Monday, 16 July 2012

The Olympic Torch in Petersfield Monday July 16th 2012

The Olympic Torch in Petersfield, Monday, 16th July 2012

The Olympic torch bearer in Dragon Street, Petersfield, Monday July 16th 2012

The Olympics are coming! Today the Olympic torch relay passed through the ancient Hampshire market town of Petersfield which is situated in the south east corner of the county close to the border with Sussex, and was therefore the last stop for the Olympic torch in Hampshire before it crossed over into Sussex and made its way through Rogate, Midhurst, Chichester, and onto Brighton. I decided last week that I should attempt to see the torch as it passed through Petersfield as an archaeologist and historian I was conscious that this would be a historic moment. After much careful planning I arrived in Petersfield this morning at about 6.20am and parked in the Avenue. I made my way to Dragon Street and took a chair with me to perch my recusant post processual posterior on as I was going to have to wait for two hours! After pouring myself a cup of English Breakfast tea from my flask I settled down. The first thing that happened was that I was approached by an interviewer from the local radio station Kestrel FM ( who asked me why I had come and at such an early time. I explained that as a historian and archaeologist I thought that it was important to experience this event and to record it. The interviewer asked me if I was going to blog about it – yes - you are reading about it now!

It might have been before 7am but Dragon Street was beginning to see action. Community support workers from Hampshire County Council and street chaplains from Petersfield town chaplaincy ( made up of members of local churches in the Petersfield area were beginning to appear. One of the street chaplains came over and had a chat with me. I told her a bit about the volunteering that I used to do for the Citizens Advice Bureau in Petersfield and she told me a bit about the work of the street chaplains.

I also had my iPhone on me and was tweeting Kevin Gard. Kevin is a Petersfield lad who has now retired after 30 years in Hampshire Police to Kenya with his wife Tracy where they volunteer at a children’s’ home in Mombasa. Kevin keeps a blog about the Tumaini Children’s Home and you can visit it here:

Over the weekend Kevin followed the torch relay around the Isle of Wight where he lived for many years. He was able to follow it via the BBC website live feed and tweeted me when it was going around Fratton Park in Portsmouth the home of Portsmouth Football Club, when it was going along the A3 and passed Butser Hill, and when it had finally arrived in Petersfield at the Causeway. By 8am the crowds were gathering along both sides of Dragon Street and the anticipation was rising and when the torch arrived the excitement amongst people was tangible with everyone cheering and waving at the entire convoy including the police outriders

All this technology and anticipation got me thinking about what the Olympic torch relay is a modern version of? I decided that it is like the progress of a monarch through towns and the countryside during the medieval and early modern periods. We are used to seeing the image of the monarch on everything from stamps to tea towels and the Queen’s grandson Prince William and his wife Catherine have even been feted like movie stars. The Olympic torch relay is a once in a lifetime event and that is what seeing the monarch pass through a village or town during the middle ages or the early modern period would have been for the majority of the ordinary people the only chance to see what the king looked like in the flesh. So people would gather in advance wherever the king was travelling though in order to get a glimpse of him. The Olympic torch was on schedule and passed through Petersfield very quickly, I was able to take some photos of the event including two of the torch bearer as he came up Dragon Street. It was different seeing it in person, on the news the torch bearer always appears to be walking or running slowly, but in reality the torch bearer came along Dragon Street in a flash and then he was gone and as soon as he had passed by the crowds that had amassed along the length of Dragon Street began to dissipate. I returned to my car and had a warming cup of tea and by the time that I was driving through Petersfield the town was back to its old self. No doubt this is how places and people operated when the king passed through much anticipation and waiting and then it was over quickly and things returned to normal.

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