Fringe Box



Town is Gripped by Olympic Torch Relay

Published on: 21 Jul, 2012
Updated on: 21 Jul, 2012

Cycling was the best way to get around as vehicles avoided town centre

David Rose’s blog on a day that will go down in Guildford’s history

I hope Friday, July 20, 2012, will be remembered with great pride and joy in Guildford by the thousands who turned out to watch the 2012 London Olympics Torch Relay as it passed through the town.

The day the Olympics came to Guildford. Picture by Mike Ellis of Gingercat Photography.

Here at The Guildford Dragon News we have a small team, but with some careful planning and a bit of extra help we hope that we have covered the events well.

Austin Playfoot with Councillor Jen Powell. Picture by David Rose.

I arrived at Stoke Park just after 3pm to collect my press pass to the Celebrating the London 2012 Olympic Torch event. First person I met was Councillor Jen Powell, Guildford Borough’s lead councillor for leisure and culture. She was delighted with how it was all going. We commented on the weather, saying how much we hoped the weather would stay dry. It did, of course!

Jan was with torchbearer Austin Playfoot and his wife. I first met Austin several years ago – at the time when it was announced that London would be hosting the 2012 games.

I can boast that I was the first journalist to interview him about his memories of being a torchbearer for the 1948 London Olympics. I wrote up a story that included some of his photos of the day he ran with the torch from the Horse and Groom pub in Merrow to the then Municipal Buildings in the upper High Street. It appeared in the column I used to edit, From the Archives, in the Surrey Advertiser.

Over the past few months, Austin has become a bit of a celebrity appearing on TV and talking to the media about when he was a young amateur athlete. Now 82 years old, he told me that he is still involved with local athletics, acting as a timekeeper and marshall, and so on, at race meets.

Proud to have been chosen as a torchbearer once again in Guildford, Austin said that earlier in the day he had done a trial walk of his section of the relay through Stoke Park. He was taking it all in his stride. I don’t know if he realised just how much a star of the show he was going to be when he walked with the flame and then lit the cauldron. Actually, I think he quite fancied running it.

His house is called Torch Cottage. We joked that now he’ll have to rename it something like Two Torches…

The story that I originally wrote about him and the events on a very hot day back in 1948, led to Guildfordian Michael Williams coming forward with further photos of the 1948 event in Guildford. At the time his grandfather, Arthur Williams, was Mayor of Guildford. He greeted Austin Playfoot outside the Municipal Buildings.

And who did I also meet as I was leaving my bike at the cycle park in Stoke Park, but Michael himself – being one of the volunteer marshalls at the event. He knows Austin Pkayfoot well and was hoping to have a chat with him later that day.

You could have your photo taken with a real torch courtesy of Lloyds TSB. Picture by Helen Rose.

By 4pm the park was filling up. There were lots of activities going on and the sun came out, so it was all rather pleasant. However, just after 5pm I made tracks back to my bike and headed off to see how things were going along the route to the park from where the Olympic Flame was finishing this, Day 63 of the torch relay, to near the roundabout by Guildford Cathedral, where it was due to arrive by car from Godalming. Estimated time of its arrival there was 6.15pm.

What struck me immediately as I cycled along Stoke Road was the lack of traffic! It’s usually so busy at this time on a Friday. I went down York Road with hardly a vehicle passing or overtaking me. The town had come to a gentle standstill. I’d heard earlier in the day that some shops were closing early. So strange to see so few cars, but soon a good deal of people!

Ukelele band at Guildford railway station. Picture by David Rose.

Down Onslow Street and on the corner by Bridge Street the crowds were gathering. I pushed my bike up towards the railway station where there was a ukulele band. Ukejam Guildford were entertaining people leaving the station. The party was starting to swing.

Free refreshments at Guildford Park Church. Picture by David Rose.

Along Farnham Road people were gathing. Into Guildford Park Road and along The Chase the numbers were growing. As I made my way I met various people I know. One told me he had a special railway pass to get from Guildford station to London Road station to make it easier to get to Stoke Park.

