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William Ward (1807–1889)

Mayor of Oxford 1851/2 and 1861/2


William Ward
Alderman William Ward, probably in the 1870s
Reproduced by kind permission of Oxford City Council

William Ward was born in Oxford on 30 March 1807 and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 10 April. He was the eldest son of a coal merchant, and he carried on the family business.

Ward’s parents and siblings

William's father was Henry Ward (1780–1852), the son of Abraham Ward and Catherine Lovett of Warwickshire.

William's mother Sarah (1779–1858) is stated by Brigid Allen in Cooper's Oxford also to have had the surname Ward and to be the daughter of another Abraham Ward of Stafford and Oxford  (1839–1817). She was also the younger sister of Ann Gill, who married the Oxford coal merchant James Gill and whose son James junior founded the well-known Oxford ironmongery firm.

William’s father Henry Ward settled in Oxford with Sarah after their marriage. They lived in George Street in St Mary Magdalen parish, where they had twelve children:

  • Catherine Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 28 November 1804 at the same time as her sister Mary)
  • Mary Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 28 November 1804); died aged 4 years 9 months
  • William Ward (eldest son, born 30 March, baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 5 April 1807)
  • Henry Ward (second son, possibly the one baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 28 December 1808)
  • Sarah Ward (baptised privately on 20 June 1810, and at St Mary Magdalen Church on 30 December)
  • Thomas Ward (third son, born 25 May 1812, baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 23 September)
  • John Lovett Ward (fourth son, baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 19 June 1814)
  • Mary Ann Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 17 January 1816)
  • Jane Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 3 August 1817)
  • Ann Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 30 December 1818)
  • Eliza Ward (baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 27 December 1820)
  • George Ward (fifth son, baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 10 January 1823).

A man called William Ward died at George Street at the age of 70 in 1815 and was the first person buried in a large new Ward family vault in St Mary Magdalen churchyard on 19 July 1815 (see photograph at end of page). He is probably the great-uncle of the Mayor. The Mayor's maternal grandfather Abraham Ward died at George Street at the age of 77 in 1817 and was buried in that vault on 30 January: his death was announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal.

William Ward was admitted free on 5 December 1831. Three of his younger brothers were also admitted free: Henry in 1830, Thomas in 1834, and George in 1843. His fourth brother, John Lovett Ward, became an ironmonger in Warwick (where he was to be declared bankrupt in 1869).

William's father Henry Ward had a strong sense of civic duty. G. V. Cox wrote that in March 1838:

“the first steps were taken for a Boat-chapel, near the Oxford Canal; the plan originated with, and was carried out by, the excellent father of an excellent family, Mr Ward, coal-merchant, who had found that the bargemen never did and never would present themselves at a church in their rough costume. ‘It won’t do for such as we!’ They were quite ‘at whoam’ in the barge.”

William's father Henry (who had been living in Beaumont Street at the time of his death at the age of 71) was buried on 5 March 1852 in the family vault in St Mary Magdalen churchyard where his own father Abraham had been buried in 1817. William's mother Sarah died at the age of 78 and was buried with him on 28 June 1858.


William Ward himself

William Ward continued his father's business as a coal merchant, which was based at Canal Wharf.

On 20 July 1830 at Alvechurch, Worcestershire, William Ward married Harriet Timmis: she was the eldest daughter of Joseph Timmis of Alvechurch Lodge and his wife Ann Woollaston, and was baptised at Alvechurch on 9 November 1808.

22 St John Street

He brought his wife back to Oxford, and they at first lived in the house that stands at the junction of St John Street and Alfred (now Pusey) Street (right), in St Giles's parish. This house is now numbered 22 St John Street, but there have been variations of numbering here.

