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Colourful clothing the Georgian way

June 25, 2015


How do you dye your clothes like a Georgian?  A group from Styal Primary School found out as part of their regular allotment club here at Quarry Bank.

One of the plants grown here in the Apprentice House garden is woad, which can be used to dye fabric blue.  Miriam who usually works in the Mill, demonstrating the machines, took some time out to show the children from Styal Primary allotment club how a plant can be used to colour fabric.

Woad, a tall plant with small yellow flowers, growing outside the Apprentice House

Woad growing in the Apprentice House garden

Miriam stripped the leaves from the plant and steeped them in boiling water, before straining the liquid (dye liquor) from the leaves and showing the children how to activate the colour.  This involves using a chemical process and agitating the liquor.


Woad leaves being strained.

Straining the leaves after boiling them.

Agitating the liquor by pouring in between the basins

Agitating the liquor by pouring between the basins

School children pour liquid from one bucket to another

The children from Styal Primary found this part of the process a lot of fun.

Once it was ready, the pupils needed something to dye.  As the school wouldn’t have thanked us for changing the colour of their school uniforms, they were given some small bags instead.

Dipping the bags in the dye

Dipping the bags in the dye

Once they had been dipped into the dye liquid, they were hung on the line to dry.

Miriam helps two pupils to peg the bags to a washing line

Hanging the bags on the line to dry.

The pupils seemed pleased with the results.

Thumbs up from a member of the allotment club

Thumbs up from a member of the allotment club

As well as drying the bags, hanging them on a line also exposes the bags to oxygen, which helps to develop the colour from the pale green seen here, into a beautiful blue.

The pupils had to leave before the final colour appeared, but here is some blue wool Miriam also dyed using woad, alongside some green wool, which she created by over-dying the blue wool in a dye liquor produced using onion skins.

Blue strands of wool from the woad next to green which have been over-dyed using onion skins

Wool dyed using woad.

Although perhaps not quite as eye catching as the main gardens, with many interesting plants, including vegetables and herbs used in dishes served at the cafe, the Apprentice House garden is well worth visiting when you spend time at Quarry Bank. There will also be an opportunity to see some examples of natural dying at the Autumn Fair in September.

Thank you to Miriam and Styal Primary school for the pictures used in this blog.


New home for Newts

May 31, 2015


We are all about conservation at Quarry Bank and it is not just history and heritage that we are looking to preserve. Working at such a unique and interesting site brings up all sorts of new challenges and one of the big issues for us is to ensure the wildlife at Quarry Bank – and particularly that living in the Upper Gardens – is not disturbed when the work to restore the Glasshouse begins.  So, the discovery of a great crested newt in the area, and lots of common newts for that matter, has meant our team has created a new habitat just for them.

I chatted to Lead Ranger Simon Hiley this week who told me a search of the derelict glasshouses had uncovered newts whilst others have been spotted in the dipping pond. Great crested newts are a European protected species, which means its eggs, breeding sites and resting places are protected by law.

View of the alpine house and dipping pond as they are today.

The Upper Garden dipping pond where newts have been spotted

The way the environment has developed in Cheshire means there are lots of newt habitats as we have created many ponds in the county, which is generally quite damp as well.

We would have done our absolute best to protect the Quarry Bank newts anyway and that’s why Simon, in conjunction with licenced ecologists set about trapping the little amphibians to find out exactly what species we have.

Newts found at Quarry Bank

Newts spotted at Quarry Bank

There is a new test that looks for eDNA (environmental DNA) of greater crested newts in water bodies on a proposed site. The testing makes it possible to detect newts simply by taking water samples.

However, we are not quite that technically advanced yet so Simon resorted to some tried and tested methods.

Using an old pop bottle with the top cut off, inverted the top, and then placed the ‘traps’ strategically around the edges of the two ponds. Placed at an angle, the newts can wander in but can’t get back out. Although no newts were trapped in the two ponds in question, we do know that newts are in the vicinity of the proposed works.

