I remember my mother’s atlas, with a cover the colour of a Rich Tea biscuit – from the 1930s – when Britain had an Empire and that nice Mr Hitler was the Chancellor of Germany. The colourful maps seemed to drown in what I can only describe as bathroom-pink. Those countries coloured so pink were ‘ours’ – part of the British Empire – and we celebrated our ownership on Empire Day, the 24th May. This day was chosen because it was the Queen’s birthday and was first celebrated in 1902.
And perhaps this ironically foretold the end of the Empire, as the Queen’s birthday we were celebrating was Victoria’s, who had died the previous year (a memorial to her or a portent of doom for the Empire?) Ah – those were the days – when everyone knew where Britain was on the map and we all knew our place in the world.
These days . . . well, many people would have difficulty finding this scepter’d isle on a globe and, if it is an inflatable globe, they are more likely to be kicking it around and pretending that we are still great at football – ah: nostalgia! But enough of that!
So, what about our blessed plot? Ask folk where a particular place is and, even if it is their home town, they may well have difficulty finding it on a map of the United Kingdom. As for anybody knowing where a stranger is from! Tell people I live in Kent, and see the puzzled frown. It’s the wrong side of the M25, you see. Escape to the rest of the country is blocked by this massive car park of a motorway. Little attention is given by those from the rest of England as they zoom past Kent on their way to the continent.
So, what about other counties? Is it just the South and South East that nobody’s heard of? Really, there is little hope. Yorkshire has tea and Devon has cream teas. Most other counties fade into a fog. The question must be, how many of us can, with confidence, jab a digit upon these and so many other places upon a map?
What hope is there for Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire? An ‘urricane would ‘ardly hever find them. Unsurprisingly, when I told people I’d written a book about Hampshire, the reaction was not “Where’s Hampshire?” but “What’s Hampshire”. The word Hampshire was not even recognised as a place, just an unidentifiable thing.
And it’s not as if Hampshire is insignificant. For a start, it is the ninth largest county in England (other countries in the United Kingdom are also available, but criteria for the statistics are variable). Fine – it’s not in the medals, not even a bronze, but it’s still quite big. Of course, when the counties include metropolitan ones, Hampshire’s not as densely populated – it’s only mid-table for that. Although, because of its size, it is still in the top ten for numbers.
So, it is large, it has loads of people living there without feeling crowded and it still has huge stretches of open landscape.
However, to answer the question “Where is Hampshire on the map?” Right at the bottom, in the middle.
Words by Heather Lacey