Status Ceremonial & (smaller) Non-metropolitan county
Region: South East England
- Total
- Admin. council
- Admin. area
Ranked 9th
3,769 km²
Ranked 8th
3,679 km²
Admin HQ: Winchester
ISO 3166-2: GB-HAM
ONS code: 24
- Total (2004 est.)
- Density
- Admin. council
- Admin. pop.
Ranked 5th
441 / km²
Ranked 3rd
Ethnicity: 96.7% White
1.3% S. Asian

Arms of Hampshire County Council

Hampshire County Council
Executive Conservative
Members of Parliament

  1. Gosport
  2. Fareham
  3. Winchester
  4. Havant
  5. East Hampshire
  6. Hart
  7. Rushmoor
  8. Basingstoke and Deane
  9. Test Valley
  10. Eastleigh
  11. New Forest
  12. Southampton (Unitary)
  13. Portsmouth (Unitary)

Hampshire, abbreviated as Hants ( and sometimes historically called Southamptonshire), is a county on the south coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county borders (clockwise from the West), Dorset, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Surrey and West Sussex. The county has an area of 1,455 square miles (3,769 km²) and at its widest points is approximately 55 miles (90 km) east-west and 40 miles (65 km) north-south. The county town is Winchester situated at 51°03′35″N, 1°18′36″W. The 2001 census gave the population of the administrative county as 1.24 million; the ceremonial county also includes the cities of Portsmouth and Southampton, which are administratively independent, and has a total population of 1.6 million.

Hampshire is a popular holiday area, with tourist attractions including its many seaside resorts, the maritime area in Portsmouth, and the motor museum at Beaulieu. The New Forest National Park lies within the borders, as does a large area of the South Downs, which is also scheduled to become a National Park. Hampshire has a long maritime history and two of England's largest ports lie on its coast. The county is famed as home of the writers Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

Physical geography

Hampshire's geology falls into two categories. In the south, along the coast is the "Hampshire Basin", an area of relatively non-resistant Eocene and Oligocene clays and gravels which are protected from sea erosion by the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset, and the Isle of Wight. These low, flat lands support heathland and woodland habitats, a large area of which form part of the New Forest. The New Forest has a mosaic of heathland, grassland, coniferous and deciduous woodland habitats that host diverse wildlife. The forest is protected as a national park, limiting development and agricultural use to protect the landscape and wildlife. Large areas of the New Forest are open common lands kept as a grassland plagioclimax by grazing animals, including domesticated cattle, pigs and horses, and several wild deer species. Erosion of the weak rock and sea level change flooding the low land has carved several large estuaries and rias, notably the 12 mile (19 km) long Southampton Water and the large convoluted Portsmouth Harbour. The Isle of Wight lies off the coast of Hampshire where the non-resistant rock has been eroded away forming the Solent.

In the north and centre of the county the substrate is the Southern England Chalk Formation of Salisbury Plain and the South Downs. These are high hills with steep slopes where they border the clays to the south. The hills dip steeply forming a scarp onto the Thames valley to the north, and dip gently to the south. The highest point in the county is Pilot Hill, which reaches the height of 286 m (938 ft). The downland supports a calcareous grassland habitat, important for wild flowers and insects. In the past Hampshire had little arable agriculture, but in the early 20th century the demand for food led to the establishment of farms on the downs. A large area of the downs are now protected from further agricultural damage by the East Hampshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty The Itchen and Test are trout rivers that flow from the chalk through wooded valleys into Southampton Water. Nestled in a valley on the downs is Selborne, and the countryside surrounding the village was the location of Gilbert White's pioneering observations on natural history.

Hampshire has a milder climate than most areas of the British Isles, being in the far south with the climate stabilising effect of the sea, but protected against the more extreme weather of the Atlantic coast. Hampshire has a higher average annual temperature than the UK average at 10.2 °C to 12 °C,[1] average rainfall at 741–1060 mm per year,[2] and higher than average sunshine at over 1541 hours per year.[3]


Winchester Cathedral.
Winchester Cathedral.

The chalk downland of the South Downs and southern edges of Salisbury Plain were settled in the neolithic, and these settlers built hill forts such as Winklebury and may have farmed the valleys of Hampshire. Hampshire was part of an area named Gwent or Y Went by the Celts, which also covered areas of Somerset and Wiltshire. In the Roman invasion of Britain, Hampshire was one of the first areas to fall to the invading forces. The county was occupied by Jutish tribes until Saxon times. Hampshire was one of the first Saxon shires, recorded in 755, but for two centuries represented the western end of Saxon England, as advances into Dorset and Somerset were fought off by the Britons. After the Saxons advanced west Hampshire became the centre of the Kingdom of Wessex, and many Saxon kings are buried at Winchester. A statue in Winchester celebrates the powerful King Alfred, who stabilised the region in the 9th century.

After the Norman Conquest the county was favoured by Norman kings who established the New Forest as a hunting forest. The county was recorded in the Domesday Book 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, and a shipbuilding industry was established.

