Was essentially the hinterland of the great port of Southampton from which it took its name, plus the Isle of Wight. At the time of the Roman occupation, the region was inhabited by the Regni in the south‐east, the Belgae towards the south‐west, and the Atrebates in the north. The Roman advance, undertaken by Vespasian, was early and occupation thorough. There were two major towns, each probably of pre‐Roman origins—Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum) in the north, Winchester (Venta Belgae) in the south.
Saxon settlement was relatively easy and Winchester became the capital of Wessex, though Silchester was abandoned. The Isle of Wight and the eastern valley of the Meon were areas of Jutish settlement and for a while formed part of the kingdom of Sussex. By the 8th cent., a harbour of Hampton had developed near the site of the small Roman port of Bitterne Clausentum. Under 755, the Anglo‐Saxon Chronicle referred to Hampton‐shire, though we cannot be sure what area was intended. As Wessex flourished, Winchester became the capital of England: Edward the Confessor was crowned there and many kings, including Alfred and Cnut, buried there.
In the course of the 12th cent., the capital was removed from Winchester to Westminster, but Winchester retained importance as a bishopric: the new cathedral, the longest in Europe, was begun in 1079. The connection with Normandy and the continent enhanced Southampton's trade. In the west of the county, the New Forest was appropriated by William I as a game reserve.
In the Domesday survey of 1086, Winchester and Southampton were clearly important towns, and Basingstoke, Christ‐church, and Stockbridge were of local significance. Portsmouth is not mentioned by Domesday but was granted a charter in 1194. Its prosperity rose with the establishment of the Royal Navy. By 1801 it was the ninth largest town in England with more than four times the population of Southampton. Andover developed as a centre for the north‐west of the shire and Basingstoke for the north‐east: each was far enough from Southampton and Portsmouth to have its own sphere of influence.
Though relatively little touched by the industrial revolution, the shire changed considerably in the 19th and 20th cents. The popularity of seaside holidays produced the extraordinary growth of Bournemouth. The Isle of Wight also profited, partly no doubt because of the publicity given to Osborne House. An equally spectacular growth was in the north‐east of the county. The army began building barracks at Aldershot in 1854, transforming a hamlet into a sizeable town, and Basingstoke, chosen for urban development in 1963, grew from 25,000 to nearly 155,000.
Subjects: British History.