Rangers check the newt traps at Quarry Bank

Picking up a trap to check for newts

Simon explained how the newts breed in water, but come out of the ponds to rest in damp log piles and under brickwork where they will often hunker down for the winter. They also like old log piles and anywhere else where there is a little dampness and they feel safe and secure.

So before we go ahead with major aspects of the project we have to remove the newts and put them in the newly-built pond near the gardens where we hope they will live happily ever after!  Special newt fencing will then be put up to stop them returning to the building site.

An area has been cleared behind the Glasshouse and a number of Lime trees taken out.  These had been inappropriately planted in this area in the 1960s and their removal also helped to open up Little Town field and restored the historic views across to Styal Village.

Clearing space for the new newt pond

Clearing space for the new newt pond

Once their new home is ready, moving them will be a delicate process and a licenced newt ecologist will be called in to move the newts and make sure they are safe.

From Quarry Bank’s point of view the newts are an important part of the ecosystem. They eat a lot of insects, but are also food for others including birds like herons and a lot of fish.

They are as much a part of the gardens as the 1830s glasshouses themselves so it is vital that we treat them with respect and do what we can to continue giving them a home.

If you visit the gardens this summer you may well spot the newt conservation work going on and, if you are lucky, you may even see one of the little creatures yourself.


Pictures by Derek Hatton, Simon Hiley and Simon Herdson.

Putting some sparkle back into the glasshouse

May 8, 2015


This week Emma takes over the blog to give an update about the Quarry Bank Project and the plans to restore the Upper Garden glasshouse.  Over to Emma….

One of the most fantastic things about being the project coordinator for the Quarry Bank Project, is the fact that it covers so many things, restoration, event planning, reporting and communication, to name but a few. One minute I find myself in a finance meeting then the next I am talking about the outdoors and Simon, our Lead Ranger, is teaching me the art of den building and how to make a fire. (I have caught the outdoor bug and want to go camping immediately).

Ally our Collections and Archive Officer tries out the den

Ally our Collections and Archive Officer tries out the den

As there are so many things that I could tell you about I have to be selective. In this post I would like to talk about the Upper Garden and how we plan to put the sparkle back into the glasshouse. This will be the first area that we will work on during the project in 2015-16.

It is amazing to think that the National Trust only acquired the Upper Garden in 2010 and already it has changed dramatically. The Victorian dipping pond and small glasshouse have been restored and the fantastic views down to the mill have been uncovered.

View of the alpine house and pond when the Upper Garden was acquired.

The Upper Garden when it was acquired

View of the alpine house and dipping pond as they are today.

The Upper Garden today

The jewel in the crown is the derelict curvilinear glasshouse built in the 1830s. Here the Gregs displayed exotic plants, and grew grapes and soft fruits. Its modern design, materials and the huge amount of glass sent a clear message to guests about their success and position in society.

Unfortunately, the Glasshouse was severely damaged by neglect before the National Trust was able to acquire it. Since this time we have cleared it out and made it secure for the time being.

The glasshouse when it was acquired

The glasshouse when it was acquired

The glasshouse today

The glasshouse today

How will we put the sparkle back?

We have safely stored whatever we can so that, where possible, we can use original materials in the rebuilding process, or at least use them to replicate elements as closely as we can. For example, new cast iron glazing bars will each be individually re-cast using a mould made from a surviving bar.

Our plan is to fully restore the Glasshouse to its former glory including re-building the demolished section of the west vinery. We do not have the original architectural plans but have been able to piece together a clear understanding of how the building was created and used from architectural and archaeological surveys and the advice of National Trust experts.

We also have information in our archives including photographs, letters, diaries, maps and garden plant orders mean that we can restore the structure and present it with a high degree of authenticity.

