What is Hampshire?
I remember my mother’s atlas, with a cover the colour of a Rich Tea biscuit – from the 1930s – when Britain had an Empire and that nice Mr Hitler was the Chancellor of Germany. The colourful maps seemed to drown in what I can only describe as bathroom-pink.
Those countries coloured so pink were ‘ours’ – part of the British Empire – and we celebrated our ownership on Empire Day, the 24th May. This day was chosen because it was the Queen’s birthday and was first celebrated in 1902. And perhaps this ironically foretold the end of the Empire, as the Queen’s birthday we were celebrating was Victoria’s, who had died the previous year (a memorial to her or a portent of doom for the Empire?) Ah – those were the days – when everyone knew where Britain was on the map and we all knew our place in the world.
These days . . . well, many people would have difficulty finding this scepter’d isle on a globe and, if it is an inflatable globe, they are more likely to be kicking it around and pretending that we are still great at football – ah: nostalgia! But enough of that!
So, what about our blessed plot? Ask folks where a particular place is and, even if it is their home town, they may well have difficulty finding it on a map of the United Kingdom.
Yes, Officer. This is my favourite
spot for painting still-life!
As for anybody knowing where a stranger is from! Tell people I live in Kent, and see the puzzled frown. It’s the wrong side of the M25, you see. Escape to the rest of the country is blocked by this massive car park of a motorway.
Little attention is given by those from the rest of England as they zoom past Kent on their way to the continent.
So, what about other counties? Is it just the South and South East that nobody’s heard of? Really, there is little hope. Yorkshire has tea and Devon has cream teas. Most other counties fade into a fog.
And the towns and villages around the country fare even worse. For example, there is Bakewell, that exceedingly good tart – surely named because it is so carefully cooked, and thus (it would appear) a town has been named after it. And Melton Mowbray has obviously been named after a pork pie. The question must be, how many of us can, with confidence, jab a digit upon these, and so many other, places upon a map?
What hope is there for Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire? An ‘urricane would ‘ardly hever find them.
Unsurprisingly, when I told people I’d written a book about Hampshire, the reaction was not “Where’s Hampshire?” but “What’s Hampshire”. The word Hampshire was not even recognised as a place, just an unidentifiable thing.
And it’s not as if Hampshire is insignificant. For a start, it is the ninth largest county in England (other countries in the United Kingdom are also available, but criteria for the statistics are variable). Fine – it’s not in the medals, not even a bronze, but it’s still quite big. Of course, when the counties include metropolitan ones, Hampshire’s not as densely populated – it’s only mid-table for that.
Although, because of its size, it is still in the top ten for numbers.
So, it is large, it has loads of people living there without feeling crowded and it still has huge stretches of open landscape.
However, to answer the question “Where is Hampshire on the map?”
Right at the bottom, in the middle.
wherefore art thou Hampshire?
Romeo and Juliet: Wm. Shakespeare
Actually, this means why are you called Hampshire, nothing to do with your location. Having found Hampshire, let’s look at the name.
I’ll start by looking at the smaller picture, Southampton.
Once upon a time that city was a farm called Hamtun – home-farm. The Old English ‘scir’ meant ‘surrounding land’, and over the centuries its pronunciation has slid into the word we know today – shire. So, Hampshire simply means the land surrounding Southampton. And I was hoping for something exotic!
Just to totally confuse everything, in the 1970s the bureaucrats decided to merge lots of smaller local councils on the Eastern side of the county, and about forty years later in 2010 they became a District Council, effectively splitting up the county into Hampshire and East Hampshire. That means we’ve got Southampton, and hundreds of miles to the north we’ve got Northampton(shire). Add to those, of course, Hampshire and East Hampshire. So what’s missing? West! Just to make you scream, there is Westhampnett to the East of East Hampshire, in West Sussex.
So that’s all right, then. Clear as mud!
What’s in a name? Romeo and Juliet: Wm. Shakespeare
More interestingly, Tichborne is a stream frequented by young goats. Why it’s only the kids there, not Mummy, Daddy or Nanny goat, I’ve no idea. Owslebury is from ‘ouzel’, an antic name for a blackbird. So, it’s a fortified place with blackbirds! Ahhhh!
I’m a bit stumped by Beauworth. I thought the name looked a bit French, but no! The ‘worth’ bit means enclosure and the ‘bea’ bit means bee, so it’s an enclosure with bees. How do you enclose a bee?
Surely it would buzz off.
Fortunately, some of the towns and villages have names which are a lot more straight forward. An example is Cheriton, which simply means a village with a church. Clanfield means clear, open land and Chalton is chalk-farm. How easy!
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry
Addlestrop: Edward Thomas
Those are just some of the place-names in East Hampshire. And that’s the part of Hampshire upon which I’m mainly concentrating.
The other bit has a tourist centre which is probably better known to outsiders – the New Forest – an ancient royal hunting ground. It became a National Park (the twelfth one) in 2005, after a lot of bureaucratic faffing around. It’s rather an afterthought, as the majority of the country’s National Parks were set up in the 1950s.
Nevertheless, East Hampshire – never to be outdone – has a much newer one – the South Downs National Park, which it shares with Sussex. This is the thirteenth one, and was established in 2010. Although not exclusively in East Hampshire, the area can boast that it is almost three times larger than its neighbour.
Riding along in my automobile . . . Chuck Berry
I can see why lots of people may prefer the Western side of Hampshire – it is less likely to suffer from the M25 effect.
Those of us who are also trapped, in the South East corner, have the choice of the M or A 27 and the A272 directly into East Hampshire, as well as using the M25 and branching off at junctions ten or twelve onto the A3 or M3.
