Village Voices – Memories of Sonning and Sonning Eye

Eds. Judy Baldwin, Mary Chapman, Lesley Green and Annabella Marks (The Sonning and Sonning Eye Society, 2012) 250 mm x 190 mm, perfect bound, 162pp.

This book is a compilation of photographs and the oral memories of village folk (in this article the village of Sonning and hamlet of Sonning Eye are taken as one village). The text is principally verbatim extracts from the recordings made from interviews with around 80 individuals, and which is supported by some 140 photographs. The photographs depict the homes, businesses, schools, community life, events and individuals of the village, and provide a reference frame for the recorded memories. Inevitably the book is centred mainly on the early and middle years of the 20th century – the youthful period of many of its contributors – but does include memories of more recent events such as the 1976 drought, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and the Millennium.

The book is divided into 10 chapters, starting with the physical aspects of the village - its homes and businesses that gave it its structure. It then continues with the everyday life of the village described through its schools, community, events, its agricultural lifeand the village fire brigade. There is also a chapter describing the impact of the Second World War on Sonning. The last two chapters follow two of the best known features of the village - the Mill and the River Thames.

One interesting feature of the village is that one part (Sonning) is in Berkshire and the other part (Sonning Eye) is in Oxfordshire. This division led to anomalies; typically one such is that village children could be schooled either in Berkshire or Oxfordshire depending on which side of the river they resided.

The book is well presented and each chapter begins with a brief introduction to the topic and sets the context before leading into the oral memories. One particular touch that I liked was the gallery of contributor photographs at the end of the book, which gave a more intimate feel to the book compared to a simple list of names.

Overall this is a very readable and enjoyable book, and will be of considerable interest to present and future local historians. Even though it only focuses on one particular village, I found the book fascinating in that gives an evocative and authentic voice to village life of the period in general, and as such can be recommended to all historians.

Tony Roberts

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