Historical description of Hampshire, England

Map of Hampshire

Hampshire, Hants, or Southamptonshire, a maritime county, bounded on the N by Berks, on the E by Surrey and, Sussex, on the S by the English Channel, on the W by Dorsetshire and Wiltshire. It includes Hayling and Portsea Islands, scarcely separated from the mainland, and the Isle of Wight, separated by the Solent. Its outline is not far from being rectangular. Its greatest length south-south-westward is 66 miles, its greatest breadth is 42 miles, its circuit is about 225 miles, and its area is 1,037,764 acres. The surface of the Isle of Wight is proverbially picturesque, and will be found sufficiently noticed in the articles on the Isle's parishes, and on all its principal localities. The surface of the mainland sections exhibits a pleasing variety of hills, valleys, undulating grounds, plains, and forest. A range of downs extends west-north-westward, from boundary to boundary, by Odiham, Basingstoke, and Kingsclere; is from 2 to 3 miles broad, and attains near its W end an altitude of about 900 feet. Another range of downs extends nearly in the same direction, about 10 miles further S, is for the most part about 4 miles broad, and has several summits about or above 900 feet high. A third range extends in a southward direction, from the vicinity of the first range between Odiham and Basingstoke, to the vicinity of the second range near Petersfield. Portsdown Hill, an isolated eminence, 7 miles long, 1 mile broad, and about 450 feet high, extends from E to W, along the N sides of Langstone and Portsmouth harbours. A high moorish tract forms most of the section northward of the N downs; a great tract of broken low tableau, variously heath, common, swell, and vale, forms most of the area westward of the southerly range of hills; a low tract, gently sloping to the shores, forms most of the area southward of the hills and of the low tableau; and the tract of New Forest, noticed in a separate article, forms a large section in the SW. The chief streams are the Enborne, the Blackwater, the Wey, the Titchfield, the Hamble, the Itchin, the Anton or Test, the Beaulieu, and the Avon. Chalk rocks occupy much the larger portion of the county, through the centre, from E to W, and rocks of newer formation than the chalks occupy nearly all the sections in the N and in the S. Fossils are very plentiful, and made large contributions to the early advances of geology. Chalk is extensively calcined for manure, and much clay is obtained for pottery.

The soils, for the most part, take their character from the chalk, but they include a large aggregate of various kinds of loams, and a considerable aggregate of peat. Agricultural practice in most parts is good, and it is one of the most fertile counties in England. Irrigated meadows, chiefly on the margins of streams, are of great extent, and generally yield from 30 to 36 cwt. of hay per acre. Honey is very extensively produced on the slopes and skirts of the downs. Alderney cattle are in great request. The sheep are chiefly Southdown, with some white-faced natives. Horses are small and hardy. Pigs are fed in the forests, and the county is well known for its bacon. Farms run mostly from 200 to 500 acres on the best lands, and from 500 to 2000 on the chalk. Estates, in general, are large.

Manufactures comprise paper, silk, sacking, linen collars, druggets, linseys, woollens, malt, and coarse pottery, but are not aggregately of great extent. There are large shipbuilding yards at Northam, and Portsmouth is a great dockyard. Many yachts are built at Cowes.

According to the census returns issued in 1893, the chief occupations of the people of the county were:—Professional, 35,835 males and 9003 females; domestic, 4123 males and 50,331 females; commercial, 27,381 males and 548 females; agricultural, 37,312 males and 750 females; fishing, 605 males and 75 females; industrial, 91,318 males and 23,096 females; and "unoccupied," including retired business men, pensioners, those living on their own means, and others not specified, 47,355 males and 183,508 females; or a total in the county of 243,929 males and 267,311 females. The number of men employed in the leading industries was as follows:—Agricultural labourers, 19,137; general labourers, 16,719 ; carpenters and joiners, 6396; seamen, 5253; and farmers, 2926. The chief occupations of women were—domestic service, with a total of 40,015; millinery and dressmaking, 11,033. There were also in the county 549 blind persons, 539 deaf, 233 deaf and dumb, and 2346 mentally deranged.

