The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, the former capital city of England. Hampshire is notable for housing the birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force.
The ceremonial county is bordered by Dorset 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.
The region known today as Hampshire is thought to have been occupied since the last Ice Age, some 12,000 years ago. Britain, which was still attached to Europe at the time and was nothing more than a gigantic forest.
This proved an impelling attraction to the first inhabitants who came overland from Europe. They were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who were anatomically and behaviourally human beings. Over many ensuing centuries the climate gradually warmed up and of course sea levels rose.
The English Channel, which began as an average river was, by 6,500 BC a smaller, shallower version of it’s current self that created the island of Britain.
By the Bronze age, around 2,200 BC, was becoming more widespread and systematic.
Stonehenge in nearby Wiltshire was built in several phases at around this time.
Julius Caesar invaded southeastern England briefly in 55-4 BC but he never reached Hampshire. The Romans invaded Britain again in 43 BC and this time Hampshire was swiftly incorporated into the Roman province of Britannia and it is generally believed their political leaders allowed themselves to be incorporated peacefully.
Fast forward two hundred years and southern Britain had transformed into being English and Hampshire emerged as the centre of what was to become the most powerful kingdom in Britain, the Kingdom of Wessex. By the seventh century, the population of Hampshire were predominantly English-speaking while Wessex gradually expanded westwards into Dorset and Somerset.
By the time of the Norman conquest, Winchester had been overtaken by London as the largest city in England. But although King William I made it his capital, Winchester remained a city of major influence and importance.
The county of Hampshire was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 (above) 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.
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.
Both Southampton and Portsmouth remained important harbours when rivals, such as Poole and Bristol declined. They are amongst the few coastal locations that combine shelter with deep water. Indeed, the ill-fated RMS Titanic was largely staffed by natives of Southampton.
Hampshire also played a crucial role in the Second World War due to the large Royal Navy harbour at Portsmouth. It also contains the army camp at Aldershot and the military Netley Hospital on Southampton Water. It is also within easy access of 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 while Farnborough is a major centre for the Aviation industry.
The Isle of Wight became a full ceremonial county in 1974.
More on the Isle of Wight as a separate entity can be found here.