The first eleven of Ward's thirteen children were born here at St John’s Street:

  • Henry Ward (born on 8 July 1832, baptised at St Giles’ Church on 27 August)
  • Anne Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 20 June 1834)
  • Harriet Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 24 February 1836)
  • William Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 9 June 1837, died aged 9 and buried at St Mary Magdalen Church on 30 September 1846)
  • Joseph Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 14 December 1838, died at just a few hours old and buried at St Mary Magdalen Church the next day)
  • Sarah Catherine Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 29 December 1839)
  • Eliza Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 12 September 1841)
  • Mary Jane Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 29 March 1843)
  • George Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 31 March 1845, died at just 16 days old and buried at St Mary Magdalen Church on 2 April 1845)
  • John Woollaston Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church 8 March 1846)
  • Edith Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 28 December 1847).

Ward was first elected as a councillor for the North Ward in 1839, but lost his seat in 1841. Just a few days later, however, he was returned with a huge majority for the Central Ward, where a vacancy had occurred.

At the time of the 1841 census Ward and his wife were still living in St John Street with their first five surviving children: Henry (8), Ann (7), Harriet (5), William (4), and Sarah (1). The family then had three female servants.

Ward was elected Sheriff of Oxford for 1844/5 and an Alderman in 1850.

41 St Giles

By 1850 William Ward and his large family had moved to 41 St Giles's Street (left) (now the Theology Faculty), which was also in St Giles's parish.

He was to spend the rest of his life here, and his five unmarried daughters continued to live here after his death, with the last remaining in the house for 70 years until her own death in c.1916.

Ward’s twelfth child was born in this house:

•  Alice Ward (baptised at St Giles’ Church on 1 February 1850).

At the time of the 1851 census, Ward was described as a coal and slate merchant employing seven men. Eight of his children were at home with him at 41 St Giles’s Street: Henry (18), Ann (16), Sarah (11), Eliza (9), Mary Jane (8), John (5), Edith (3), and Alice (1). The family was looked after by three servants: a cook, a nursemaid, and a housemaid. His wife Harriet was absent from the house on census night.

Later in 1851 Ward was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1851/2), and his thirteenth and youngest child was born during his mayoralty:

  • Arthur Ernest Ward (baptised at St Giles's Church on 20 August 1852).

In 1856 Ward became a Justice of the Peace. Although he had always been a Conservative, at the Oxford parliamentary election of July 1857 (when all four candidates were Liberals), he supported Edward Cardwell against the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

His eldest son was married in 1858:

  • On 28 October 1858 at St Giles's Church, Oxford, Henry Ward (26) married Maria Ann Browning (29), the daughter of the ironmonger Jonathan Browning,

His daughter Harriet was married in 1860:

  • On 18 September 1860 at St Giles's Church, Oxford, Harriet Timmis Ward (24) married Arthur Andrews (32), a merchant of Monkstown, Dublin and the son of the merchant Richard Andrews.

At the time of the 1861 census William Ward (54), described as an alderman and magistrate as well as a coal & slate merchant, was home at 41 St Giles's Street with Harriet (52) and five of their children: Ann (26), Mary (18), Edith (13), Alice (11), and Arthur (8).

Later in 1861 he was elected Mayor of Oxford a second time (for 1861/2). He was a member of the Managing Committee of the Radcliffe Infirmary, and during his mayoral year he raised £2300 for a new hall for its outpatients.

His second surviving son, John Woollaston Ward, went up to Clare College, Cambridge in Michaelmas Term 1864.

In 1868 Ward was elected the first President of the new Oxford Constitutional Association and became known as the Father of modern Conservatism in Oxford. There had been no Conservative candidate for Oxford’s parliamentary seat for twenty years, and the aim of this association was to win a hearing for Conservative principles. This was not popular with the council, however, and both he and Alderman Thompson lost their Aldermanship, with John Cavell and Edwin Spiers (both future Mayors) being elected to their places. The Local Board, on which Ward had been a member since its foundation, lost its Chairman

Ward’s father’s “chapel” sank in about 1868, and its funds were managed by William Ward and used to support the infant school in Hythe Bridge Street.

Ward was also a leader in the Oxford Movement, and donated the land in Jericho on which St Barnabas’ Church was built in 1869.

At the time of the 1871 census Ward (64) was described as a coal merchant employing twenty men and three boys, as well as serving as a Justice of the Peace of the City of Oxford. Six of his children were still at home at 41 St Giles’ Street: Ann (36), Sarah (31), Eliza (29), Edith (23), and Alice (21), plus Arthur (18), who was an articled clerk to a solicitor. They had a cook, a domestic servant, and a housemaid.

