Hampshire (, ; postal abbreviation Hants.) is a county in South East England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Winchester, England’s former capital city. Its two largest cities, Southampton and Portsmouth, are administered separately as unitary authorities; the rest of the county is governed by Hampshire County Council. With a population of 1.8 million, Hampshire is the most populous ceremonial county in the United Kingdom.
First settled about 14,000 years ago, Hampshire’s history dates to Roman Britain, when its chief town was Winchester. The county was recorded in the 11th century 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. By the 16th century, the population of Southampton had outstripped that of Winchester. By the mid-19th century, with the county’s population at 219,210 (double that at the beginning of the century) in more than 86,000 dwellings, agriculture was the principal industry and 10 per cent of the county was still forest. Hampshire played a crucial military role in both World Wars. The borders of the ceremonial county
were created by the Local Government Act 1972 (enacted 1974). Historically part of Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, was made a separate ceremonial county and the towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch were administered as part of the ceremonial county of Dorset.
The county’s geography is varied, with upland to 286 metres (938 ft) and mostly south-flowing rivers. There are areas of downland and marsh, and two national parks: the New Forest, and part of the South Downs, which together cover 45 per cent of Hampshire.