Day forty-three in the London 2012 Olympic Games Torch Relay – Saturday 30 June – could have been just any old day, but instead this was to be a very a special day for Bloxwich, Leamore – and of course Walsall and Willenhall!
So it was that this day’s part of the relay, which began at Olympia in Greece and ultimately ends in London, where the final torch will light the Olympic Cauldron to start the games, began on a much more significant note – with the first torch of the day being carried to mark national Armed Forces Day by war hero Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, VC, from the steps of the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, Staffordshire. Then travelling via Lichfield, Tamworth and the A5 to join the A34 at Churchbridge (Cannock), it was to be all uphill from there to Bloxwich, via Great Wyrley and Newtown.
Every few hundred yards the flame was passed on to another torch, each carried by a new torchbearer and surrounded by a convoy of official, police and sponsors vehicles, until at 12 noon the relay reached the border of Bloxwich, Walsall Metropolitan Borough, and West Midlands, all marked by our very own boundary post on the A34, and then as the final bearer from Staffordshire entered our ‘airspace’, the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay became part of our own history.
At 10am the torch route had become a no parking zone from the Bloxwich boundary onward, with no cars permitted to park along the route all day. Had anyone made that error, they could easily have been towed away, as evidenced by warnings beforehand and the presence of two towing low-loaders! But as far as we know there were no problems, along the Bloxwich route at least.
The Bloxwich Telegraph’s editor, Stuart WIlliams (yours truly!), was out and about early to suss out the route for photography, and had the pleasure of catching up with a small group of volunteers including a local councillor and members of Bloxwich Business Partnership and Bloxwich Carnival Committee, who as you can see from the picture below were busy climbing up poles and tying on red, white and blue ribbon and balloons along the route!
Some of the shops along High Street also had decorated windows, some retained from the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Particularly notable for its appropriately international flavour was the Black Country Polish Shop, which had not only been decorated with flags but had sprouted its own novel Olympic Torch!
Meantime, preparations were being made for entertainments and fun activities outside Bloxwich CE Primary School (the National!) and All Saints Church, as well as in Bloxwich Park for the ‘Party in the Park’ and sporting events organised on behalf of the local community by Walsall Council staff working with local organisations and others. Bunting was everywhere, complemented with flags, balloons and more!
By the time I had returned to assume my chosen spot ready for photographing the torch relay convoy (on the High Street by the entrance to Church Street), crowds had already begun to gather, a brief but heavy shower or two not having put many off, and by the time the convoy had arrived at the Bloxwich boundary post, thousand of local people of all ages were lining the length of High Street as many as ten deep in places! A torrential shower then swept down the High Street, but thankfully The Bloxwich Telegraph’s news camera (aka ‘The Beast’) is waterproof, so we were able to ride it out for about ten minutes, and it was all fun in the sun from then on.
It was here that I had the pleasure, while waiting for the torch to arrive, to meet many fine Bloxwich folk, and take their pictures, as you can see below and in the Flickr album (see Flickr link at bottom of page for many more). Please also note that one or two photographs shown here have also kindly been supplied by other photographers, who have been credited where appropriate, and I thank them for that courtesy.
Several torchbearers had been assigned in advance to Bloxwich and Leamore. In Bloxwich Christopher Bridgeman, aged 62, from Nantwich, was all set to run from the vicinity of Wallington Heath. James Dowdall, 32, lives in Telford but is the son-in-law of a Walsall Council worker. Kris Richardson, 16, was the most local runner, from Walsall. Prakash Pillai, aged 41, came all the way from Lusaka, in Zambia, Africa. Seety Naidoo, from Rose Hill (Mauritius, not Willenhall!), is 45. Giles Birt of Shrewsbury, 49, came to Bloxwich to pass the Olympic flame to Thierry Laurent, 43, who has his home in Roswell, Georgia, USA. Mr Laurent was one of two torchbearers this reporter had the privilege of meeting personally and welcoming to Bloxwich.
The other, on the Leamore leg (Somerfield Road from High Street to Green Lane) was young Callum Pattinson, aged 14, from Stoke on Trent – I caught up with him later at the Party in the Park (Bloxwich Park, off High Street). Finally Tanya Fouche, 35, of Johannesburg, was last but not least, all the way from South Africa!
For more information on the Bloxwich and Leamore Olympic Torch Bearers, see our page about them via this link.
Before the convoy was due to arrive, Mr Laurent was dropped off by the torch relay tour bus at the entrance to Church Street at five past 12 noon, in plenty of time, and he was immediately surrounded by excited and welcoming crowds, many hoping to have their photo taken with him! He looked a little surprised and bewildered at first, but soon warmed to a fine old Bloxwich welcome.
Around this time, the bells began to be rung to mark the occasion at All Saints Church, just across the road. Visitors to the church and waiting members of the public nearby had already been enjoying musical entertainment from a gazebo in the churchyard, where a mini fun day was well under way.
A couple of minutes after his arrival three massive vehicles promoting sponsors of the Olympic games arrived, including Coca Cola, Samsung and Lloyds TSB, the former taking the high-tech approach and the latter travelling in a modified vintage American bus!
Just after 12.18pm the previous runner, Mr Giles Birt, arrived at Church Street carrying the Olympic Flame on his torch (see top photo), and after a few moments, with some assistance and to the sound of resounding Bloxwich cheers and thunderous applause, this was ceremonially passed on to Mr Laurent’s own torch, and he took up the relay, running towards Leamore via High Street and Somerfield Road, where he was due to pass on the flame to Callum Pattinson just past the junction with Somerfield Road.
Callum in turn passed the flame on to Tanya Fouche just outside the Grosvenor Park football ground, and Ms Fouche completed her run just before the Green Lane/Leamore Lane crossroads.
After that, the Convoy disappeared up Green Lane to continue the relay in Walsall town centre, but that is another story. But not quite, for it was at this point that I met up with the Allport and Smith families, who had gone out of their way to prepare their own welcome for the torch – to Leamore, their home of many years! What great people they were, good sports all – as you can see from the photographs!
There was still, of course. the fun going on back in Bloxwich Park, so after grabbing some chips from Scoffs on the way back down High Street, this reporter went on to cover some of the activities, stalls, and – not heard in the park for decades – live music, at the Party in the Park!
Let the pictures speak for themselves at this point, and there are many many more in the Flickr album, but suffice to say that, like the whole torch relay event and other activities in the village centre, it was immensely well-supported and enthusiastically received by the people of Bloxwich, Leamore and district, and we can only hope to see such fun events going on in Bloxwich Park in future, now the bar has been raised so high by all the combined hard work and enthusiasm of Walsall Council Staff, Bloxwich Business Partnership, Bloxwich Rotary, Bloxwich Carnival Committee and other local organisations and police working together for the good of the community.
There isn’t room to show you all the photographs taken of the Olympic Torch Relay at Bloxwich for The Bloxwich Telegraph here, so as usual with big events we have compiled a photo album on Flickr for you to enjoy – you can view it via the following link, use the Slideshow button for best effect:
If you had your photo taken by The Bloxwich Telegraph, you’ll be able to download it from this album or buy prints if you need them! If you don’t see yourself or your activity or group here, sorry! There was just too much to get round in a short time. Hope to see you next time!