Over the years, Eastington has had its fair share of vicars that looked after the spiritual needs of the parishioners. Most carried out their duties unobtrusively and have disappeared quietly into the mists of time. However, there were exceptions. Perhaps one of the most notable was the Reverend George Thomas Altimus Ward, vicar of Eastington for 28 years. Alongside his ecclesiastical role he was also an avid pioneering motorist, something that he is still remembered for.
The Reverend Ward first arrived in Eastington in 1903, and was clearly a man of wide interests – his talents included music, printing, and mechanical engineering. Writing in 1953, Alfred Keys recalled him as a:
‘man of wide of superficial scholarship, an experienced traveller and man of the world, a brilliant conversationalist and after dinner speaker, who read the services, and especially the lessons, like a golden-voiced angel and preached with eloquence a little too reminiscent of our old Hyde Park corner’.
During church services, he was well known for his ‘clear superb voice’. In 1992, the late Fred Ireland remembered Reverend Ward as a short portly Irishman who, when out motoring, always wore a flat topped peaked naval type hat. He organised Sunday school classes and also lantern slide gatherings and concerts. However, these were never held on a Friday as the Reverend considered all Fridays to be as sacred as Good Friday.
Ward’s interests extended well beyond the boundaries of Eastington. For example, he was heavily involved with the Palestine Exploration Quarterly, the journal of the Palestine Exploration Fund. This had been established in 1865 as a scholarly society dedicated to the scientific study of what was then generally referred to as the Holy Land. It aimed to provide academic information about the land of the Bible. Ward seems to have been involved for many years, both before and after the First World War.
But perhaps his greatest claim to fame was the fact that he owned the first car to be registered in Gloucestershire. Vehicle registrations first started to be allocated in December 1903, and the Reverend Ward’s car was the aptly named AD 1, a French-built MORS.
In 1906, André Citroën was the recorded as the director of MORS, and in 1908, he was chairman. When Citroën set up his own manufacturing company in 1919, MORS was gradually absorbed, later becoming part of what became known simply as Citroën. In 1925, Citroën bought MORS outright and closed it down, switching its factory over to the production of his own cars.
Reverend Wards’ MORS was apparently grey in colour, and had headlights that only worked when the car was in motion. Ironically, it was to be an issue with lights that would land the good Reverend in court – the Gloucestershire Echo of 13 January 1908 reported that he had been summoned for being in charge of motor car with no rear light.
The MORS was subsequently replaced with a more modest soft-top Baby Austin (registration DF 1) built at Longbridge, and Eastington’s quiet dusty roads finally lost its bit of Parisian chic. So, the MORS passed into the annals of history as indeed did the Reverend Ward, who left this Earth on the 19th of October 1932, aged 77. The village lost one its more flamboyant characters, one who in motoring circles is still remembered as owning the first registered car in the county.