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United Kingdom
Winchester Cathedral -west front-21July2008.jpg
Winchester Cathedral
Flag of Hampshire
[Interactive map]
Area: 1,622 square miles
Population: 2,099,640
County town: Winchester
Biggest town: Southampton
County flower: Dog-rose [1]

The County of Southampton (shortened to Hampshire) is a shire on the south coast of Great Britain, bordered by Berkshire to the north, Surrey and Sussex to the east, and Wiltshire and Dorset to the west. The main body of the county is separated from the Isle of Wight by the Solent and Spithead. The county town is Winchester, capital of Wessex and of England until about 1100.

Its place on the English Channel and the presence of several excellent natural harbours has given Hampshire a pre-eminent place in British sea-going endeavours from early times to the present.

Hampshire has first place in the defence of the realm; Portsmouth is the home of the Royal Navy, Aldershot is the Army's biggest fixed camp and Farnborough has long been at the heart of the industries developing military aircraft.

The origin of Hampshire's name is the City of Southampton, known in Anglo-Saxon days as Hamwic or Hamtun, hence Hamtunscir. Hampshire has historically been referred to as Southamptonshire[1]

Hampshire is a diverse county. The busy ports of Southampton and towns around the Solent process more overseas trade than any other place in Britain and have created a major urban area. Outside the cities though, rural Hampshire takes over, a land of farms and small villages.

The county is a popular holiday destination, with tourist attractions and seaside resorts such as Bournemouth, and national parks in both the New Forest in south-western Hampshire and the South Downs, which intrude in the east.

Hampshire has a long maritime history. Portsmouth, home of the Navy, and Southampton are two of England's largest ports, while the yachting fraternity gathers in towns all along the coast such as Fareham, near Portsmouth, and Cowes on the Isle of Wight, the latter hosting "Cowes Week" each year.

Hampshire's county flower is the dog rose.[2]


Hampshire's south coast is characterised by clay soils and gravel but protected from the erosion typical along the exposed parts of the south coast by the Isle of Wight and, in the west, by Isle of Purbeck, part of Dorset, the sea has eaten into the land in the east to created the large convoluted lands of Portsmouth Harbour and its neighbours. These low, flat lands support heathland and woodland habitats, a large area of which form part of the New Forest. The Isle of Wight is though to have been separated from the mainland where softer rock has eroded away to form the Solent.

In the north and centre of the county the substrate is the Southern England Chalk Formation seen in Salisbury Plain and the South Downs and in Hampshire by hills with steep slopes where they border the clays to the south. A large area of the downs is now protected from further agricultural damage by the East Hampshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Itchen and Test are trout rivers that flow from the chalk through wooded valleys into Southampton Water. Nestled in a valley on the downs is Selborne, and the countryside surrounding the village was the location of Gilbert White's pioneering observations on natural history recorded in "The Natural History of Selborne".

Southampton Water is a gash deep into the land, producing deep natural harbour almost ten miles long.

The highest point in the county is Walbury Hill, which reaches 974 feet, while its highest village is Bentworth, near Alton.

The New Forest

New Forest ponies in Bratley Wood
Main article: New Forest

The New Forest takes up the greater part of south-western Hampshire between Southampton Water and Christchurch and Bournemouth. It is some 220 square miles of heath, mixed woodland and grass with a great variety of wildlife.

The forest has been a protected environment since the days of William the Conqueror when it was declared a royal forest, but after the removal of the brutal mediaeval forest laws, the New Forest remained common land managed by the Court of Verderers. The New Forest became a National Park in 2005, to protect the landscape and wildlife, though it has added nothing practical to the protection the Forest already enjoyed.

Large areas of the New Forest are open common lands kept as grassland by grazing animals, including domesticated ponies, cattle and pigs. Several wild deer species roam here too.

The Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight Map
Main article: Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight covers an area of 148 square miles. Slightly more than half of the island, mainly in the west, is designated as the Isle of Wight 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'. The island is mainly farmland, with a number of small towns. Its coastline is 57 miles of coastline. The landscape of the island is remarkably diverse, leading to its oft-quoted description of "England in Miniature".

The island's highest point is St Boniface Down, at 791 feet.

West Wight is predominantly rural, with dramatic coastlines dominated by the famous chalk downland ridge, running across the whole island and ending in The Needles stacks — perhaps the most photographed aspect of the Isle of Wight.

The famous view at The Needles and Alum Bay

The River Medina flows north into the Solent, whilst the other main river, the River Yar flows roughly north-east, emerging at Bembridge Harbour at the eastern end of the island. There is another entirely separate river at the western end also called the River Yar flowing the short distance from Freshwater Bay to a relatively large estuary at Yarmouth. To distinguish them, they may be referred to as the Eastern and Western Yar.

Wight is known as one of the most important areas in Europe for dinosaur fossils. The eroding cliffs often reveal previously hidden remains.

