10 Historical Places to Visit in Hampshire

Hampshire is filled with old forts, castle ruins, and religious history. Discover famous military fortresses and old palaces that once housed the bishops who held great power over these lands.

May 29, 2024By Katie Parr, LL.B. Law

historical places visit hampshire


Hampshire is a county steeped in royal and religious history. Discover historical places that tell tales of the Hundred Years’ War, the First Baron’s War, The English Civil War, and the two World Wars of the 20th century. Walk the ruins of castles that were once palaces for the ecclesial powers of the Middle Ages. Embrace the old English countryside where kings enjoyed royal hunts, met untimely deaths, and celebrated their weddings. These top ten historical places to visit in the county of Hampshire span 3,000 years of rich history.


1. Explore the Reign of Bad King John at Odiham Castle

Odiham Castle (King John’s Castle), 2012. Source: BabelStone, Wikimedia Commons


Ask the locals for directions to Odiham Castle, and you might be met with a look of surprise. In Hampshire, this old ruin goes by the name of King John’s Castle, as it was one of three fortresses built by King John during his reign (1199–1216). Vernacular copies of the Magna Carta (signed in 1215 in Runnymede) were issued from here, and the Scottish King David II was held prisoner for 11 years. The castle was involved in several squabbles and was captured for a short period during the First Baron’s War (1215–1217).


In the seven years it took to build, construction costs amounted to £1.5 million ($1.9 million). The end result was an inner round moat, surrounded by an outer square moat, guarding a three-story stone keep at the very center. Over the years, several renovations were made, sometimes to patch up damage caused by various sieges and, in other instances, to add functional rooms, such as a kitchen and a hall. At over 800 years old, this is an impressive ruin to see when visiting Hampshire.


2. Marvel at the Greek Revival Temple, Situated at The Grange at Northington

Northington Grange, 2006. Source: Mpntod, Wikimedia Commons


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This country mansion was built in the 19th century but has roots in the 1600s. Today, it is a Grade I listed building, with English Heritage holding a guardianship deed despite the property belonging to the Baring family. The estate was purchased by a man named Robert Henley in 1662, and the purchase included a house called “The Grange.” Over the next 150 years, various owners added more features to the property, including introducing a naturalistic English garden, home to many hundreds of deer.


A prominent feature of the building is the rather Greek-looking architecture, which was commissioned in 1804. The Grange was transformed from a brick house into a neoclassical Ancient Greek Temple, the style of which copies both the Theseion in Athens and the Choragic Monument of Thrasyllus. The Greek Revival architecture wrapped the house but did not permeate inside; the internal designs remain quite British. Internal access is limited to Heritage Open Days; however, the grounds are open for the public to discover flowers, ornamental trees, and 200-year-old cedar trees.


3. Dive Into the History of Fort Blockhouse to Uncover Bastions, Battles, and a Submarine Base

Fort Blockhouse in Gosport, 2021. Source: TimSC, Wikimedia Commons


Dominated by 19th-century architecture, the buildings that wrap around the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour have a history dating back to the 15th century. Portsmouth, which lies east of Portsmouth Harbour, found itself smoking and smoldering as a result of a brutal fire set upon it during the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453). To help protect the port city, the small coastal town of Gosport, positioned on a peninsula west of Portsmouth Harbour, became a focal point for defensive constructions.


Henry VI built a blockhouse in 1431, which was later replaced by new constructions in 1539 under Henry VIII. During the English Civil War (1642–1651) Portsmouth was bombarded from the Fort Blockhouse as Portsmouth was under Royalist control. Charles II modernized the fort in 1667, adding two towers (aptly named James Fort and Charles Fort). In 1708, 21 sea-facing guns were added, and significant work was done to rebuild the foundations. These are the oldest remaining features that can be found onthe site today. French prisoners of war were part of a construction workforce who built a line of bastions between 1797 and 1803 to defend Gosport in response to fears of a French invasion.


An 18th-century view of Portsmouth from Fort Blockhouse, circa 18th century–19th century. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons


In 1813, 1825, and 1845, the Blockhouse underwent further remodeling, while the James Fort and Charles Fort buildings fell into disuse and disrepair. Between 1877 and 1907, the Fort Blockhouse Submarine Mining Establishment used the premises before handing the property over to the Royal Navy in 1905. Between 1904 and 1999, Fort Blockhouse was home to HMS Dolphin and the Royal Navy Submarine Service. It primarily served as a training site through both World Wars, and a submarine escape tower was built in 1953.


