A HUGE crowd exceeding all expectations lined Marlborough’s High Street, six and eight people deep in most places to give the Olympic torchbearers a massive welcome.
One of the biggest crowds ever seen in the town, far bigger than any turn out for carnivals or for the Queen’s Silver and Golden jubilee celebrations occupied every vantage point for the torch’s arrival at about 11.45am.
Original estimates that the town could see as many as 5,000 people was far exceeded with an estimated 6,000 attending, about 2,000 school children helping swell the numbers.
For as far as the eye could see the High Street was a sea of people from the Town Hall - where Mayor Edwina Fogg and councillors stood in their ceremonial costumes - to St Peter’s Church.
A couple of dozen people took advantage of the church viewing deck, on top of its 120 feet tall tower, while others sat on the flat roofs above the High Street’s covered walkway.
The first people had begun to arrive shortly after 9am to secure the best viewing positions and one of the first was nine year old Chris Mundy from Baydon St Nicholas School with his mum Sashi.
They secured a prime position on the tip of the ‘bulge’ by the White Horse Bookshop.
Chris said: “I am really excited.”
More than 200 children from Preshute School at manton walked into town nice and early to take their places and waited patiently knowing that head teacher Celia Hicks had promised them all an ice cream in the Priory Gardens on the way home.
Not to be outdone St Peter’s Junior School headteacher Caroline Spindlow bought all of her 200-plus children an ice lolly to eat while they waited in the baking heat with temperatures soaring into the high 70s.
Mrs Spindlow said: “This is a day they will all remember for the rest of their lives; what an atmosphere.”
The crowds were entertained by acrobats provided by one of the 2012 Olympics sponsors Lloyds Bank; Marlborough Community Choir entertained outside the library while busker Mickie Dobie sang and played guitar outside the Conservative Club.
Tension began to reach a crescendo as word spread through the crowd that the torch bearers were on their way with Goatacre Cricket Club stalwart Eddie Jenkinson, 52, from Royal Wootton Bassett who ran the first leg along Bath Road handing over to retired Swindon PE teacher Ian Perkins, 59.
Mr Perkins carried his torch into the High Street and along as far as the bus stop, where he gave the flame to international pentathlete Freyja Prentice from Bath.
She carried the flame past the cheering crowds and the town councillors who were stood with Wiltshire councillors on the town hall steps.
As she waited holding her torch for her flame to reach her Freyja said: “I was nervous but now I am excited and looking forward to getting on with it.
She carried her torch from the High Street, along New Road and up Herd Street where Swindon breast-cancer fund raiser Sue O’Connell was waiting to run the final leg.
Personal trainer Mrs O’Connell, 47, from Liden has run the London marathon twice and Swindon half marathon several times fro Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
After her largely uphill 400k stint she said: “I was so excited and there were so many people including members of my own family to cheer me on. It was just unbelievable, even better than I had expected it to be.”
The day had a surprise in store for St John’s Year 11 student Luke Callaghan, 16, who lives in Ramsbury.
One of the mayor’s official mace bearers was unable to get time off work so Luke stepped in, donned his uniform and carried one of the pair of priceless maces.
He said: “I was very surprised to be asked. It’s been fantastic.”