The railways belong chiefly to the London and South-Western system. A trunk line from London enters the county on the north-east at Farnborough, passing by Basingstoke and Winchester to Southampton. The South Coast line extends out of Sussex to Portsmouth. A branch of the South-Western line extends from Gosport to Salisbury, crossing the main line at Bishopstoke. The Southampton and Dorchester line throws off branches to Lymington, Christchurch, and Bournemouth. There is also a line from Redbridge to Andover, and from Basingstoke to Salisbury. One from Ash and Farnham to Winchester passes by Alton, and there is another from Southampton to Netley, and from Bishop's Waltham to Petersfield. Porchester is intersected by a line from Havant to Fareham. The direct Portsmouth railway from London runs by Guildford, Haslemere, Petersfield, and Havant. A branch from Reading to Basingstoke connects the Great Western system with the South-Western. The South-Eastern line from Guildford viâ Ash to Reading passes Farnborough and Blackwater. The Midland and South-Western Junction railway runs from Andover Junction to Swindon in Wiltshire, and thus gives communication from north to south. In the Isle of Wight there is a line from West Cowes to Newport, another from Ryde to Ventnor, a third from Newport to Ventnor, and another from Newport to Yarmouth and Freshwater.

The county is divided for parliamentary purposes into six divisions, including the Isle of Wight, and also includes the parliamentary boroughs of Christchurch, Portsmouth, Southampton, and Winchester.

In the administrative counties of Southampton and the Isle of Wight, there are nine municipal boroughs, exclusive of the county boroughs, one court of quarter sessions, and 14 petty sessional divisions. The boroughs of Andover, Basingstoke, Lymington, Newport, Portsmouth, Romsey, Ryde, Southampton, and Winchester, have separate commissions of the peace; and the boroughs of Andover, Portsmouth, Southampton, and Winchester have, in addition, separate courts of quarter sessions. Hampshire contains 307 entire civil parishes and parts of two others, and the Isle of Wight 32 entire civil parishes, the county borough of Portsmonth two entire civil parishes, and the county borough of Southampton six entire civil parishes and part of another. There are 396 entire ecclesiastical parishes or districts and parts of seven others, and is almost entirely in the diocese of Winchester.

The borough representation comprises Portsmouth and Southampton—two members each,and Christchurch and Winchester—one member each. The population of the county in. 1801 was 219,290, (1821) 282,891, (1841) 354,682, (1861) 481,815, (1881) 593,470, (1891) 690,097.

The chief seats include Osborne, Stratfieldsay, Avington, Beaulieu, Amport, Rosehill, Appuldurcombe, Somerley, Eaglehurst, Arlesford House, Heron Court, Highclere, Hurstbourne, Broadlands, Chissel, Bartley, Elvetham, Highcliffe, Grantham House, Hackwood, Cranbury, Walhampton, Paultons, Dogmersfield, and Cufnells, and amount altogether to about 150. The county is governed by a lord lieutenant and a county council consisting of 62 councillors and 23 aldermen. It is in the SW military district and the W judiciary circuit. By the Local Government Act of 1888, the Isle of Wight became after 1st April, 1890, an administrative county, with powers to levy its own rates for county purposes, and to maintain a separate police force.

The territory now forming Hants belonged to the ancient British Belgæ, was included by the Romans in their Britannia Prima, and formed part of the Saxon Wessex. The chief events in its subsequent history are noticed in our articles on Silchester, Basing, Winchester, Portsmouth, and Southampton. Ancient British remains are at Silchester, Beacon Hill, Winclesbury, and Arreton town. Roman stations were at Silchester, Andover, Winchester, Bittern, Porchester, and Broughton, and Roman roads went from some of these stations to others, and to Old Sarum. Roman camps, or traces of them, are in about twenty places, Saxon camps at three, and Danish camps at Danebury Hill and in the Isle of Wight. Old castles, or remains or traces of them, are in about twelve places, old abbeys at five, old priories and other monasteries at twenty-one, and interesting old churches at fourteen.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5