Dawley's History by P. Sherry

Dawley’s History

By Paul Sherry

Dawley’s story is one of change linked to economic and commercial forces; swept along on a wave of enterprise and ingenuity it was arguably to become a passive victim of its own success. From its earliest developments in 11th century forest clearings to isolated agricultural community, through to the beginnings of mineral extraction and mining, the explosive power of the industrial revolution, dereliction and decline and ultimately the futurism of a 21st century city, the area has been wrought by many influences.

As far as recorded history is concerned the origins lie in its Anglo Saxon name ‘the clearing in the wood of Daella’s people’ The wood was the huge Wrekin forest also known in Norman times as Mount Gilbert forest (Mount Gilbert being their name for the Wrekin). It is easy to imagine the small community occupying a prominent position on these thickly wooded, elevated uplands.

By 1086 the community had been recorded in the Domesday Book as having 11 inhabitants (7 villeins in Great Dawley and a surf, villain and two boarders in Little Dawley). By medieval times a small settlement had grown around Holy Trinity Church which was built in the 12th Century and the Manor House fortified by its owner William de Morton in 1361.

The ‘wood/pasture’ economy of Dawley was largely unchanged through to the 16th century and it is possible to find clues to this day in the names of Charleshay, Hinkshay and Horsehay – the ‘Hay’ element referring to the pasture clearings in the woodland. By the mid 17th century, maps of Dawley show these clearances and the open field system which was to prevail for a further 100 years. Again clues remain in the names of Pool Fields, Farm Fields and Frame Fields.

During the 1750s Abraham Darby II was beginning to clear the ground to build his furnaces at Horsehay marking the very beginnings of the process of industrialisation which was to be so significant in shaping the area. This activity in Horsehay was to be a major factor in the gradual shift of the centre of Dawley towards the location we know it today. Earlier settlements were around the church in Great Dawley but from 1755 development became centralised around Dawley Green, later to become the High Street. The town pattern was almost fully developed by the early 19th century.

The roots of industrialisation of the area can be traced back a surprisingly long way. In 1180 Richard of Dawley was recorded as operating a small forge and in 1580 the Ridges at Lightmoor had a forge and smithy. They paved the way for the intensive manufacturing which was to come. In less than 100 years from 1750 the area was to change beyond recognition.

The common factor was the presence of raw materials with coal and ironstone being extracted to feed the forges and smithies. As demand for raw materials grew smallholders began to exploit the resources which lay beneath their fields to supplement their income. They became known as ‘ground colliers’ and were the forerunners of extraction on a large scale which was to follow.

The period between 1754 and the early 19th century saw intense industrial activity which was to change the very shape and form of the area. Great operations such as the Lightmore furnaces and the Old Park Ironworks set up by the Botfield family in 1790 were the pioneers; these were to be followed by the Coalbrookdale Company and their Dawley Castle furnaces in 1810 and the Langley Furnaces Company in 1824.

The natural, eternal landscape of forest and field had now largely given way to a man-made one. Pit mounds and industry dominated the sky line. Little Dawley had the Top Yard, Deepfield and Dawley Parva collieries and Dawley had the Langleyfield and Portley pits and the Parish and Paddock Mount pit mounds. Mining brought infertile Pennistone clay subsoil to the surface and its dull grey tones dominated.

In addition to the larger pits owned by the ironmasters of the area there were family enterprises. These smaller mines were sunk to a depth of forty to fifty feet with half a dozen men working the seam below and a few at the surface operating the winding gear known as the ‘jack rolls’.

The clay industries of the area also grew in scale in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The coal and ironmasters were able to bring up the red clays of the Coalport beds, and the white fire clays of the middle coal measures from their mines and built brick, tile and pottery kilns to make use of this abundant raw material. There were a great many small brick works, with kilns in Little Dawley in 1793 and three brickyards on the Coalbrookdale Company land around Dawley Green by 1817. The industry began to evolve and by the mid 19th century the clay industries were concentrated in several large brick and tile works. The industry weathered the late nineteenth century industrial depression and diversified into the manufacture of sanitary pipes and firebrick in the early 20thcentury. Shortly after the opening up of their furnaces at Horsehay, the Coalbrookdale Company also established a brick and pot works virtually adjoining the site to make optimum use of resources. The new works was virtually dedicated to making refractory clay vessels for the Wright and Jesson process of iron smelting. By 1801 the pottery was held by Edward Thursfield and it operated until 1943.

