Southampton, Hampshire

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Category: Southampton, Hampshire

This is a Freespace Page for information on SOUTHAMPTON, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom.


For general information on Hampshire see Hampshire and Isle of Wight Genealogical Resources


Southampton is a port-city with a rich and long history. The City of Southampton today is far larger than the original town of that name which barely extended beyond the fourteenth century walls.

Situated on a peninsular which is formed at the confluence of the Rivers Test and Itchen at the head of the eight mile long Southampton Water that empties into the Solent and ultimately the English Channel. Being situated at roughly the mid-point of the English Channel, and fed by the Solent which body of water is constrained by the mainland and the Isle of Wight, the daily double tides are consistent and allow for deep draughted vessels to manoeuvre for far longer periods than almost any other port. For this reason it vied with, and eventually displaced Liverpool as the principal port for civilian transatlantic passenger liners and cruise ships.

This natural harbour is the reason for much of Southampton's history. The Romans built a port here, on the Itchen called Clausentum soon after their successful invasion in 43 CE; this was likely re-used as the Burgh by Alfred the Great centuries later. The name of Southampton is derived from the fact that Cerdic, the founder of the Anglo-Saxon Royal House of Wessex, and his son Cynric, most probably landed in Southampton Water. The place called Cerdic's shore as recorded in the Winchester manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles was most likely on or near the so-called Weston shore and Royal Victoria Country Park on the eastern bank of the Itchen and Southampton Water. The Peninsular opposite was chosen as the site for their 'home town', Hamtun' also known as Hamwic.

Excavations at Six Dials and in over 50 other digs through the 1950s until 2010 revealed that the port of Hamwic was settled by around 700 CE. A report by the metallurgists of Bradford University claimed that the evidence of metalworking there suggested that the quality of the weapons made there were of the highest standards then available anywhere. 'The Life of St Willibald' who was born not far from Southampton, caught what was in effect a cross channel ferry from the 'mercimonium' of Hamwic in around the year 721.

The importance of 8th century Hamtun is reflected in the fact that the surrounding shire when it was formed was named Hamtunscire. In Domesday this name had evolved to become Hantescire, from which is derived the common contraction of Hants for the county of Hampshire.

For family historians the name Southampton will often be the source of puzzlement and confusion, because for all legal purposes until the late twentieth century there were two counties of Southampton - the county known as Hampshire and the city of Southampton, which has had county status since the high medieval period. The Royal Charter granted in 1964 (there have been dozens of previous charters) raising the status of Southampton to City, names it as the City and County of the City of Southampton. Previously it had been the Town and County of the Town of Southampton.

The two entities were entirely separate for nearly all of recorded history. The justices and sheriff for the county of Southampton had no jurisdiction within the town and county, which had its own justices and its own Port reeve (as distinct from Sheriff - the Shire reeve).

The town migrated from the Itchen to the Test shore, leaving Hamwic to create what would become the layout of the modern town. William the Conqueror settled 64 merchants, in an approximate ratio of two to one of English to French. He was determined to make money from the port. The settlement gave rise to two street names, English Street (which became High Street) and French Street. It also caused the creation of four new ecclesiastical parishes. Two already existed, St Mary's, the mother church at Hamwic, All Saints which covered most of the western side of the peninsular, a relatively large rural parish. The additional ones were St John's and St Michael's for the French and Holy Rood and St Lawrence's for the English - in addition to All Saints.

Southampton was a Royal Vill in the personal possession of the king of England. In consequence from the twelfth century it was granted all sorts of rights and privileges, not least was that it was the only port through which Burgundian and certain other French wines could be imported, and it was one of the small number of staple ports for the wool staple.

In the fourteenth century it was attacked by French raiders and whilst the town had commenced the building of defensive walls in the reign of king John, the area most exposed to the raiders near the West Quay was undefended. This forced the then king to order the burgesses to complete the walls and the castle.

Southampton has seen more than its fair share of military activity. After the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons arriving in invasion mode. The archers, and the rest of the armies that set off for the battles of Cressy and Agincourt, all embarked at Southampton. Embarkation was made also for troops in the First World War, but the main operations centre embarkation for Operation Overlord in 1944 was managed from the temporary city set up in Kingsland and Hogsland parks adjacent to the severely damaged old town centre following a series of raids by the Luftwaffe from 1940 to 1943.

Southampton was also the birthplace of the Supermarine Spitfire. The Supermarine factory was on the bank of the River Itchen, and its designer, R. J. Mitchell, lived in a house at Portswood a couple of miles from the town centre. (Not quite the seaside cottage imagined in the war-time film about Mitchell and the Spitfire, The First of the Few).

Note: text removed from Category:Southampton, Hampshire on 12 May 2019.

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