Not long now! Picture by David Rose.

Someone else said they were hoping to find a spot where they could see one of the hand-overs of the flame between torchbearers. The tip was to look for the waiting torchbearer appear a few minutes before the one with the flame and home in on a spot as close as possible.

At the junction of The Chase and St Johns Road in Dennisville it was heaving. I spoke to another group of people I know, telling them I was hoping to get as far as the cathedral roundabout. It was too busy to push my bike along the pavement, so I rode along the road. By this time, about 5.45pm, everyone seemed to want to see some action, so suddenly people in the crowd started cheering. No just cheering me, but a couple of other cyclists as well.

I got to the roundabout and was surprised to see that it too was covered with people. I pushed my bike up the slope to the top thinking it would be a good vantage point.

However, I realised that I should try to get closer to where the first Guildford torchbearer would start their leg of the relay and get some photos. But where exactly would the convoy stop?

No speciific spot had been revealed, even to the media. I spied Surrey Advertiser snapper Darren Pepe standing near to the road that leads up to the cathedral. So I left the roundabout and went over to him.

He said that this must be the spot as an official Torch Relay sticker with the number ‘129’ had been stuck to the post of a road sign. So I stood there and sure enough it was the right spot.

Part of the Torch Relay convoy. Picture by David Rose.

The convoy arrived on time. Past went the police outriders, the sponsors’ vehicles and the bus carrying the torchbearers for the stretch ahead through the town.

Everyone wanted to take a photo of torchbearer Lisa Roberts. Picture by David Rose.

Out stepped torch bearer Lisa Roberts. Suddenly, everyone who was standing there began taking photos. Within a few minutes her torch was lit and she was on her way to loud cheers.

She’s off, to loud cheers from the crowd. Picture by David Rose.

As the crowds dispersed I began to head back to Stoke Park, taking a route through the University of Surrey. It too was packed with people milling around. There’s been graduation ceremonies all this week, so there were many new graduates, all dressed up, with their parents coming or going from their reception in a large marquee. Many had also been to the university entrance to see the Torch Relay.

Only a few cars as I cycled along Walnut Tree Close, over the footbridge by the Seven Arches bridge and along the footpath to Woodbridge Road. I made my way back to Stoke Park via the lido.

Locking my bike back up, I headed towards the main stage at the far end of the park (London Road / Epsom Road). It was going to be difficult to get through. There were barriers placed along the route to be taken by the final torchbearer. Down near Jubilee Wood I stopped to work out the best way to go. Then suddenly I saw Austin Playfoot waiting for the torch hand-over.

One of the relay cycle outriders gets Austin’s torch ready for lighting.

What a bit of luck. In fact, there weren’t too many spectators here. So I waited and to my surprise the torchbearer who came along was another person I know, Ellie Messham. So, I managed a quick word with her about how heavy the torch is and then snapped some photos of her and Austin.

Lighting up time! Picture by David Rose.

I then followed Austin as he made his way through the park, but the crowds were so dense I got nowhere near the main stage and watched him light the beacon on one of the large TV screens.

But with the rest of our team we have plenty of images – including some video footage taken from the balcony of the Guildhall in the High Street.

The cauldron alight. Picture by Mike Ellis of Gingercat Photography.

Later on I met up with Councillor Terence Patrick. He is another who deserves a pat on the back as, behind the scenes, he’s been one of many who, back when London won the bid for the games, was adamant that the flame should come to Guildford and with some kind of special celebration laid on.

Soon though it was back home, laptop on and to download all our images and start writing up the day’s events. It certainly was a day in Guildford like no other!

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Responses to Town is Gripped by Olympic Torch Relay

  1. Chris McSween

    July 23, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Hi David,
    We saw you on your bike up the Chase. We’d come out from Raymond Crescent and there was a brilliant atmosphere. Great to see so many friends and neighbours gathered, it was really something special.