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 Norman Portchester Castle which overlooks Portsmouth Harbour, and a series of forts built by Henry VIII including Hurst Castle, situated on a sand spit at the mouth of the Solent, Calshot Castle on another spit at the mouth of Southampton Water, and Netley Castle. Southampton and Portsmouth remained important harbours when rivals, such as Poole and Bristol declined, as they are amongst the few locations that combine shelter with deep water. Southampton has been host to many famous ships, including the Mayflower and the Titanic, the latter being staffed largely by Hampshire natives.

Hampshire played a large role in World War II due to its large Royal Navy harbour at Portsmouth, the army camp at Aldershot and the military Netley Hospital on Southampton Water, as well as its proximity to the army training ranges on Salisbury Plain and 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.

Southampton from Netley Hospital.
Southampton from Netley Hospital.

The county has in the past been called "Southamptonshire" and appears as such on some early maps. The name of the administrative county was officially changed from 'County of Southampton' to 'County of Hampshire' on April 1, 1959. The short form of the name, often used in postal addresses, is Hants.

The Isle of Wight has traditionally been treated as part of Hampshire for some purposes, but has been administratively independent for over a century, obtaining a county council of its own in 1890. The Isle of Wight became a full ceremonial county in 1974. Apart from a shared police force and health authority there are now no formal administrative links between the Isle of Wight and Hampshire, though many organisations still combine Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

The towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch also fall within the traditional county of Hampshire, but were ceded to Dorset in the local government reorganisation of 1974.


The Beaulieu River.
The Beaulieu River.

Hampshire is a relatively affluent county, with a Gross domestic product (GDP) of £22.9 billion (£16.3 billion when excluding Southampton and Portsmouth). This makes it the sixth largest economy in England, and is equal in size to the economy of Northern Ireland, making up 2% each of the economy of the UK as a whole.[4]

Portsmouth and Winchester have the highest job densities in the county, and there is therefore a high level of commuting into the cities. Southampton has the highest number of total jobs and commuting both into and out of the city is high. The county has a lower level of unemployment than the national average, at 1.9% when the national rate was 3.3%, and as of March 2005 has fallen to 1.1%. 39% are employed by large firms, compared to a national average of 42%. Hampshire has a considerably higher than national average employment in high-tech industries, but average levels in knowledge based industry. 25.21% of the population work in the public sector.[5]

Many rural areas of Hampshire have traditionally been reliant on agriculture, though the county was less agricultural than most surrounding counties, and was mostly concentrated on dairy farming. The significance of agriculture as an employer and wealth creator has declined since the first half of the 20th century and agriculture currently employs 1.32% of the population. The county has a long association with wild boar, and the domesticated Hampshire hog breed of pig, from which bacon is produced.[6]

The New Forest area is a National Park, and tourism is a significant economic segment in this area, with 7.5 million visitors in 1992.[7] The South Downs and the cities of Southampton and Winchester also attract tourists to the county. Southampton Boat Show is one of the biggest annual events held in the county, and attracts visitors from throughout the county. In 2003 the county had a total of 31 million day visits, and 4.2 million longer stays.[8]

The cities of Southampton and Portsmouth are both significant ports, with Southampton handling a large proportion of the national container freight and Portsmouth housing a large Royal Navy base. The docks have traditionally been large employers in these cities, though again mechanisation has forced diversification of the economy.


Southampton Docks.
Southampton Docks.

At the Census 2001[9] the ceremonial county recorded a population of 1,644,249, of which 1,240,103 were in the administrative county, 217,445 were in the unitary authority of Southampton, and 186,701 were in Portsmouth. The population of the administrative county grew 5.6% from the 1991 census, Southampton grew 6.2% while Portsmouth remained unchanged, compared with 2.6% for England and Wales as a whole. Eastleigh and Winchester grew fastest at 9% each. The age structure of the population is similar to the national average.

96.73% of residents were indigenous, falling to 92.37% in Southampton. The significant ethnic minorities are Asian at 1.34% and mixed race at 0.84%. 0.75% of residents were migrants from outside the UK. 73.86% stated their religion as Christianity and 16.86% were not religious. Significant minority religions were Islam (0.76%) and Hinduism (0.33%).


Hampshire is divided into seventeen parliamentary constituencies. Ten of these are represented by Conservative MPs, four by the Liberal Democrats and three by Labour. Labour represent the large cities, including both Southampton constituencies (Test and Itchen) and Portsmouth North. The Conservatives represent the most rural constituencies, Aldershot, New Forest West, New Forest East, Hampshire North West, Basingstoke, Hampshire North East, Hampshire East, Havant, Gosport and Fareham. The Liberal Democrats represent Winchester, Romsey, Portsmouth South and Eastleigh, all centred around towns.