Ward’s wife Harriet Ward died at the age of 67 and was buried in the ward family vault in St Mary Magdalen churchyard on 26 July 1876.

The marriage of Ward's youngest son in 1878 was announced thus in Jackson's Oxford Journal:

June 20, at St. John's Church, Croydon, by the Rev. J. Woollaston Ward, brother of the bridegroom, and the Rev. W. Wilks, Arthur Ernest, youngest son of William Ward, J.P., St. Giles's, Oxford, to Frances Mary, youngest daughter of Henry Bartlett, Esq., Dunsbee House, East Croydon.

At the time of the 1881 census William Ward was a widower of (74), described as a J.P. and a coal merchant, was still living at 41 St Giles Street with his five unmarried daughters: Ann (46), Sarah (41), Eliza (39), Edith (33), and Alice (31), plus their three female servants.

In 1885 Ward gave to the City the drinking fountain that stands at the junction of Walton Well and Southmoor Roads (shown below left in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 3 August 1889 and below right in 2004).

Drinking fountain drawing

Drinking fountain in 2004

The inscription (surrounded by the words “Drink and think of Him who is the Fountain of Life”) reads:

With the consent of the Lords of the Manor this drinking fountain is erected by Mr William Ward to mark the site of a celebrated spring known as Walton Well, adjacent to the ancient fordway into Port Meadow called Walton Ford.

Ward was unable to see the fountain himself because he was going blind and had to be led around the city by his younger brother George; but a later operation did give him some degree of sight.

Ward died on 20 July 1889 at the age of 82, and his body was placed in the family vault at St Mary Magdalen Church.

He was survived by his three sons who reached adulthood and all seven of his daughters. His personal estate came to £14,027 17s. 6d., and his son Henry, now a coal merchant of 12 Norham Gardens, and his daughter Ann were the executors.


The family vault in St Mary Magdalen churchyard

Memorial to the Wards in St Giles' Churchyard 

An impressive monument to the whole Ward dynasty stands over the family vault in the churchyard of St Mary Magdalen:

Side 1 (shown right) commemorates:

  • An earlier William Ward who died at George Street aged 70 in 1815 (possibly a great-uncle of the Mayor)
  • Abraham Ward who died at George Street aged 77 in 1817 (maternal grandfather of the Mayor)
  • Thomas Ward who died at Summertown aged 82 in 1831 (possibly another great-uncle of the Mayor)

Side 2 commemorates:

  • The Mayor William Ward himself, who died aged 82 in 1889
  • His wife Harriet Ward, who died aged 67 in 1876.
  • Their young sons Joseph (died 1836), George (died 1845), and William (died 1846)
  • The Mayor’s sisters Catherine, Mary Ann, Jane, and Ann Ward

Side 3 commemorates:

  • Mary, Elizabeth, and Thomas Ward

Side 4 commemorates:

  • The Mayor's father Henry Ward, who died at Beaumont Street aged 71 in 1852
  • The Mayor's mother Sarah Ward, who died at Beaumont Street aged 78 in 1858
  • Henry Ward who died in Banbury in 1874 aged 65 (probably the Mayor's brother)

Ward’s children
  • His eldest son Henry Ward continued to manage the family coal and corn merchant business.
  • His second surviving son, John Woollaston Ward was Vicar of Llanfihangel-Llantarnam, Monmouthshire from 1897 to 1917. He never married, and died on 20 January 1917
  • His third surviving son, Arthur Ernest Ward, became a solicitor at 7 Broad Street and lived in Woodstock
  • His daughter Mrs Harriet Andrews moved to Dublin with her husband Andrew, whose family business of Andrews & Co. tea, wine & spirit merchants was based at 19/22 Dame Street. Harriett and Arthur lived in Newton House, Newton Avenue, Blackrock in 1911.

