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 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.
Though Brunel's projects were not always successful, they often contained innovative solutions to long-standing engineering problems. During his career, Brunel achieved many engineering firsts, including assisting in the building of the first tunnel under a navigable river (the River Thames) and the development of the SS Great Britain, the first propeller-driven, ocean-going iron ship, which, when launched in 1843, was the largest ship ever built.
On the GWR, Brunel set standards for a well-built railway, using careful surveys to minimise gradients and curves. This necessitated expensive construction techniques, new bridges, new viaducts, and the two-mile-long (3.2 km) Box Tunnel. One controversial feature was the "broad gauge" of 7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm), instead of what was later to be known as "standard gauge" of 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm). He astonished Britain by proposing to extend the GWR westward to North America by building steam-powered, iron-hulled ships. He designed and built three ships that revolutionised naval engineering: the SS Great Western (1838), the SS Great Britain (1843), and the SS Great Eastern (1859).
In 2002, Brunel was placed second in a BBC public poll to determine the "100 Greatest Britons." In 2006, the bicentenary of his birth, a major programme of events celebrated his life and work under the name Brunel 200. (Full article...)