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St Andrew, Sonning, Berkshire

(51°28′27″N, 0°54′46″W)
SU 756 756
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Berkshire
now Wokingham
medieval Salisbury
now Oxford
medieval St Andrew
now St Andrew
  • Ron Baxter
20 April 1997

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Sonning is an attractive village on the Thames, NE of Reading. St Andrew's is at the western edge of the village, close to the river. As it stands the church consists of a rectangular nave and chancel with N and S aisles throughout, the chancel aisles, slightly wider than those of the nave, forming chapels and a vestry. There are nave doorways covered by porches to N and S, and a W tower. The fabric is all of flint with ashlar dressings. The VCH identifies a complex building history beginning in the 13thc., but the overall visual effect is of Woodyer's extensive restoration of 1852. The interest of the church lies in the carved stones, presumably from Reading Abbey, set into the tower (which became unstable and was rebuilt at the Reformation), and in an elaborate pillar piscina, repositioned against a pier of the N arcade opposite the N doorway.


Sonning's status as site of the palace of the Bishops of Salisbury appears to have its roots in the reign of Edward the Elder (899-924). At this time, the old see of Winchester was subdivided, Berkshire and Wiltshire being transferred to a new see at Ramsbury. In some accounts, the Ramsbury see was shared with Sonning. In 1058, Ramsbury was united with Sherborne, then in 1070 or 1078 the episcopal seat was moved to Old Sarum. Sonning remained the site of the Bishop's Palace (at Holme Park, now Reading Bluecoat School) until 1574. The church was a Dean's Peculiar (i.e. it was under the control of the Dean of Salisbury), and when Dean Walter Scammel was created Bishop of Salisbury in 1284, the consecration was held in the church of Sonning rather than the cathedral.


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration



Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae


Chip-carving and chevron of the types found in the W tower fragments are by no means unusual, but both are found among the surviving sculture from Reading Abbey, notably in fragments built into the former Hospitium of St John the Baptist (now Buffer Bear's Nursery). A good deal of Reading Abbey stone found its way to Sonning, particularly to Holme Park (now Reading Bluecoat School), where two pier drums may still be seen. The most important sculpture from Holme Park, the cloister material discovered by Keyser, is now in Reading Museum. There is nothing to connect the carving of the pillar piscina with Reading, and in view of its good condition it can reasonably be assumed to have been made for Sonning.


Victoria History of the Counties of England: Berkshire. London. Vol. 1 (1906), vol. 2, (1907), vol. 3 (1923), vol. 4 (1924).

A. Mee (ed.), The King's England: Berkshire. London 1939, 169.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire. Harmondsworth 1966, 219-20.

G. Storry, The Church of Saint Andrew, Sonning, (church guide) 1991.

Tyack, Bradley and Pevsner (2010). G. Tyack, S. Bradley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England. Berkshire. New Haven and London 2010, 519-20