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Thursday, 22 February 2018
A BOOK charting the history of Sonning Common is to be reprinted almost 40 years after the first edition and more than 15 years after the death of the author.
The Village That Never Was by Fred Richens was published in five parts in 1977 and proved so popular that locals eagerly awaited each edition as it went on sale at the post office. Each part cost half a crown.
It not only covered land ownership and parish boundaries back to the 18th century but provided a social history of the early part of the 20th century.
Mr Richens, who was brought up in Swindon, came to live in Sonning Common in 1939, moving into one of the five original cottages in Woodlands Road with his wife Helen and two daughters. He became interested in writing while working for Great Western Railway for whom he edited the company’s in-house magazine and he also wrote two children’s books.
He retired early to concentrate on his writing and lecturing, most of which drew on his railway experience.
While researching the book, Mr Richens interviewed scores of elderly residents of Sonning Common with memories stretching back decades.
His daughter Ann Thiam, from Gallowstree Common, says: “My father was so interested in the village.
“When he worked on the railways he always wanted to write so I persuaded him to write the book.”
In 1997, when Mr Richens was 90, he published an updated edition with the help of archaeologist Dr Tim Southern, of Woodlands Road. At the time, he said: “It gave me more pleasure than anything else I have ever written.”
He died in 2000.
Now Mrs Thiam and her sister Jenny Campbell, from Checkendon, have printed another 100 copies of the 1997 version.
She says: “Tim thought it would be nice to republish it in 1997 and I thought it would be nice to do so again as people still do ask me about it.”
So what was behind her father’s idea for the title of the book?
Mrs Thiam says: “He came up with it because the village, as it was then, was very disjointed with houses spread out and less united.”
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