This website uses cookies to provide a rich user experience. Please consult our Cookie Policy to learn about what cookies this website uses, or to control the cookies you receive. You need do nothing if you are happy to receive cookies.
Look and Learn History Picture Library License images from £2.99 Pay by PayPal for images for immediate download Member of British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA)

The “fighting heart of Britain” lies in Hampshire’s famous ports

Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Sea, Ships, War on Thursday, 29 March 2012

Click on any image for details about licensing for commercial or personal use.

This edited article about Hampshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 679 published on 18 January 1975.

HMS Victory, picture, image, illustration

A picture history of HMS Victory by C L Doughty

As a flotilla of Nelson’s fighting ships sailed out of Portsmouth Harbour one morning in 1803 to search for the French fleet, a gunnery officer named Warby turned to a young cadet and said: “That’s the fighting heart of Britain.”

He meant Portsmouth but he could just as accurately have meant the whole of the county Portsmouth stands in – Hampshire. Even today, 170 years after Nelson’s great victory at Trafalgar, Hampshire is still the centre of our fighting services.

With its many fine harbours and easily defended countryside, Hampshire has been chosen by military leaders for nearly 2,000 years as a natural base.

Two perfect natural harbours – at Portsmouth and Southampton – dictated the role Hampshire was to play. Being easily defendable and near the Continent, it is not surprising the Romans used them as bases for their invasion.

When the Romans set up their first military camps in the county, it is unlikely that even they realized how long the tradition they had started would last.

Faced with the savage attacks of the Danes in the ninth century it was from Winchester that King Alfred the Great chose to organize his defence. Apart from raising an army he built the first English navy and stationed it at Portsmouth.

Then, in the footsteps of the Romans and of Alfred’s men, came the Normans. They added to the existing fortifications, improved the harbours and set up more military camps.

So it has continued through history. From Hampshire, Henry V set sail for Agincourt. From Portsmouth Nelson’s ships sailed to conquer the seas. In more recent times Portsmouth-based warships fought a ruthless battle against German U-boats which tried to blockade our ports.

Portsmouth is still important to the Royal Navy and Southampton is our greatest commercial port.

In dry dock at Portsmouth dockyard stands H.M.S. Victory, Nelson’s flagship. She looks as magnificent as she did when Nelson fell dying on her deck at Trafalgar.

Sheltered by the Isle of Wight, Southampton – known as Britain’s Ocean Terminal – has played a more peaceful role in our history. Because of the tides sweeping around both sides of the island, it is the only harbour in the world with two high tides every twenty-four hours.

Winchester, the capital of England before London, remains the county’s cultural centre. It has a 1,000-year-old cathedral and one of England’s most famous public schools.

Times may have changed but the old traditions still carry on. Aldershot is the home of the British Army, and military workshops and barracks are dotted throughout Hampshire more than any other county. In more recent years the Royal Air Force has set up its headquarters at Farnborough and our greatest air show is held there.

Much of the county is still unspoiled. The New Forest, where King William “Rufus,” son of the Conqueror, was killed, spreads over 144 square miles and wild ponies roam at large in it. They even graze untouched in the streets of Lyndhurst and other New Forest towns.

Along the coastline there is the big holiday resort of Bournemouth, and that was only developed during the last 100 years.

Many famous writers have been born in Hampshire. Gilbert White, the naturalist, published his Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, his native village, in 1788. Jane Austen was born at Steventon in 1775. She later lived at Chawton and Southampton and died at Winchester. But perhaps the writer who is most often associated with Hampshire is Charles Dickens, who was born in Portsmouth in 1812. Another famous person in history who lived in Hampshire, was Florence Nightingale.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.