Looking back at ‘Hantshire’ 400 years ago

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IT TOOK more than 10 years to make and was revolutionary in its time.

Now exactly 400 years on, John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine – the first detailed maps of every area in England and Wales – is being republished on the internet.

The map of Hampshire paints a very different picture to the county of today.

Back in 1611 ‘Hantshire’ was a patchwork of small towns and villages, sprawling parks for hunting deers, wild forests, castles and windmills.

Speed’s masterpiece was the first time comprehensive plans of counties and towns were made available in print.

But, far from being an AA map for the masses, it was used by noblemen who could afford to buy it.

A slice of Tudor and Jacobean life in miniature, it was used by armies on both sides of the English Civil War.

‘It was the first atlas of the British Isles,’ says Anne Taylor, head of the map department at Cambridge University Library, which has made the maps available online.

‘It was not the sort of thing that you travelled around with – it was armchair travelling.’

The county was split into Hundreds – the way the Saxons used to divide up land by virtue of how much land was needed to support 100 homes.

Rivers were made extra prominent as waterways were so important for transport.

The map’s description of Hampshire read ‘The aire is temperate, though somewhat thicke by reason of the Seas’.

Some settlements on the map no longer exist. Walsworth was home to a church and village, but was later abandoned.

And even cartographers in Shakespearean times got it wrong. Westbourne, near Emsworth, is called Eastbourne. To view the map visit lib.cam.ac.uk/deptserv/maps/speed.html.

Catcomb (Hilsea)

In 1611 the northern part of Portsea Island was home to a small village called Catcomb, close to the creek which separated it from the mainland.

It later became known as Gatcombe and would have been surrounded by farmland.

That land would become the area known as Hilsea.

The name is still around today in place names such as Gatcombe Park, Gatcombe Avenue, and Gatcombe Park Primary School.

From a population of just a few hundred, the area is now home to 13,700 people.

Fastan Ferne (Eastney)

LIKE most of Portsea Island until the 19th century, Eastney began its life as farmland.

Situated on the banks of Langstone Harbour, it was less strategically important than Portsmouth Harbour, which was a much deeper harbour and where most of the early settlement was.

Its name in 1611 used the french word for farm ‘ferme’, which was introduced by the Normans.

Famously, it later became home to the Royal Marines. The population today is around 13,300. No farmland remains but there is open space at nearby Bransbury Park.

Haling (Hayling)

HAYLING Island was part of the Bosmere Hundred along with Havant and Warblington.

Originally owned by a priory, Henry VIII exchanged the island for other lands owned by the college of the Holy Trinity in Arundel.

Later in the 16th century Hayling became the property of the Dukes of Norfolk, of Arundel. The island’s small population was farmers and fishermen. It is now home to more than 16,000 people.

Southsea Castle

HENRY VIII built a castle overlooking the sea in 1544 as a fortification to protect the country.

In 1545 he watched as warship Mary Rose sank in the Solent.

The area around the castle was undeveloped until the early 19th century when a new suburb grew for skilled workers. The population of Central Southsea is now more than 14,000.


TITCHFIELD had been a flourishing settlement and port with a population of a few hundred.

In 1552 King Edward VI stayed in Titchfield and described it as ‘a handsome town’.

However, in 1611 the 3rd Earl of Southampton built a sea wall over the mouth of the river – spelling the end of Titchfield as a port.

The population today is around 7,000.