Five of Ward’s seven daughters remained unmarried. At the time of the 1911 census Ann (76), Sarah (71), and Eliza (69) were still living at 41 St Giles's Street, while Edith (63) and Alice (61) were living with their brother, the Revd John Woollaston Ward, at Llantarnam Vicarage.

The obituary of Miss Alice Ward is in the Oxford Times of 17 October 1941, p.8.

Other relations of William Ward
  • Ward’s cousin’s daughter, Sarah Jane Gill, became Frank Cooper’s wife and was to invent Oxford Marmalade
  • Ward’s younger brother John Lovett Ward became a farmer
  • Ward’s youngest brother George Ward (1823–1887) was taken into partnership by his father’s cousin, James Gill, who was childless, and the firm became known as Gill & Ward. See the grave of George's family in St Sepulchre's Cemetery.
  • Another William Ward, who lived at 72 Great Clarendon Street and died there at the age of 78 on 27 April 1886, is likely to have been a relation, given that he too was an ironmonger.

Full obituary of William Ward

Ward's death notice in Jackson's Oxford Journal read simply: “July 20 [1889], at 41, St. Giles's-street, Oxford, William Ward, J.P., aged 82”, but he had the following very long obituary, published on 27 July 1889, which describes in detail the politics of Oxford in the 1850s and 1860s:

DEATH OF MR. WILLIAM WARD

It is with sincere regret that we record the death of one who must have been known by name and reputation, if not by personal acquaintance, to a very large number of our readers. For nearly fifty years Mr. William Ward has been a prominent public man in Oxford. To quote a saying of his own, “Public men are public property,” and we may add that the loss of such a man is a public loss, but Mr. Ward had descended far into the vale of years accompanied by honour, love, and troops of friends. His day's work was done, and retaining consciousness to the very end, he could look back upon a well-spent life, with the happy knowledge that he had made many friends, but never an enemy in all the long years of his public service.

First elected to the Town Council for the North Ward in September, 1839, he sustained a defeat on vacating his seat in 1841, but was in no way deterred by this, but standing a few days afterwards for the Central Ward on Mr. James Wyatt's election as Alderman, was returned against Mr. Taylor by a very large majority; he was elected Sheriff in 1844, and Alderman in 1850, and Chief Magistrate of the City in 1851, being nominated for that office by Alderman Warburton and seconded by Alderman William Thorp. Mr. Ward, in returning thanks on this, his first election as Mayor, made a remark highly characteristic of him, namely, that “if he had declined the honour which they wished to confer upon him, it might have appeared as if he shrank from a public duty.” In 1856 Mr. Ward was nominated a Justice of the Peace, and in 1861 he was elected a second time as Mayor, being proposed for the office by the out-going Mayor (Alderman Sadler) and seconded by Alderman Randall, the latter of whom aptly described Mr. Ward as “a citizen of the highest character, distinguished alike for his business habits, and for his desire to make himself useful to his fellow men.” The following year Mr. Ward was naturally re-elected an Alderman, but a few years later he was destined to experience the sad fact that public services when placed in the balance against party claims are, in the Oxford Town Council at any rate, made to kick the beam. Mr. Ward had always been a consistent Conservative, but we find him supporting Mr. Cardwell in July, 1857, against Mr. Thackeray, the famous novelist. In the preceding March Cardwell had been beaten by Langston and Neate by the narrow majority of 41 votes; both Neate and Cardwell were supporters of Lord Palmerston, but the course the latter, as a Peelite, had taken upon the Crimean War, and the outbreak in China, was not popular. Neate was unseated upon petition, and a second election occurred in the July following, when Thackeray stood as a Liberal and Cardwell as a Liberal-Conservative, a Peelite supporter of Lord Palmerston, and it is rather curious to find the semi-Conservative attacked by the Liberal in these words, used by Mr. Thackeray,

“Why did you turn him (Cardwell) out? Because he belonged to a party in Parliament which, if allowed to prevail, and which if it had not been kicked out by the indignant feeling of the country — as it was kicked out — would have plunged us deeply into degradation, and would have had us licking the boots of the Emperor of Russia. It is my deliberate conviction that the party to which Mr. Cardwell belongs did, by cringing to the Emperor of Russia, cause him to believe we should never fight, and that was the real cause of the Russian War.”