For the rest of the United Kingdom, tourism to the New Forest seems like the easier option – the A34 and A36 or even the A303. But who says about life following the primrose path of dalliance? Actually, its Ophelia, and much good it did for her!
Of course, you could let the train take the strain, fly into Southampton or even float in by boat.
I’ll view the manners of the town,
Peruse the traders, gaze upon the buildings.
The Comedy of Errors: Wm Shakespeare
East Hampshire does not really offer anything for those who want to party all night, wake up in the afternoon with a hangover, burn by the pool and then extinguish the fire with a plunge into that pool before starting out all over again.
For those who really find all that abhorrent, East Hampshire is a gem. There are cities, towns and villages nestling in delightful countryside, a past dripping in things you know, things you thought you knew, things you’ve forgotten and things you never knew before.
People rich, poor, famous, infamous, ordinary, extraordinary, lawful, unlawful, good, bad, sporting and unsporting have left their mark on the county and also upon the country and the world.
King Alfred made Winchester his capital city and King Henry the Third made his mark on the city too. King John may – or may not – have a connection with a village a few miles away. As for King Edward the Third! Well, his mistress owned Meonstoke.
At the opposite end of the wealth stakes, many poor folks could barely afford to eat, let alone pay out for a whole village. Rioters at Owslebury protested about agricultural depression as the Industrial Revolution changed the country’s landscape forever.
Recent times have brought us famous people from Hampshire, including Obi Wan Kenobi and Miranda Hart from Petersfield, as well as infamous folk from the past including a Mediaeval bully and a Victorian prodigal son from Tichborne and also a few spies from around the area.
Born in Portsmouth, Charles Dickens was a Hampshire lad, but he’s not the only writer springing from Hampshire. Also there’s the somewhat more modestly known poet Edward Thomas (from around Petersfield) and the more renown John Keats (who spent some time in Winchester), and it would be embarrassing to neglect the ‘Barchester’ novelist Anthony Trollope, amongst others blessed with penmanship who have graced East Hampshire.
And let’s not forget penwomanship, with a lady of whom you might have heard called Jane Austen who spend much of her life at Chawton and her final days in Winchester, where she is buried in the cathedral.
The way these people had with words meant a confident use of the rules of English language. And who invented these rules that direct our pens even today? It was the Reverend Robert Lowth from Buriton.
Put the words ‘sport’ and ‘Hampshire’ together and you may well think ‘cricket’. After all, Hampshire has long been regarded as the birthplace of cricket. It’s here that the rules of the game were first proscribed, after behaviour that was definitely unsporting: the monster bat incident. Just not cricket!
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
the solemn temples . . .
The Tempest: Wm. Shakespeare
Once you’ve parked the car, unpacked the suitcases or whatever, what to do?
Well, the obvious thing is a spot of walking.
With your choice of maps from the Ordnance Survey Explorer series – maps 119, 120, 132, 133 and 144 (132 and 133 or 120 for the South Downs Way) – finding your way is not too hard.
A landscape with village church towers, pubs and farm buildings makes for easier map-reading than the Lake District (up there, when people confidently point out and name one peak after another, I’m sure they are making it up).
A picnic on Old Winchester Hill, overlooking the Meon Valley or screwing up your eyes atop Butser, trying to spot ships on the Solent is a wonderful way to have lunch.
Really? You’re joking! So, when they made the map upside down, they knew that I’d be going South? Brilliant!
There are places where you can feel hidden among tall grasses and a panoply of wild flowers.
Pass through a village, get a cuppa at the church coffee-morning, buy a sandwich, pie and drink from the little shop, and after lunch wander into the next village to have a pint at the pub to wash it down.
Move on to another village’s church, designed by Mr Renowned Architect, built by Master Local Craftsman, with an interior created by Arty Deco, preached in by the Reverend Holy Moses and surrounded by a churchyard with the final resting place of Sir Politic Bigwig. All useful answers at your local pub’s quiz-night. And you’ve been there and seen it!
It’s a chance to do some of your best-ever holiday photography. There are more interesting skyscapes than the monotonous blue of the Mediterranean, with our fluffy clouds. Sometimes, being England, there’s more grey than blue, but those skyscapes make a dramatic backdrop to the thatched cottage or curious cow.
There’s no need for a snappy shot with a selfie-stick – time can be taken to line up the perfect shot with a family group or a sheep or a farmer with his tractor to give it the perspective you want.
Of course, to prove you were there, you need some time with that camera at a tourist spot your friends and family will know about. Winchester has its crowning glory of its cathedral, but while you are there you’ll find other places to visit – the military museums, the alms house, the college and, oh, why not stroll round the shops while you are there? And at the other end of East Hampshire there is Portsmouth – the Historic Dockyard and Victory, Warrior and Mary Rose.
And for all the railway lovers, there’s the Watercress Line, between Alresford and Alton.
Once you’ve done all the locations that your aunty will ask you about and from where she will expect a keyring or pencil as a gift, there are other places to discover.
There’s a chance to be gawped at by a giraffe at Marwell Zoo. It’s your opportunity for a cream-tea at the National Trust’s Hinton Ampner. Or you could rub shoulders with a Saxon at Butser Ancient Farm. Alternatively, you may wish to dream about Mr Darcy at Jane Austen’s Chawton. You can fly-fish at West Meon’s Fishery, taste some tipple at Hambledon’s Vineyard or take a gander at some gardens at Bramdean, Horndean, or Kilmeston.
Having enjoyed your stay in East Hampshire, it will be time to return home. Put your feet up. Have a cup of tea. Remember your holiday. And best of all, read the book Whan that Aprille – for the curious: an exploration of the South Downs Way in Hampshire which will re-live those memories with you and encourage you to return, to explore East Hampshire again.