Andrew’s Church, dates from the 16th century and was originally called Church House. It is unusual, as it is still owned by the Church. The Inn provided accommodation for pilgrims visiting the medieval chapel of St. Andrews. The village itself is often seen in the television detective series, Midsomer Murders. The Old Forge appears as the headquarters of the newspaper, The Midsomer Mercury.
St. Andrew’s Church is situated close to the brick-built Sonning Bridge, leading over the River Thames into Oxfordshire. The Church is a Grade II listed building. The north and south aisles date from the 13th and 14th centuries respectively. Major Victorian restoration work was carried out in 1852, 1853 and 1876.
Over the centuries and still today, Sonning has attracted famous people and celebrities as residents. Dick Turpin, the highwayman and Sir Terence Rattigan lived here. Uri Geller, the illusionist, Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin’s guitarist and Glenn Hoddle, former England football manager, have homes in Sonning. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, has a home here. She has been the local Member of Parliament for Maidenhead, which includes Sonning in her constituency, since 1997. The arrival of George Clooney, the Hollywood actor and his wife, Amal Clooney, has attracted much media attention. They purchased the £10 million manor house, Aberlash, on Sonning Eye. This is a Grade II listed 17th century building on an island in the River Thames. It is reported that they visit The Bull Inn, The French Horn restaurant and The Mill at Sonning.