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Southampton, Hampshire

Historical Description

Southampton, a seaport, municipal, parliamentary, and county borough, situated in the south of Hampshire, in latitude 50º 54' N and longitude 1º 24' W, is 78 miles from London, which can be reached in two hours by the L. & S.W.R. The town is historically associated, the name of Hamtun or Hamtune first occurring in the English Chronicle, under date 837. Ethelwulf of Wessex in 840 dates from the royal vill of Hamtun, and variations of this are given, such as Hamtone, Haamtun, Heantun, till the middle of the tenth century, when the prefix south is met with. In 962 the royal dues of Suth-Hamptune were granted by King Eadgar with other possessions to the monastery of Abingdon.

The town was first incorporated in the reign of Henry I., whose charter was confirmed by Richard I. and by King John, who assigned the customs of the port to the burgesses for an annual payment of £200. Their privileges were extended and confirmed by Henry VI., who constituted the town with a surrounding district into a county of itself, and these privileges were further modified by Charles I.

Many interesting records are contained among the town archives, showing that Southampton was an important port from a very remote period. In the reign of Edward V. The town had materially increased in extent and importance, and its trade became so flourishing that the lord mayor of London was appointed collector of the duties of the port. Shipbuilding has also an early existence: about the year 1414 the famous ships Grace Dieu and Holy Ghost were built, and were adorned by the royal devices, swans and antelopes. During the whole of the 18th and early part of the 19th century, seventy-four gunships, frigates, and smaller vessels were built at various points of Southampton Water, among them three ships belonging to the British fleet which were at Trafalgar, two being Nelson's Agamemnon and the Swiftsure.

The town still retains some of its ancient fortifications, which in part belong to the Norman period. Conspicuous among the remains is the Bar Gate, which separates the High Street from the Above Bar Street. The town was defended by a wall some 25 or 30 feet in height, forming an irregular parallelogram, measuring about 1981 yards, strengthened at intervals all round by 29 towers. The arms of the town were granted by Queen Elizabeth in 1575, and are described as follows:-" Per fesse silver and gules, three roses counterchang'd of the fielde. The crea'st and supporters (viz) upon the healrne on a wreath silver and gules on a mount vert, a castle golde out of a castle, a queen in her imperial majestie holding in the right hand the sword of justice, in the left hand the ballance of equitie, mantled gules, dobled and silver. The supporters out of two ships proper upon the sea, standing in the fore part of the ships two lions rampant, gold."

The borough is represented in Parliament by two members, and municipally governed by a corporation, from whom are elected annually a mayor, sheriff, and two bailiffs. The first mayor was elected in 1217. The Local Government Board having in 1895 sanctioned an extension of the municipal borough boundaries, the number of the council was increased from 40 to 56, the number of wards from 10 to 14 (3 councillors and 1 alderman being allotted to each), the population from 67,913 to about 87,000, the acreage from 2004 to 4357, or including mud lands, 5235. The value of the property of the corporation in the old borough was estimated at £547,240.

The town is beautifully situated on a peninsula, gradually rising from the northern shore of Southampton Water; the greater portion is built upon a gravel bed, forming a most healthy site. The sanitary arrangements are most complete, both as regards the town and the port. The corporation have also established an efficient system of waterworks for the borough, and have expended thereon a capital of £143,500; the supply is drawn from the chalk strata at Otterbourne, distant about 9 miles, and there is a never-failing supply of water for drinking and domestic purposes, distributed through mains about 70 miles in length. The pumping and softening plant is constructed upon the most improved modern principles. Public baths have been erected on the western shore at a cost of £14,000, with a frontage of 224 feet, the principal entrances being flanked by two towers.

The Southampton Docks were begun in 1838 with a capital of £1,000,000 (to which was afterwards added another £500,000), opened in 1843, and largely increased from time to time by the old Dock Company; but in 1892 they sold their undertaking to the L. & S.W.R., who have made such gigantic strides that they are now able to give the greatest facilities to the largest ocean-going steamers.

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


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyHampshire 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Southampton from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Hampshire (County Southampton) is available to browse.


Online maps of Southampton are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Hampshire newspapers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitations of Hampshire, 1530, 1575, & 1622-34 is available to view on the Heraldry page.

CountyCity of Southampton
RegionSouth East
Postal districtSO14
Post TownSouthampton