Elsewhere, fire bricks were being made at Horsehay in the 1790s with white bricks being made until 1892. As developments in internal domestic plumbing moved on the brickworks were taken over in 1900 by Day’s Automatic Waste Water Closet and Sanitary Pipe Syndicate Company Limited (now the site of Burnt Tree Vehicle Hire)

A long running dispute between the Corbetts of Hinstock Manor and Plowden Slaney of Hatton Grange near Shifnal about the ownership of the manor throws light onto the manor and its administration and on the development of the township within the Coalbrookdale coalfield at this time. The dispute culminated in 1780 in a draft brief in ejection being prepared. Depositions from tenants at the time make interesting reading:

Thomas Onions remembers Dawley Green ‘when there was only a dozen houses on it, but now there are nearly forty on it and that a great many houses have been built and gardens taken out of the waste of the manor. The materials for building many of the cottages were in many cases obtained from the area surrounding the cottages to be built’ In 1760 Mary Poole stated ‘about fifteen or sixteen years ago my son got a place with the permission of Mr Slaney within the garden of my cottage to build the cottage in which he now lives.’ The old maps of the Dawley, Little Dawley and Malinslee areas show field names like the Clay Piece, the Kiln Piece, the Pottery Piece, or the Pool Leasowe, all indicating that clay had been extracted from these fields as raw materials for the building of local cottages.

Barnes Wyke in his oral evidence to the court recalls that the cottagers in Dawley used to go to Hatton Grange to work in harvest time, but this was afterwards stopped and their rent added in lieu. At this point he ordered a notice added to the effect that the Lord of the Manor had ceased the practise of allowing his tenants to work in the harvest at Hatton due to the fact that the miners got drunk and were on many occasions caught fighting with their sickles. Many of the tenants, in support of Plowden Slaney’s claim to the Manor, state that stray horses when found wandering in the Manor were taken to Hatton Grange. Again a footnote to the evidence remarks ‘ the people of Dawley attend very little to the interests of their landlord and tenants not suffering materially by such trespass are content to turn the strengths into the lane when they are found or work them till owned’. The industrial upheaval which had taken place by the 1780s is summed up by Andrew Jones in his evidence to the court when he states,’ the whole of the Manor is a kind of coal pit bank.’

Great steps forward in industry, technology and development necessitate corresponding improvements to infrastructure. Such was the case in the Dawley area in the mid 18th to 19thc. and much later in the ‘the second industrial revolution’ with planning of road links for the new town of Telford.

The earliest routes built to serve industry were the wooden railways built 1755-6 to link the Coalbrookdale Company’s new Horsehay furnaces to their mines in Ketley, Lawley and to Coalbrookdale itself. The line from Horsehay to Coalbrookdale ran a short distance through Little Wenlock parish before re-entering Dawley and running down Jiggers Bank to Coalbrookdale. Both had rails of oak or ash in the 1760s. These were replaced by iron rails from the 1770s.

Important road routes were developed. Dawley was crossed from north west to south east by the main Wellington to Worcester and Bridgnorth Road turnpike in1764. The road entered the parish at Dawley Bank and ran by Dawley Green, later Bank Road and King Street, the Dun Cow Bank, New Street and Finger Lane to Southall. By the early nineteenth century, this road had been diverted and came up from the Bucks Head at Wellington up through Arleston over Lawley, by Balls Hill near Heath Hill to Dawley Green. The parish’s commercial centre grew up at the junction between the old and the new routes at Dawley Green; the road through the settlement being known as High Street by 1851.

The second major route was the Wellington-Coalbrookdale turnpike opened in 1817 across the south west corner of the parish. It was made by improving a road that followed past the former Horsehay-Coalbrookdale Wagon Way. This stretch came up through Limehole Dingle and was known as Jiggers Bank, at the foot of which was a toll house.

The importance of canal development within and between industrial areas and the rapid improvements in the process of bringing in raw materials and shipping goods to market are all well documented. In 1788 -1799 the Hollinswood Southall length of the Shropshire Canal was built down the eastern edge of the parish. A branch from Southall by the head of Horsehay Dingle down to Brierley Hill at the head of Coalbrookdale being opened in 1792. Building capital for this project was raised principally from the local coal and ironmasters, over 30% being subscribed by the Coalbrookdale Company partners.

