London 2012: Huge crowds as Hamstreet village sees Olympic flame

Torchbearers stage the "torch kiss" as the flame is handed over Torchbearer Andrew Liveris said the waiting crowds and the children's smiles had made him feel fantastic before taking the flame from Bernard Af Forselles

Thousands of people descended on a quiet village on the edge of the Romney Marsh in Kent to watch the Olympic torch pass by.

Hamstreet has a population of about 2,000 people, but a further 2,500 schoolchildren arrived in coach-loads to see the flame, community wardens said.

And the crowds were swelled by visitors from surrounding villages and some who crossed the Channel for the day.

Houses were decked out in flags. Sports and entertainment events were being held on the green. But when the crowds arrived, villagers said they had never seen anything like it before.

'Normally pretty quiet'

Jenny Green, 67, a Hamstreet resident who was helping to seat elderly and disabled people along the torch route outside the church, said: "I have been here for 42 years. We had Jubilee parties, but I don't think anything has come up to this. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event."

Rosemary Clark at her sandwich and cake stall outside her shop Rosemary Clark said she hoped the torch would put Hamstreet on the map

And Val Showell, 70, a church warden, said: "This is enormous - when you see the amount of work the village has put in.

"It's normally pretty quiet here. At this time of day, the children are in school and people have gone to work. I have never seen this many people here at once before."

The hope was that the torch relay would bring a much-needed boost in difficult economic times, shopkeeper Rosemary Clark said.

The 75-year-old owner of The Chocolate Box, who set up a sandwich and cupcake stall outside her shop for the relay, said the impact of the Olympic flame was not about the income generated on the day, but more about putting Hamstreet on the map so people would use the village more.

She said: "I'm hoping people see the village for what it is and come to use it again - not just for high days and holidays."

'Sense of community'

Mrs Clark said: "We have so many things going on. We want people to keep coming.

HAMSTREET VILLAGE AND THE ROMNEY MARSH

  • The marsh spans about 25,000 acres (10,000 hectares) bordering the English Channel
  • It has emerged from the sea since Roman times
  • The wetland area is famous for its Romney Marsh sheep - a long-wool variety
  • In the 16th Century, the population suffered from malaria, until drainage was improved
  • Smugglers made the marshes famous from the 17th Century onwards and Russell Thorndike set his Doctor Syn novels there
  • Romney Marsh has 14 medieval churches
  • Hamstreet is often referred to as the Gateway to the Marsh

"This stall is just a by-product of the event and this shop is my bread and butter - but as far as the Olympic torch is concerned, we really hope this will put Hamstreet and the map and that people will come back."

International visitors included eight Belgian bikers who came over to Kent for the day.

Umans Roger, 51, said: "We saw something was happening. We stopped and asked and now we are waiting with everyone else.

"We knew Dover had the torch, but for it to arrive in this tiny little village was quite a surprise."

Torch fans in Hamstreet agreed the village held some attractions that led people to watch the torch there instead of Ashford, where larger celebrations were held.

The church team said the elderly people who they helped with chairs and blankets would have been frightened of driving into Ashford, parking there, and finding their way around.

Glynn Hukins, from the nearby hamlet of Ruckinge, said she preferred to watch the torch in Hamstreet.

Children with Andrew Liveris Waiting children had their picture taken with torchbearer Andrew Liveris

"There's more atmosphere here," she said. "In Ashford, it's just a route, but here in the village there are the pubs, the events on the green - there's more of a sense of a community."

Crowds gathered in the village for the two hours leading up to the event, which saw three torchbearers carry the flame through the main street.

Before the flame was handed over in a "kiss", torchbearer Andrew Liveris showed the torch to waiting crowds, and had his picture taken with children lining the route.

People had been told to wait on the pavement but crowds converged in the middle of the road to surround Mr Liveris and get a closer look at the torch.

Before he took the flame from torchbearer Bernard Af Forselles, Mr Liveris said: "I'm feeling fantastic, but do you know why? Look at the smiles around here. Look at these kids."

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