That was a curious transposition of parties as we now have them, when the “Jingoes” were to be found in the ranks of the Liberals, and the suspicion of “peace at any price” principles rested upon the more Conservative section of the party, supported by the local Tories, among them by Mr. Alderman Ward. Thackeray was defeated, but only by 67 votes, and The Times bade him console himself with the reflection that the collective House of Commons could not write Barry Lyndon or Vanity Fair.

It was not until 1868 that the Conservatives of Oxford mustered up sufficient energy to fight for the representation. There had not been a Conservative candidate for twenty years, and the party really did not know what their strength or numbers were in the City. A Constitutional Association was then formed in view of the approaching General Election, when Mr. Charles Neate finally retired from public life, and Sir William, then Mr. Harcourt, was brought forward as the Liberal candidate to run with Mr. Cardwell. Mr. William Ward was elected the first President of the new Oxford Constitutional Association, and so may fairly be called the Father of modern Conservatism in Oxford. This outrageous rebellion against the constituted order of things in Oxford, this audacious attempt to win a hearing after twenty years' silence for Conservative principles, above all, this impious selection of a Conservative candidate in the teeth of the selection of the official Liberal candidates, was too much for the Oxford Town Council to endure. Condign punishment was decreed in the secret councils of the party against the two Aldermen, W. Thompson and W. Ward, for thus venturing to express their political opinions through a Constitutional Association. On the ninth of November those two gentlemen found themselves at the bottom of the poll with nine and ten votes against their names, the Liberal Aldermen being returned, with two new men, Messrs. Cavell and E. T. Spiers, by the full force of the party. Time brought its revenge, and Ald. Cavell was in turn deprived of his Aldermanic gown, to make room for a Conservative. This is, in our opinion, which we have often expressed, a base prostitution of civic offices to party purposes Mr. Ward thus commented upon the action of the Liberals at a great Conservative demonstration in the Corn Exchange, three days after the Aldermanic election:—

“They object very strongly to our Constitutional Association. Well, I can only say that friends came to me and said, Will you join an Association if we form one! I should have thought myself a coward if I had not. I said, 'Of course I will,' and I did my best to get in Conservatives. But when we bring forward Conservative members, the 'Liberals' of this City say 'We will turn out Ald. Ward,' and that is not party spirit.! They have turned Mr. Thompson out. Why? He took an active part in the Constitutional Association. Of course there is no party feeling in that. I think this is scandalous. I don't care as regards myself one halfpenny, for a public man must be public property, but I do regret the exclusion of Mr. Thompson. He did more when he was Mayor of Oxford than the previous Mayors had done in the 20 years before. Who have you to thank but him for the splendid hall for the out-patients of the infirmary. When he was Mayor of Oxford he raised 2300l,. by his own exertions for that purpose. He worked night and day, and this is the reward he gets from the 'Liberals.' I have been before you all my life, and I hope my acts will do better than words for me. I will challenge any man to say that during all the time I have been here, although I have taken an active part in elections, I have tried to coerce or put any pressure upon any one.”

We may add, in dismissing this subject, that some few Liberals refused to join in this unworthy course of action towards political opponents. Ald. Carr, the ex-Mayor, Mr. Joseph Castle, the Mayor, Mr. Towle, and Mr. Cavell did not vote. The dismissal of Mr. Ward from the Council was the more regrettable because it deprived the Local Board, to which Mr. Ward had been returned by the the Council, of its Chairman, which position Mr. Ward had occupied from its first formation. Fourteen years afterwards Mr. Ward declined to accept the Alderman's gown at the hands of a majority of the Council.

The incidents of party struggles in this City since the year 1868 have been eventful and exciting. We need scarcely say that Mr. Ward gave his consistent and valued support throughout to Mr. Hall, the Conservative member. So highly respected a citizen naturally carried great weight, moreover being an extensive owner of house property he naturally enjoyed considerable influence; but no one has ever ventured to hint that he abused that influence, or ever attempted directly or indirectly to secure by any unfair means any triumph for his party.

