Heritage > Counties > England


The South coast of England has some wonderfully scenic counties and Hampshire just serves to emphasize this point.

With the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth the county has a strong nautical tradition. The 'Titanic' sailed from Southampton in 1912, for instance, and is just one of many hundreds of vessels that have embarked on their journey to the United States from that very port. Portsmouth, of course, is world famous as the home port of the Royal Navy and has been for generations.

The county's products are mainly agricultural but have recently been embellished by the growth in it's chemical, pharmaceutical and electronics industries.

Hampshire covers some 1,500 square miles with a population of 1,500,000. It contains the natural beauty of the New Forest which encompasses 144 square miles and was a Saxon royal hunting ground.

Sons and daughters of Hampshire include Two of the world's greatest authors, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

Facts on the region

Origin of name: A homm or hamm was, in Old English, a water meadow and the county has its fair share of these. The original name for Southampton was Hamtun or Homtun meaning the farm on the river land.

Name first recorded: 755 as Hamtunscir.

County Town: WINCHESTER History, heritage and high street shopping come together in near-perfect harmony.

County Rivers: Meon, Test, Itchen, Hamble, Beaulieu, Avon.

Highest point: Pilot Hill at 938 feet.

Hampshire’s local government: The County of Hampshire is a combination of two-tier and unitary authorities, with Hampshire County Council on one level and the 12 Districts of Basingstoke & Deane, Christchurch, East Hampshire, Eastleigh, Fareham, Gosport, Hart, Havant, New Forest, Rushmoor, Test Valley, Winchester on the other. By the way, Dorset NOT Hampshire County Council is the top level in Christchurch!

Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton are single unitary councils with no Hampshire County Council control. Hampshire detached in Sussex is a very long narrow strip stretching from Camelsdale down to near Midhurst and is two-tier, administered by West Sussex County and Chichester Councils.

Special note: In 1996 the Isle of Wight tried to break away from the United Kingdom and declare itself a tax haven on the lines of the Isle of Man, Jersey or Guernsey.

The local landscape

Few counties in Britain offer quite such scenic variation as Hampshire. There is the Hampshire of the chalk downs, the rolling hills punctuated by sheep and skylark. The North Downs slope towards Aldershot while the South Downs rise to their highest point near Petersfield at Butser Hill. Much of the country in between is rich fertile agricultural farmland.

Different again is the Hampshire of the water meadows, the chalk streams of rivers like the Test providing some of the finest fly fishing in Britain.

In the west of the county, the meadows give way to the New Forest, deeply wooded with oak, birch and beech and inhabited by wild ponies roam.

The Hampshire coast offers variety, too: pine trees and steep ravines, known as chines, can be found in Bournemouth, the county’s largest holiday town, but in the east the coastline is characterised by the deep-water estuaries of the Hamble and Beaulieu rivers.

At the head of Southampton Water, the Isle of Wight’s most important feature is the chalk ridge which runs in a dog’s leg from the jagged points of the Needles in the west to the dazzling white Culver Cliff in the east.

The Isle of Wight is about 22 miles long by some 13 miles wide and is an English landscape in miniature. There are prominent chalk cliffs at The Needles, a multi-coloured beach at Alum Bay, dramatic chines such as Blackgang, rolling downs in the hinterland, and a very mild climate to suit sailors, swimmers and sunbathers alike.

Local Towns and Villages

ALTONFine Georgian houses, antique shops and local history museum.

BASINGSTOKE A market and trading town long before the arrival of glass and steel office blocks, dual carriageways and the 1,000 roundabouts.

BOURNEMOUTH Parks, public gardens, retirement homes, language schools and miles of beach.

CHRISTCHURCH Reputedly has the longest parish church in England with fine views from its Saxon tower; also the ignoble site of John Major’s walloping by-election rebuff in 1993.

COWES England’s top yachting centre.

NAILSWORTH Charming Cotswold town built in a chasm.

EMSWORTH Picturesque harbour and an ancient port famed for its oyster fisheries and yacht building.

LYMINGTON Seaside resort and ferry town pleasantly situated upon a hill with fine views across the Solent.

NEWPORT Isle of Wight capital with old quays of once-thriving inland port on Medina river.

PETERSFIELD Wool-trade town full of attractive old houses with lively market.

PORTSMOUTH Naval tradition and museums abound.

RINGWOOD A large and well built town lying low in the Avon valley. Its name derives from Regnewood which signifies the wood of the regni (the ancient inhabitants called regni by the Romans).

RYDE Souvenir-shops and bunting advertise this seaside resort worth visiting by ferry across the Solent if just to take the ‘tube’ along the pier.

SOUTHAMPTON A unique tidal system once made this Britain’s premier passenger port for the grand, great Cunard liners ‘The Queens’.

VENTNOR Perched precariously on the Isle of Wight’s west coast, with Gothic Victorian holiday homes, lush botanical gardens and a History of Smuggling Museum.










Places to Visit

Beaulieu, Beaulieu, Hampshire

Highclere Castle, Newbury

Somerley, Ringwood, Hampshire

Avington Park, Winchester, Hampshire

Basing House, Basingstoke

Broadlands, Hampshire


Spring Bank Holiday Monday: The Aldershot Horse Show, one of the largest in the south.

Late June/early July: Bournemouth Musicmakers Festival with bands, choirs and orchestras from around the world.

July: Royal Isle of Wight County Show, Cowes.

August: Cowes Week yachting festival, Isle of Wight. The island is surrounded by sailboats - a sight not to be missed, especially if there is no wind!

Early September: Farnborough International Air Show for those who can’t get enough of low-flying engine roaring displays.

Beginning of September: The Beaulieu International Autojumble, the largest jumble sale in Europe of items connected with motoring and road transport, is also held at the National Motor Museum. With its monorail and nearby country pile, this is well worth a visit at anytime.

August: The Hampshire County Show takes place at the Royal Victoria Country Park.

Famous names from the region

Devotees of Jane Austen will know that Britain’s great 19th-century writer was born in the village of Steventon, near Alton, lived much of her life in Sawton and is buried in Winchester Cathedral.

The house and garden where Richard Wilson and Annette Crosbie’s elderly antics in One Foot in the Grave take place are in Bournemouth.

Many celebrities gravitate to the Isle of Wight, including Mark King, a member of the 80s stadium-filling funky pop group Level 42, who lives in Wootton.

Location filming for ITV’s popular Ruth Rendell Mysteries series, featuring George Baker as the country detective Inspector Wexford, took place mainly in Romsey. Other location spots included Winchester college, the King’s Theatre in Southsea and Southampton University.

Charles Dickens was born in 1812 in Portsmouth, where there is a museum dedicated to him.

Actor Jeremy Irons was born in Cowes.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Weber lives in a grand manor house at Sydmonton.

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