Submarine operations continued into the mid-1960s; however, following the end of the Cold War, the defense requirements declined, and HMS Dolphin was decommissioned. The UK’s Ministry of Defence plans to relinquish ownership of the blockhouse to the local council so that history can be preserved and the area can be transformed into residential and commercial properties. Depending on when you visit, guided tours may be available through the local Gosport Heritage Association.


4. Cross the Moat to Explore Fort Brockhurst

Fort Brockhurst, 2018. Source: Richard Nevell, Wikimedia Commons


A stone’s throw from Fort Blockhouse is Fort Brockhurst, a 19th-century fortress with a moat house and stunning architectural walls. It is one of the Palmerston Forts, built in response to the threat of a French invasion in 1859. Between 1862 and 1957, the fort was used for defense purposes, though more so as storage, training, and accommodation facilities.

Fort Brockhurst, 2016. Source: Julian Colander, Wikimedia Commons


The fort was damaged in World War II, which revealed constructional details of the fortified gun emplacement, also known as casemates. The fort is polygonal, with angled bastions providing a more advantageous defense. Built within earshot of its sister forts—Fort Elson in the north and Fort Rowner, Fort Grange, and Fort Gomer in the south—the forts had overlapping fields of fire, creating a hard line of defense. The English Heritage organization took control of ownership in 1957, and today, it is open to the public.


5. Discover 800 Years of History at King John’s House

King John’s House in Romsey, 2023. Source: Oscar Taylor, Wikimedia Commons


Legend has it that this house was King John’s hunting lodge for his hunts in the New Forest. However, construction of the property began in 1256, some 40 years after the King’s passing, making it unlikely that this was the case. Some features of the property, including old wooden beams, can be dated back to a time when the king was alive, so it is possible that a different building stood in its place and offered lodging to the hunting royal.


The building is a hodge-podge of interesting and historical features. The original building has an old Tudor cottage attached. Some of the floors are constructed of cow bones, specifically the metapodials, which are the bones of cows’ legs. There’s a traditional monastic garden, 14th-century wall decorations, along with some 14th-century graffiti, and the building itself is reported to be haunted. You can visit King John’s House, which is also home to a museum, to discover 800 years of English history.


6. Enter the New Forest to Find the Rufus Stone

Rufus Stone, 2019. Source: Ethan Doyle White, Wikimedia Commons


Situated in the beautiful woodlands of the New Forest, which is home to 5,000 free-roaming wild New Forest ponies, is the Rufus Stone. This stone marks the place where the third son of William the Conqueror, King William II, was killed during a royal hunting trip. An arrow, shot by the King’s best archer, Sir Walter Tyrrell, rebounded off a tree and pierced his lung. In fear of his life, Sir Walter scarpered and headed for Normandy. He supposedly stopped at a blacksmith’s to have his horse re-shod with horseshoes that faced backward to confuse those in pursuit.


However, Sir Walter needn’t have bothered, as no one pursued him. In fact, no one was particularly bothered by the King’s death at all. The red-haired, ruddy-faced King William II was commonly referred to as William Rufus because of his features: “rufus” is Latin for red. William II made for a very unique king, with much open speculation after his death that he was gay or perhaps bisexual, owing to his flamboyant nature and the fact that he never took a wife. Born in 1060, six years before his father would conquer England, William II held the throne from 1087 until his death 13 years later.


Illustration in the 13th-century Grandes Chroniques de France showing the death of King William II, known as William Rufus, while hunting, circa 1274 CE. Source: Wikimedia Commons


It is worth noting that the Rufus Stone you can see today is not the original stone that was placed by Charles II in the 17th century. After many years of vandalism, a new stone has been installed. The stone signifies both a moment in royal history and the origins of one of the most historic and protected woodland areas in England. What was originally enjoyed as royal hunting grounds has since survived over 1,000 years, largely unchanged, as the beautiful New Forest.


7. Climb the Hills to Conquer Danebury’s Iron Age Hillfort

Danebury Iron Age Hill Fort, 2010. Source: benjgibbs, Wikimedia Commons


Danebury is home to one of the most studied Iron Age hill forts across all of Europe. Now an important nature conservation site, the landscape is an archaeologists’ bounty, giving up thousands of historical artifacts. Recognized as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, this area has served as a defensive point for many rulers through the ages.