This canal became the main artery for the coal and iron industries linking Coalbrookdale and Horsehay to Old Park, Ketley and Donnington. At the Brierley Hill canal terminus two shafts were sunk 120 feet down, into which iron crates were lowered to a tram way driven into the hill at the head of Coalbrookdale. These shafts were replaced in 1794 by an inclined plane from Brierley Hill down to the bottom of Cherry Tree Hill linking into the works at Coalbrookdale. By 1801 a tramway had been laid along tow paths from the Horsehay Wharf at Doseley to the head of the inclined plain at Brierley Hill. At Doseley there were two wharfs: the Horsehay Wharf on the site of which Doseley church was built and on the other side of the canal was the Doseley Wharf. The Horsehay Wharf would link by a tramway up through the Horsehay Dingle to furnaces at Horsehay. On the other side of the canal was the Doseley Wharf which was linked by a tramway from the Deepfield Colliery at Little Dawley down onto the wharf at Doseley.

Following the laying of this tramway from Brierley Hill to the Horsehay Wharf at Dawley, the canal south west of the Horsehay Wharf to Southall Bank fell into disuse.

Narrow gauge tramways or ‘ginny rails’ were to be found throughout the parish linking the various mines with the furnaces. One track bed, visible until a few years ago, linked the Horsehay furnaces with the Dawley Castle furnaces. It ran from Horsehay over Pool Hill Bank across the Pool Fields in front of Dawley Church and ended at the Castle Furnaces at Dawley.

Walking over the railway bridge at Horsehay on route to Dawley, on the right hand parapet of the bridge was to be a found a set of railings. Between the parapet and these railings ran the Dawley Castle furnaces tramway.

Further evidence of the ‘ginny rail’ tramway system can still be found in the remains of the Coalbrookdale Company stables at Lightmoor. Here is where the horses were kept to work on the ginny rails between Lightmoor, the Dawley Castle Furnaces and down to the furnaces at Coalbrookdale. The same route led on to Cherry Tree Hill Tile Works.

A further major step forward in communication within the parish came with the building of the standard gauge railway in the area in 1857. In fact, the Wellington and Severn Junction railway opened up their line to Horsehay in March 1857 and by 1859 the line had been extended down to Lightmoor. Eventually in 1864 the line came down into Coalbrookdale.

The gradual move away from a rural way of life and towards urbanised living which came with industrialisation brought the need for more workers to live near to their jobs. Between the 16th and 19th centuries many new cottages were built in Dawley to house the growing population of miners and ironworkers. Most of theses cottages were built by the labourers themselves along the roadside and on pieces of waste ground. A typical example is the squatter’s settlement of Holywell Lane in the manor of Little Dawley. These cottages were unique in so many ways. Unusually the settlement took the form of one long row of 29 cottages which were put up on land belonging to the Earl of Craven.

The system of building at the time was in itself unusual and is worth further consideration. The process began with workers staking out their claim to a plot of building land. They were subsequently taken to the manor court and fined in proportion to the amount of land taken – sixpence, ninepence or a shilling. After eight years or so of occupation the residents became tenants of the lord of the manor and were entered on the rent roll. Thomas Evans was such a resident of Holywell and the manorial records of Dawley Parva show that he built his cottage there in 1771 and was fined ninepence in the manor court. The area is well documented and records show that four further cottages were built in this period and a further 20 – 25 up to 1822.

The unusual design of the cottages also adds to their unique quality. The rent rolls show an extraordinary feature which was incorporated into many of the properties of this settlement. One bedroom was often built to extend over the kitchen of the neighbour and in turn its bedroom was built over the one next door and so on, for a large proportion of the row. The explanation is simple; the rent rolls show that when a son or daughter married, invariably they would build their cottages adjoining their parents, making best use of available resources.

Workers housing also came in the form of converted former industrial buildings. Old engine or pumping houses were commonly turned into dwellings. A typical example could be found at the Gravel Leasowes in the manor of Dawley Parva. In 1772, the building is shown on documents as a ‘fire engine’, that is a pumping engine, built originally to remove water from the local mine and prevent flooding. When the mine ceased to operate, the pumping engine house was turned into a dwelling, its industrial heritage becoming evident when the property was renovated in the early 1970s.