At the 2005 local elections for Hampshire County Council the Conservative Party had a 43.69% share of the votes, the Liberal Democrats had 36.01% and Labour 16.08%. Therefore 46 Conservatives, 28 Liberal Democrats and four Labour councillors sit on the County Council.[10] Southampton City Council, which is entirely independent, has 18 Liberal Democrat, 15 Labour and 15 Conservative councillors.[11] Portsmouth City Council, also independent, has 20 Liberal Democrat, 18 Conservative, seven Labour and one independent councillor.[12]

Cities, towns, and villages

New apartment blocks in the rapidly changing Basingstoke.
New apartment blocks in the rapidly changing Basingstoke.

Hampshire's county town is Winchester, a historic city that was once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Wessex. The port cities of Southampton and Portsmouth were split off as independent unitary authorities in 1997, although they are still included in Hampshire for ceremonial purposes. Fareham, Gosport and Havant have grown into a conurbation that stretches along the coast between the two main cities. The three cities are all university cities, Southampton being home to the University of Southampton and Southampton Solent University (formerly Southampton Institute), Portsmouth to the University of Portsmouth, and Winchester to the University of Winchester (formerly known as University College Winchester; King Alfred's College).

Hampshire lies outside the green belt area of restricted development around London, but has good railway and motorway links to the capital, and in common with the rest of the south-east has seen the growth of dormitory towns since the 1960s. Basingstoke, in the north of the county, has grown from a country town into a business and finance centre. Aldershot, Portsmouth, and Farnborough have strong military associations with the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force respectively. The county also includes several market towns: Alton, Andover, Bishop's Waltham, Lymington, Petersfield, Ringwood, Romsey, and Whitchurch.

Towns by population size: (2004 est.)

Culture, arts and sport

Portsmouth Harbour.
Portsmouth Harbour.

Due to Hampshire's long association with pigs and boars, natives of the county have been known as Hampshire hogs since the 18th century.[6] Hampshire has literary connections, being the birthplace of authors including Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Charles Kingsley. Austen lived most of her life in Hampshire, where her father was rector of Steventon, and wrote all of her novels in the county. Hampshire also has many visual art connections, claiming the painter John Everett Millais as a native, and the cities and countryside have been the subject of paintings by L. S. Lowry and J. M. W. Turner. Hampshire is also the birthplace of explorer Lawrence Oates, and entertainers Benny Hill and Craig David.

Hampshire's relatively safe waters have allowed the county to develop as one of the busiest sailing areas in the country, with many yacht clubs and several manufacturers on the Solent. The sport cricket was largely developed in south-east England, with one of the first teams forming at Hambledon in 1750. Hampshire County Cricket Club today is a successful first-class team, captained by Shane Warne. Hampshire has several association football teams, the most successful being Premier League Portsmouth F.C. and Championship side Southampton F.C., which have traditionally been fierce rivals.

Hampshire's county flower is the Dog Rose according to the British charity Plantlife[13].


There is an international airport with its own rail station situated between Southampton and Eastleigh, Southampton Airport, and cross-channel ferries link the county to the Isle of Wight and European continent. The South Western Main Line railway from London to Weymouth runs through Winchester and Southampton, and the Wessex Main Line from Bristol to Portsmouth also runs through the county. The M3 motorway connects the county to London. The construction of the Twyford Down cutting near Winchester caused major controversy by cutting through a series of ancient trackways (the Dongas) and other features of archeeological significance. The M27 motorway serves a bypass for the major conurbations and as a link to other settlements on the south coast. Other important roads include the A3, A31 and A36.

The county has a high level of car ownership, with 15.7% having no access to a private car compared to 26.8% for England and Wales. The county has a lower than average use of trains (3.2% compared to 4.1% for commuting) and buses (3.2% to 7.4%) but a higher than average use of bicycles (3.5% to 2.7%) and cars (63.5% to 55.3%).[14]


  1. ^ Met Office, 2000. Annual average temperature for the United Kingdom.
  2. ^ Met Office, 2000. Annual average rainfall for the United Kingdom.
  3. ^ Met Office, 2000. Annual average sunshine for the United Kingdom.
  4. ^ Hampshire County Council, 2002. Economic factors.
  5. ^ Hampshire County Council, 2004. Profile of Hampshire.
  6. ^ a b Hampshire County Council, 2003. "Press Release: Hampshire's Hog has a home."
  7. ^ New Forest District Council, n.d. "Tourism questions and answers."
  8. ^ Hampshire County Council, United Kingdom Tourism Survey & GB Leisure Day Visits Survey, 2004. "Tourism Facts and Figures."
  9. ^ Office for National Statistics & Hampshire County Council, 2003. Census 2001 data
  10. ^ Hampshire County Council, 2005. Local election results.
  11. ^ Southampton City Council, 2005. Local election results.
  12. ^ Portsmouth City Council, 2005. List of councillors.
  13. ^ BBC News, May 5 2004. UK counties choose floral emblems.
  14. ^ Hampshire County Council, 2005. Facts and Figures website.


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911. "Hampshire".
  2. Draper, Jo. 1990. Hampshire. Wimborne: Dovecote Press. ISBN 0946159823
  3. Pigot & Co's Atlas of the Counties of England, 1840. London: J Pigot & Co.
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