An Iron Age fort would have dominated the views following its construction 2,500 years ago. Evidence of activity for 500 years after its initial construction suggests that the fort was largely occupied during that time. Recovered historical artifacts, now on display at the nearby Museum of the Iron Age in Andover, help tell the story of the people who have lived and died protecting these lands. Walk among the large beech trees that line the perimeter and learn about the hundreds of buildings that would have filled the fields during the Iron Age.


8. Learn About a Lucky Horse-and-Rider at Farley Mount Monument

Farley Mount Monument near Winchester, 2017. Source: Colin Park, Wikimedia Commons


The rather quirkily-shaped Farley Mount Monument marks one of the highest places in the county of Hampshire. Situated 184 meters above sea level, the mount has its very own folk song originating from the 16th century, and that is occasionally heard in the pubs nearby today.


The white building pointing to the sky is a folly, marking the burial place of “Beware Chalk Pit,” a racehorse that won a race in 1734, just a year after he and his rider survived a 7.6-meter fall into a chalk pit while fox hunting. This historical location is free to visit, and the area offers spectacular views of the British countryside.


9. Wander the Remnants of Wolvesey Castle (Old Bishop’s Palace)

Wolvesey Castle in Winchester, 2014. Source: Mike Peel, Wikimedia Commons


Wolvesey Castle was once one of the most significant medieval structures in Hampshire. Situated close to Winchester, the residence of powerful ecclesiastical and political figures, the castle was erected around 1110 and played critical roles in royal, religious, and political events up until the 1680s. The name “Wolvesey” derives from the fact that the palace is built on an eyot, a small island, in the River Itchen called “Wulf’s island” or “Wulveseye.”


Several bishops helped develop Wolvesey Castle, including Bishop Henry of Blois (1129–1171), who was the brother of, and advisor to, King Stephen (1092 or 1096–1154). Henry of Blois added various new buildings to reflect the wealth of the reign, and the castle is thought to have survived the next five centuries thanks to his efforts. Halls, curtain walls, and other fortifications were added by other bishops over the following years.


Wolvesey Castle ruins, 2010. Source: Johan Bakker, Wikimedia Commons


Wulf’s island boasted several buildings from the Roman period that the early Bishops of Winchester, Aethelwold I (963–984) and Bishop William Giffard (1107–1129), used as official residences. The castle suffered a siege during the Rout of Winchester in 1141 and was successfully defended during the First Baron’s War. In 1554, it was lavishly decorated to host the wedding breakfast of Queen Mary and Philip II of Spain.


Following damage caused during the English Civil War, Old Bishop’s Palace fell out of favor, and a new palace was constructed nearby by Bishop George Morley (1598–1684). By the mid-18th century, the bishops of Winchester, who owned much of the land in Surrey, the Isle of White, and Hampshire, used Farnham Castle as their preferred residence. Wolvesey Castle fell into disuse and was largely demolished in 1786. Today, the surviving ruins can be explored on foot.


10. Delve Further Into the Religious History of Hampshire at Bishop’s Waltham Palace

Bishop’s Waltham Palace, 2004. Source: Gerd Eichmann, Wikimedia Commons


Bishop Henry of Blois was not only responsible for the erection of the palace at Wolvesey Castle but was also the driving force behind the construction of Bishop’s Waltham Palace. Like Wolvesey Castle, this building was intended to reflect the wealth and power that the bishops of the Middle Ages enjoyed in these parts of England. The original construction from 1160s to 1170s was remodeled by Cardinal Henry Beaufort between 1408 and 1443, adding a chapel and inner gatehouse along with various other enhancements.


Bishop Thomas Langton would later add an outer court during his time as bishop (1493–1501). Henry VIII and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V forged an alliance against Francis I, the King of France, at Waltham in 1522. Waltham was surrendered to the King in 1551 and was burned to the ground during the English Civil War. Since then, Waltham has changed hands many times but remained in a largely ruinous state. Wander the grounds to tread in old bishops’ footsteps and visit the Bishop’s Waltham Museum to discover more about the unique ecclesial history of Hampshire.

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By Katie ParrLL.B. LawKatie holds a First Class Law Degree LL.B. from the University of Kent, Canterbury. She is a professional writer and owns a small copywriting business. When she’s not creating content for different projects, she’s planning her next travels. She has a keen interest in history and culture of both Great Britain, where she is from, and abroad. She enjoys exploring old bookshops, visiting new places, and walking her dog.