The Horsehay Potteries are a further outstanding example of industrial buildings being turned over to domestic use. This group of buildings was dominated by its Roundhouse, a pottery kiln operated by the Coalbrookdale Company. It turned out pots for use in the Wright and Jesson method of smelting at the Horsehay furnaces. However once the company ceased to use this process the company buildings became redundant and the whole site was turned into domestic dwellings.

Following the upsurge of industry in the 1750/1760s employers began to recognise that improving the lot of their workers would improve their productivity and ultimately bring benefits to their own enterprises. After opening their furnaces in 1756 the Coalbrookdale Company built the Long Row at Horsehay, which looked out onto Horsehay Pool, in the early 1760s. In 1831 the Company built a further row of cottages at Sandy Bank known locally as Dill Doll Rows at Doseley.

Also in the north of the parish, the Botfields built cottages for their workforce at their furnaces at Stirchley, Hinkshay and Langley. Hinkshay was well catered for with the Long Row, Finger Row, Double Row and the Ladies Row cottages. For workers in the Old Park furnaces they built the Forge Row cottages.

Building of worker housing reached its peak in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; the period of most rapid industrial growth, and in 1799 Dawley was described as formally a small village, ‘but now full of cottages from one end t’ the other’

Turning now to the religious life of Dawley and the surrounding area: the church was originally a chapel subject to the great church of St Andrew at Shifnal. It was founded in the 12th century and was recorded in 1186/7 that William was the priest of Galilee at that time. Bagshaw’s Directory of 1851 states: ‘the old church stood a little south east of the present edifice. It was a small structure of great simplicity and had a square tower at the west end’ Hardwick’s manuscripts of 1836 gives rather fuller information ‘ the church at Dawley is ancient fabric of white stone cut from a quarry on the spot. The walls are in dilapidated state and supported on the south side by four massive brick pillars and one at the east end’ The great buttresses to which Hardwick refers had to be built to shore up the church due to the continual movement brought about by the nearby mining activity which took place around the church and evidence of this still is to be found in the large amount of correspondence which took place between the Coalbrookdale Company and the church authorities with regards to the mining activities carried out by the company in this area.

An interesting old building was to be found on the south side of the churchyard. This was in fact the tithe barn where the great tithes demanded by the vicar were stored. It was later used by the civil parish as the parish rooms. Later on it became the church Sunday school. By the late 18th century the parish population had outgrown the capacity of the old church. In 1805 St Leonard’s, the new church, was built on the borders of Malinslee and Dawley. This site was considered to be more convenient than that of the old church for the industrial population of Old Park, Dawley Bank and Dawley Green. For a short time the old church was closed except for burials and it was the intention that St Leonard’s would eventually be the sole parish church. However pressure from some of the parishioners for the reopening of the old church was felt and by 1810 services were resumed there. In 1818 St Leonard’s became merely a chapel of ease for Dawley until it was assigned a district Chaplain in 1843. Quite a number of the features of the old church at Dawley were removed to St Leonard’s in 1805 including bells, a medieval silver platter of 1752 and a chalice of 1746 but they were eventually restored to the old church.

In 1844 Little Dawley and Horsehay area were constituted as a separate parish and the following year St Luke’s church was built at Doseley using funding supplied under a government scheme set up to support church building in the new areas of population growth.

With the upsurge of industry in the mid-18th century, non-conformity spread rapidly and Dawley was no exception. By 1870 it is recorded that there was a Baptist chapel, 12 Methodist chapels and a Congregational mission within the Dawley area. A congregation of particular Baptists were formed in Dawley Bank in 1817. At first the services were held in cottages, and the first baptism was conducted at the pool among the pit mounds on the Rough Ground. In 1846 the church membership stood at 13. The small chapel seating 220 was opened at Dawley Bank on the site of the former bull ring.

Remarkable diversity existed; in the Horsehay area for example the Wesleyan Methodists, the Primitive Methodist, Methodist New Connection and the Methodist Free Church could all be found, the largest of these sects being the Wesleyan Methodists. John Fletcher, Vicar of Madeley from 1760-1785 founded a Methodist Society of Dawley Bank in 1765. There was no doubt that this group met in a house near Dawley Bank and was raised for worship in 1773. At that time all non-conformist meetings had to be registered. The group thrived and records from 1799 show that the meeting was well attended and it was claimed that a fifth of the parish followed the Methodists.

