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Visiting Sonning Bridge, with its ten arches: linking Berkshire and Oxfordshire, England since 1775

Updated on July 25, 2013
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Sonning Bridge
Sonning Bridge | Source
Print of Sonning Bridge, Thames River, England
Print of Sonning Bridge, Thames River, England | Source
Dick Turpin
Dick Turpin | Source
Sonning Bridge
Sonning Bridge | Source
Sonning Bridge, Thames River
Sonning Bridge, Thames River | Source

An hstorical and geographical marker over the Thames River

This remarkable structure at Sonning, near Reading, in England's Berkshire, dates from 1775. Sonning Bridge is executed in brick.

One of its significant features is its series of ten arches. I have included a picture (right) of the bridge from late 18th century; it is clear, in comparison with other photos that the intervening years have brought foliage which has obscured some of the arches from general view.

The Thames River which flows under Sonning Bridge is here the boundary between the counties of Berkshire, on its southern bank, and Oxfordshire, on its northern one. Halfway along the bridge, a marker indicated this country boundary.

The town of Reading lies within walking distance of Sonning and a popular route for walkers from Reading has for many years been along the Thames-side towpath towards the village of Sonning, which lies on the Berkshire side of the river (1), to the east of Reading.

Linked in legend with highwayman Dick Turpin

Historically, or, more strictly spreaking, in legend, the crossing at Sonning is associated with a notorious figure — he was indeed a real historical personality — the sinister highwayman Dick Turpin (c.1705-1739). Especially at this area of the Thames River in the 18th century, the ability of horseriders to cross the river was limited, for many kilometres in either direction and the Sonning crossing was said to have repeatedly witnessed the nocturnal shadow of a horserider passing rapidly from one county to another, as Turpin fled from the scene of another of his dastardly deeds ...

Interestingly, Turpin was executed in 1739, and the present, brick structure known as Sonning Bridge was not built until 1750. But it is known that the exisiting structure was preceded by a wooden bridge, and the latter is the one with which the legendary associations with Turpin must be linked (assuming, of course, that factuality is even an issue with legend).

The opening verse of the poem The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes (1880-1958) captures something of supposed mystique and certainly the sinister character of robbers who terrorized England's roads in the 18th century:

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

July 25, 2013

Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom
Map location of Berkshire, United Kingdom | Source


(1) The village of Sonning lies within the boundaries of the Borough of Wokingham.

Also worth seeing

In Reading itself, various church buildings are of architectural interest; as are a number of structures associated with Reading University; these include: the War Memorial Tower and the Old Library, Wantage Hall and St Patrick's Hall, and Foxhill; ruins at Reading Abbey include the rebuilt Hospitium, which once housed the 19th century College from which Reading University later developed.

Oxford (distance: 43 kilometres) with so much to be discovered of historical and architectural interest, is easily accessible from the Reading area.


How to get there : United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Distance from Heathrow Airport to Reading is 49 kilometres. A regular bus link exists between Heathrow Airport and Reading. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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