But it is not by any means as a leading Conservative alone that Mr. William Ward will be remembered. It is rather by his services to his City and his warm espousal of every good and useful work in it. As Councillor Sheriff, and twice Mayor, as Justice of the Peace, as Chairman of the Local Board, as Auditor and a member of the Managing Committee of the Radcliffe Infirmary, as a warm supporter of the Volunteer movement, in which in very early days he served as a private, and finally as a practical and helping friend to the working man, in which he faithfully followed in the footsteps of Mr. Henry Ward, his worthy father, his memory will be held in loving remembrance. As an instance of his father's thoughtfulness for the welfare of the working classes, we may here fer to the erection by him fifty years ago of the “Oxford Boatmen's Floating Chapel.” This Chapel was built at his sole expense for the use of the boatmen employed upon the Canal and river, and was opened for Divine Service, under the license of the Bishop, on the 29th December, 1839. In 1868 the Chapel was disused, and the funds, which from the first were devoted to a school, as well as to the maintenance of Divine Service, were appropriated to the Infant School in Hythe Bridge-street. Mr. William Ward was Trustee and Treasurer for the school fund, which offices are now filled by his son, Mr. Henry Ward.

A drinking fountain to the City was the gift of Mr. William Ward himself. This, which is at the angle of Walton Well and Southmoor-road, was handed over to the care of the Local Board on the third of September, 1885. The inscription on it runs thus, “With the consent of the Lords of the Manor this drinking fountain is erected by Mr. William Ward to mark the site of a celebrated spring known as Walton Well, adjacent to the ancient fordway into Port Meadow called Walton Ford,” and partly surrounding this are the words “Drink, and think of Him who is the Fountain of Life.”

On that occasion Mr. Ward remarked that he was told that the fountain was of tasteful design and elegant workmanship, but that he could not see it himself. In fact his eyesight had been failing for some time, and it was a touching sight to see the elder gentleman guided along the streets by his younger brother, Mr. George Ward, who was destined to die after all two years before him. After a very successful second operation Mr. Ward's eyesight was very wonderfully restored, and up to the first serious attacks of the heart he was even able to read the papers, and to the very end, although he could not discern faces, he could distinguish one colour from another; his hearing and other senses were very keen to the last. His great thoughtfulness for others was specially manifested during his last illness; morning and evening his eldest son, Mr. Henry Ward, was always with him, and his presence even when but a few words could be spoken was the greatest comfort to his father. It had been known for some months that a sudden heart spasm might carry him off at any time, in fact, on the Wednesday rather more than a month before his death, Mr. Symonds, his constant medical attendant, thought that the end had come. His heart actually ceased to beat, but when all appeared to be over he jumped back to life again. On the morning of his death on Saturday he took his breakfast as usual, and then one spasm and all was over. Mr. Symonds, who was to have left for Paris that day, was there almost immediately, as also was Mr. Henry Ward and other members of the family.

Mr. Ward has left a large family of seven daughters and three sons, the eldest son [Henry Ward] managing the business of a coal and corn merchant, which has been in the family for so many years; the second son [John Woollaston Ward] is the senior curate at St. Mary's, Cardiff; and Mr. A. E. Ward, clerk to the Headington Board of Guardians, and solicitor, of Broad-street, has his residence at Woodstock.

This obituary is followed by a long description of the funeral, including a list of all the floral tributes.


See also:

  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 24 July 1830: Announcement of Ward’s marriage
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 27 July 1889, p. 8ab: Ward’s obituary
  • Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 3 August 1889, p. 7ab: Drawing of drinking fountain, and drawing and letter about boatmen’s floating chapel
  • Brigid Allen, Cooper’s Oxford. A History of Frank Cooper Limited, pp. 26ff, especially the Gill family tree on p. 27
  • 1841 Census: Oxford (St Giles), 891/06/16
  • 1851 Census: Oxford (St Giles), 1727/379
  • 1861 Census: Oxford (St Giles), 892/75
  • 1871 Census: Oxford (St Paul), 1436/128
  • 1881 Census: Oxford (St Giles), 1500/47

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 8 January, 2017

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