Cities, towns, and villages

New apartment blocks in the rapidly changing Basingstoke

Hampshire's county town is Winchester, a historic city that was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Wessex and of England until the Norman conquest. The greatest towns though are the port cities of Southampton and Portsmouth, which with Fareham, Gosport and Havant have effectively grown together into a conurbation that stretches along the coast.

The three cities of Hampshire each now hosts a university: the University of Southampton and Southampton Solent University (formerly Southampton Institute); the University of Portsmouth; and the University of Winchester (formerly known as University College Winchester; King Alfred's College).

Hampshire lies outside the green belt area of restricted development around London, but has good railway and motorway links to the capital, and in common with the rest of the south-east has seen the growth of dormitory towns since the 1960s. Basingstoke, in the north of the county, has grown from a country town into a business and finance centre.


Other larger towns


The chalk downland of the South Downs and southern edges of Salisbury Plain were settled in the Neolithic, and these settlers built hill forts such as Winklebury and may have farmed the valleys of Hampshire. Hampshire was part of an area named Gwent or Y Went by the Celts, which also covered areas of Somerset and Wiltshire. In the Roman invasion of Britain, Hampshire was one of the first areas to fall to the invading forces. The southern portion of the county known as the Meon and in particular the valley of the River Hamble was occupied by Jutish tribes from perhaps as early as 495. Later West Saxon migrants absorbed the Jutish tribes within Wessex after 530.

Some scholars believe there is evidence to show the boundaries of Hampshire may date back to the years of the original West Saxon settlement in c. 519. It is likely that both Winchester and Silchester would have fallen to the West Saxons between the years 508 and 514. A later thrust up the Hampshire Avon towards Old Sarum in 519 appears to have been checked by the Britons at Charford. The historian Albany Major in Early Wars of Wessex makes the case that the borders of Hampshire today probably match those of the first West Saxon kingdom established by Cerdic and his son. Evidence of this comes from the border between Hampshire and Berkshire which follows generally the line of the Roman road that ran east and west through Silchester, but it is deflected in the north in a rough semicircle in such a way as to include the whole of the district around the town. He argues that the capture of Silchester, of which no record has been passed down to us, was not the work of Mercian Angles but of the West Saxons probably striking north from Winchester and possibly acting in concert with a separate force making its way up the Thames Valley towards Reading. Silchester was left desolate after its fall and it is most improbable that any regard would have been paid to its side of the border had the fixing of the county boundary been made at a later period.[3]

Study of the borders between Hampshire and Wiltshire also seem to suggest the West Saxons' westward advance was checked by about 519. This would corroborate the date given in the Annales Cambriae for the crucial British victory at the Battle of Mons Badonicus in 517 which is believed to have stopped further Anglo-Saxon encroachments in south-west and midland Britain for at least a generation.

Hampshire was one of the first Saxon shires, recorded in 755 as Hamtunscir, but for two centuries represented the western end of Saxon England, as advances into Dorset and Somerset were fought off by the Britons. The name is derived from the port of Southampton which was known previously as simply "Hampton". After the Saxons advanced further west Hampshire became the centre of the Kingdom of Wessex, and many Saxon kings are buried at Winchester. A statue in Winchester celebrates the powerful King Alfred, who stabilised the region in the 9th century.

After the Norman Conquest the county was favoured by Norman kings, who established the New Forest as a hunting forest. The county was recorded in the Domesday Book divided into 44 hundreds. From the 12th century the ports grew in importance, fuelled by trade with the continent, wool and cloth manufacture in the county, and the fishing industry, and a shipbuilding industry was established.

Over several centuries a series of castles and forts were constructed along the coast of the Solent to defend the harbours at Southampton and Portsmouth. These include the Roman Portchester Castle which overlooks Portsmouth Harbour, and a series of forts built by Henry VIII including Hurst Castle, situated on a sand spit at the mouth of the Solent, Calshot Castle on another spit at the mouth of Southampton Water, and Netley Castle. Southampton and Portsmouth remained important harbours when rivals, such as Poole and Bristol declined, as they are amongst the few locations that combine shelter with deep water. Southampton has been host to many famous ships, including the Mayflower and the Titanic, the latter being staffed largely by natives of Southampton.

Hampshire played a large role in the Second World War due to its large Royal Navy harbour at Portsmouth, the army camp at Aldershot and the military Netley Hospital on Southampton Water, as well as its proximity to the army training ranges on Salisbury Plain and the Isle of Purbeck. Supermarine, the designers of the Spitfire and other military aircraft, were based in Southampton, which led to severe bombing of the city. Aldershot remains one of the British Army's main permanent camps. Farnborough is a major centre for the Aviation industry.

See also

Flag of Hampshire

Outside links


  • Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition. "Hampshire"
  • Draper, Jo. 1990. Hampshire. Wimborne: Dovecote Press. ISBN 0-946159-82-3
  • Pigot & Co's Atlas of the Counties of England, 1840. London: J Pigot & Co.
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