In the early 1790s John Tranter and Edward Ward joined the Methodist Society in Coalbrookdale. However, they were not destined to stay in the society at Coalbrookdale for we are told by Benjamin Banks in his short history of Wesleyan Methodism in Coalbrookdale that these two members joined the rising society of Little Dawley.

From the history of Methodism in the Little Dawley area, it is quite easy to see the pattern emerging for the rest of non-conformity in the Dawley area. It was recorded in 1799 and in 1800s that Taylor and Gill preached at Little Dawley. One is left to assume that the Society was meeting at the home of one of its members at this time and they must have been working to raise funds for the building of a place of worship, for on the 16 July 1805 a chapel was registered with the quarter sessions. A chapel was erected in that year in a field called the Upper Yards just west of Ivy Farm in Little Dawley, an area known today as the Springwell Mount.

Eventually however the mining activities for both coal and ironstone carried out by the Lightmore Furnace Company, especially the mining at the Top Yard Colliery, began to encroach upon the field and eventually buried it. Significantly, regular annual payments of one guinea began to appear in the trustees’ handbook of the Little Dawley Chapel for the period 1861-1872. These were made by the Coalbrookdale Company which, by this time, had taken over from the Lightmore Furnace Company. It is probable that these payments represent a compensation payment to the Society of Little Dawley for the loss of their chapel. Following the subsequent closure of the chapel, the Society continued to meet in Dixon’s Barn, the remains of which may still be found in the field opposite the entrance of Ivy farm.

The present chapel was built in 1837 on a piece of land owned by the Earl of Craven, who was then the lord of the manor of Dawley Parva. In the deed of gift dated 8 June 1837 of the 18 trustees named in this document 6 of them were shown as miners, and they signed the deed by their cross.

Many examples exist around Dawley of fundraising by small groups of individuals to build places of worship. For example members of the Primitive Methodist persuasion met in the home of William Franks at number 8 Holywell Lane in 1858/9. By 1861 they had raised sufficient funds to build the chapel at Gravel Leasowes known as the Lightmore Primitive Methodist Chapel. Also in the late 1850s the members of the Methodist New Connexions Society were meeting in the home of William Martin at Stoney Hill near Horsehay. Eventually by 1863 they raised sufficient funds to build their Methodist New Connexion Chapel at Lightmore known locally as ‘Fat Bacon’. It was said that they always killed a pig to raise sufficient funds to boost their Sunday school anniversary fund. In 1819 a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was built at Dawley Green on the corner of the roads later known as High Street and Chapel Street. This plain octagonal building was replaced in 1860 by the very imposing monochrome building designed by Robert Griffiths who also designed the Market Hall at Bridgnorth. In 1821 a mission of Survivalist Methodists came into Dawley. They were supported by Benjamin Tranter, who was a Wesleyan agent of the Coalbrookdale Company and shortly after they built a large chapel at Brandlee in 1822.

The northern part of the coalfield saw most activity from the Primitive Methodists during the revival of 1822. It was to be at least ten years before a further revival promoted similar interest in the Dawley area. In 1841 the Primitives built a chapel in Dawley Green Lane (later Bank Road). The success of both the Wesleyans and the Primitive Society in the mid 19th century led to the building of various chapels in the outlying districts in the mid 1850s and 60s.

Looking briefly at the early development of education for the poor in the area; what existed in the 16th century was rudimentary and patchy and provided by the Anglican Church. Lichfield Diocese records show that William Banks, the Rector of Stirchley was probably holding schools in the Dawley area between 1715-58. Richard Poyner was recorded as being a schoolmaster there in 1718.

By 1772 Isaac Hawkins-Brown, owner of the Malinslee estate, was paying for the schooling of 15 children, probably in the Sunday school supported by his tenants and the Botfields. The support was to continue until 1799. By 1833 there were 8 Sunday schools, two run by the established church and supported by subscription, and six provided by non-conformists.
In the early 18th century there were a number of private schools for young children, but no public day school despite the rapid increase in population.

