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Hampshire (/ˈhæmpʃər/, /-ʃɪər/ (listen); abbreviated to Hants)[a] is a county in South East England on the coast of the English Channel, bordering Dorset to the south-west, Wiltshire to the north-west, Berkshire to the north, Surrey to the north-east and West Sussex to the south east. The county town is Winchester, but the county is named after Southampton. Its two largest cities are Southampton and Portsmouth which are administered separately as unitary authorities; the rest of the county is governed by a combination of the Hampshire County Council and non-metropolitan district councils.
First settled about 14,000 years ago, Hampshire's recorded history dates to Roman Britain, when its chief town was Winchester, then known as Venta Belgarum. 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, fishing and large shipbuilding industries. By the 16th century, the population of Southampton had outstripped that of Winchester. By the mid-19th century, the population was 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 geography of the county is varied, with upland rising to 286 m (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.
Hampshire is one of the most affluent counties in the country, with an unemployment rate lower than the national average. Its economy mainly derives from major companies, maritime, agriculture and tourism. Tourist attractions include seaside resorts, national parks, the National Motor Museum and the Southampton Boat Show. The county is known as the home of writers Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Hampshire is also the childhood home of Florence Nightingale and the birthplace of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.