Towns in Hampshire
Blackwater and Hawley
SO21 SO22 SO23
GU13, GU51, GU52
Totton and Eling
SO14,SO15, SO17, SO18, SO19
PO1, PO2, PO3, PO4, PO5, PO6
Hampshire; abbreviated Hants, (archaically known as the County of Southampton) is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, the former capital city of England. Hampshire is the most populous ceremonial county in the United Kingdom (excluding the metropolitan counties) with almost half of the county’s population living within the South Hampshire conurbation which includes the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth. The larger South Hampshire metropolitan area has a population of 1,547,000. Hampshire is notable for housing the birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force. Dorset borders it to the west, Wiltshire to the north-west, Berkshire to the north, Surrey to the north-east, and West Sussex to the east. The southern boundary is the coastline of the English Channel and the Solent, facing the Isle of Wight.
Hampshire is the largest county in South East England and remains the third largest shire county in the United Kingdom despite losing more land than any other English county in all contemporary boundary changes. At its greatest size in 1890, Hampshire was the fifth largest county in England. It now has an overall area of 3,700 square kilometres (1,400 sq mi), and measures about 86 kilometres (53 mi) east–west and 76 kilometres (47 mi) north–south.
Hampshire’s tourist attractions include many seaside resorts and two national parks: the New Forest and the South Downs (together covering some 45% of the county). Hampshire has a long maritime history and two of Europe’s largest ports, Portsmouth and Southampton, lie on its coast. The county is famed as the home of writers Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, as well as the birthplace of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Hampshire takes its name from the settlement that is now the city of Southampton. Southampton was known in Old English as Hamtun, roughly meaning “village-town”, so its surrounding area or scīr became known as Hamtunscīr. The old name was recorded in the Domesday book as Hantescire, and it is from this spelling that the modern abbreviation “Hants” derives. From 1889 until 1959, the administrative county was named the County of Southampton and has also been known as Southamptonshire.
Prehistory until the Norman Conquest
The region is believed to have been continuously occupied since the end of the last Ice Age about 12,000 BCE. At this time Britain was still attached to the European continent and was predominantly covered with deciduous woodland. The first inhabitants came overland from Europe; these were anatomically and behaviourally modern humans, Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Over several thousand years, the climate got progressively warmer, and sea levels rose; the English Channel, which started out as a river, was a major inlet by 8000 BCE, although Britain was still connected to Europe by a land bridge across the North Sea until 6500 BCE. Notable sites from this period include Bouldnor Cliff.
Agriculture had arrived in southern Britain by 4000 BCE, and with it a neolithic culture. Some deforestation took place at that time, although it was during the Bronze Age, beginning in 2200 BCE, that this became more widespread and systematic. Hampshire has few monuments to show from these early periods, although nearby Stonehenge was built in several phases at some time between 3100 BCE and 2200 BCE.
In the very late Bronze Age, fortified hilltop settlements known as hillforts began to appear in large numbers in many parts of Britain including Hampshire. Hillfortsbecame more and more important in the early and middle Iron Age. Many of these are still visible in the landscape today and can be visited, notably Danebury Rings, the subject of a major study by archaeologist Barry Cunliffe. It is maintained that by this period the people of Britain predominantly spoke a Celtic language, and their culture shared much in common with the Celts described by classical writers.
Hillforts largely declined in importance in the second half of the second century BCE, with many being abandoned. It was probably around this period that the first recorded invasion of Britain took place, as southern Britain was largely conquered by warrior-elites from Belgic tribes of northeastern Gaul – whether these two events are linked to the decline of hillforts is unknown.
By the Roman conquest, the oppidum at Venta, modern-day Winchester, was the de facto regional administrative centre; Winchester was however of secondary importance to the Roman-style town of Calleva, modern Silchester, built further north by a dominant Belgic polity known as the Atrebates in the 50s BCE. Julius Caesar invaded southeastern England briefly in 55 and again in 54 BCE, but he never reached Hampshire. Notable sites from this period include Hengistbury Head (now technically in Dorset), which was a major port. There is a “Museum of the Iron Age” in Andover.
The Romans invaded Britain again in 43 CE, and Hampshire was incorporated into the Roman province of Britannia very quickly. It is generally believed their political leaders allowed themselves to be incorporated peacefully. Venta became the capital of the administrative polity of the Belgae, which included most of Hampshire and Wiltshire and reached as far as Bath. It is not recorded whether the people of Hampshire played any role in Boudicca’s rebellion of 60-61 CE, but there is evidence of burning in Winchester dated to around this period.
For most of the next three centuries, southern Britain enjoyed relative peace. The later part of the Roman period saw most towns build defensive walls; a pottery industry based in the New Forest was exported widely across southern Britain. There was a fortification near Southampton called Clausentum, part of the Saxon Shore forts, traditionally seen as defences against maritime raids by Germanic tribes. The Romans officially withdrew from Britain in 410 CE.
The next two hundred years
Records are unreliable for the next two hundred years, but in this time southern Britain went from being Brythonic to being English and Hampshire emerged as the centre of what was to become the most powerful kingdom in Britain, the Kingdom of Wessex. Evidence of early Anglo-Saxon settlement has been found at Clausentum and on the Thames at Dorchester, dated to the fifth century, and by the seventh century, the population of Hampshire was predominantly English-speaking. It is also around this period that the administrative region of “Hampshire” seems to appear.
The name is attested as “Hamtunscir” in 755, and Albany Major. Suggested that the traditional western and northern borders of Hampshire may even go back to the very earliest conquests of Cerdic, legendary founder of Wessex at the very beginning of the sixth century. Wessex gradually expanded westwards into Brythonic Dorset and Somerset in the seventh century. A statue in Winchester celebrates the powerful King Alfred, who repulsed the Vikings and stabilised the region in the 9th century. He was also a great scholar, who commissioned the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a powerful tool in the development of the English identity. King Alfred proclaimed himself “King of England” in 886; but it was not until 927 that Athelstan of Wessex officially controlled the whole of England.