The earliest non-conformist Sunday school in the area was probably the Wesleyan school at Lawley Bank opened in 1806, with further Wesleyan schools opening in Dawley in 1813 and Horsehay in 1819. The Revivalist Methodists opened a school in Brandlee in 1822.

The Church of England opened a school in Malinslee in 1832 as a day school for the Malinslee area pupils. They paid two pence weekly with remaining costs being met by the Botfield family. In 1844 the school moved into Dawley Bank into a building which had been converted from old cottages. The first completely new school premises were built in 1841, which of course was the Dawley National School. It was built near the vicarage at Brandlee on land given by RA Slaney. In 1875 a School Board was formed within the parish. Its first Chairman was WG Norris Whittaker, the manager of the Coalbrookdale Company and from 1894 the Clerk of the Board being Charles Buckram Soames Herne a physician on the board at Langley School in 1878. The Board then took over the management of the Pool Hill Schools from the Coalbrookdale Company in 1867.

With regards to the administration of the parish, the parish of Dawley Magna was also the administrative centre for the townships of Malinslee and Little Dawley. Unfortunately the parish minutes for the 18th century do not appear to have survived and it can only be assumed that the overseers of the parish housed the destitute in any property which they sought fit to provide. This assumption was based on records from the Shropshire quarter sessions meeting held in July 1686, it ordered that the overseers of Dawley provide habitation for Humphrey Hazelwood and his family. At the following meeting of the quarter sessions held in October 1686 it was noted that the order of the previous meeting had not been adhered to. In consequence the magistrate ruled that as the previous order had been neglected ‘officers of Dawley are ordered to forthwith provide a habitation for Humphrey Hazelwood, his wife and family and meanwhile for them to lodge at the officers’ own homes.’

Under the old Poor Law system each individual parish was responsible for administering its own local government within the parish and been responsible for the parish poor. They had to elect a surveyor of highways and also the parish constable. In fact the three townships: Malinslee, Dawley and Little Dawley each elected their own surveyor of highways, their own overseer of the poor and their own parish constables. The stave and handcuffs issued to William Steward, an elected constable to the manor of Little Dawley in 1863, can still be seen today in the museum library at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum.

Finally it is worth reflecting briefly on the care of the parish poor of Dawley and how this was administered. The first mention of any provision of housing of the parish poor can be found in the rental records of 1784. They indicate that a cottage and land were rented from Robert Slaney in Dawley Green Lane to house the poor. In a minute of the 21st June 1813 in the parish accounts, it requested Benjamin Tranter, the overseer, to explore the possibilities of purchasing a piece of land at Langley Square called Penny Croft on which to build a poor house. This building in Dawley Green Lane acted as the poor house for the parish of Dawley until the implementation of the new Poor Law Act. Following this legislation Dawley parish was incorporated into the Madeley union and from 1836 onwards all the poorest of the parish were sent to Madeley workhouse. The old workhouse in Dawley Green Lane eventually became a public house called the Rising Sun.

Over many centuries the exploitation of raw materials, the growth of industrialisation and the industrial revolution itself have all left their mark on this fascinating area. Economic growth and decline led to dramatic man-made changes and a landscape of vast swathes of dereliction, contamination and decay.

From the earliest signs of settlement in the 11th century through the development of village forges and smithies to large scale mining and manufacturing, Dawley has also witnessed the ‘second industrial revolution’ of Telford New Town. The wave of regeneration and renewal which swept across the worked out East Shropshire coalfield did to an extent leave Dawley untouched, its bypass only serving to move arterial traffic out of the centre and effectively removing the contribution of passing trade to the local economy. Yet the new geography of the road system had the unforeseen benefit of helping to preserve the town’s heart, soul and culture and a feeling of timelessness remains.

Now the town is about to enter another new phase as plans are developed for regeneration of Paddock Mount one of the last post-industrial wildernesses of Telford. As Dawley prepares to face the next wave of changes the task, similar to that faced by Telford Development Corporation, will be to weld old and new, lift the local economy and boost opportunity. As in the post industrial 1960s the area is ready for and needs the change but the additional challenge faced by developers is to ensure that its unique character and heritage are not lost in the quest for replacement and renewal.

(Based on a tape recording by Ken Jones of information selected from the Shropshire County History Vol 11- Telford)


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