Of course we need funds to achieve this and this is where your support alongside the Heritage Lottery Fund is so important

One of the main reasons that I have chosen to tell you all about the glasshouse is because it seems that you all can’t wait to see it returned to its former glory either. In July 2014, Sally, our fundraising lead and I, launched the ‘Our Glasshouse Needs You’ campaign which invites you to sponsor a pane of glass for the glasshouse. In the last ten months you have raised over £20,000 and sponsored over 400 panes.

People from far and wide have shown their support and I would like to say a big thank you.  I am taken aback by your enthusiasm and support and very grateful as it will be wonderful to see it back to how it once was.

I would also like to say a special thank you to the Year 7 Humanities class at Wilmslow High School for coming up with a fun way to raise £250 for our cause. Each pupil was sponsored to fill a match box with as many items as possible, one child managed 50 items!

To say thank you, the pupils came to visit Quarry Bank to have a look at the glasshouse and to see what their money will do. I have since heard from their teacher that they keep pestering their parents to bring them back to Quarry Bank.

Pupils from Wilmslow High standing outside the glasshouse

Fundraising pupils from Wilmslow High

How does this fit in with our other garden plans throughout 2015-2016?

The Upper Garden has been transformed in recent years thanks to the hard work of our garden staff, Sarah, Ann, Stefan, and Tom, and our new addition Jonathan and the 67 members of our volunteer team. However, there is still much to be done. With the Quarry Bank Project we will…

  • restore the 1830s curvilinear glasshouse and back sheds
  • create new interpretation spaces in the back sheds to tell you all about the story of the garden and the people who worked here. These spaces will be flexible so they can be used for special events, talks and school activities
  • open a garden shop specifically for gardening and plant sales. This will be located in the back sheds behind the glasshouse
  • open a catering outlet so you can enjoy a lovely cup of tea and homemade cake
  • build a gardeners’ compound for vehicles, machinery and staff recreation to make it easier to care for this wonderful garden
  • plant up the glasshouse and garden with historic varieties and beautiful bloom
Upper Garden plans

Upper Garden plans

All of this work will begin in October 2015. Please come and visit and watch as we transform the garden throughout 2016. Luckily for us, 2016 is the national ‘Year of the English Garden’ so we will have a year of exciting and new events which will focus on the garden theme.

If you would like more information about the Quarry Bank Project and how to sponsor a glass pane, please visit our website:

Thank you,



Voices of the Mill Workers

April 24, 2015


This week Helen our Collections and Archive Intern discovered some letters written by workers at Quarry Bank.  I could not wait to find out more, so over to Helen.

Working in the archives, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the day to day experiences of the workers at the mill amongst the many records we have of the Greg family. Thankfully, there are also innumerable snippets of social history tucked away that act as timely reminders of the lives of those working here. As I learnt last week, the sources of these snippets are often completely unexpected.

Whilst sifting through the Worker’s Records, you can’t help but hear each individual’s personality coming through and to me their voices could not have been clearer than in several thank you letters written to Margaret Greg in 1857 after a trip to the Art Treasures Exhibition.

These letters are such a welcome change from the usual Victorian formality that runs through much of the Greg family correspondences. Instead, the workers enthuse about their visit, writing just as they would talk.

They don’t hesitate in telling Mrs Greg about their amusement at some of the pieces on display. One worker, Margaret Walker, writes, ‘…we saw some potrates[sic.] that looked very amusing we went to see the Indian Tent we were muched[sic.] amused with all in that room especially the slippers that were turend[sic.] up at the toes’.

Letter to Margaret Greg from Margaret Walker

Letter to Margaret Greg from Margaret Walker

Mary Henshall candidly tells Margaret Greg that ‘there was some very laughable pictures in one room’. This is exactly why I love these little pieces- they’re entirely different from the norm. They’re so conversational that reading them is really like hearing the writers of these letters describing their visit to their own families.

Amusingly, each letter almost uniformly begins or ends with an apology. As Mary Moore writes, ‘I am very sorry that I did not write to you before now you made me a presend[sic.] which I was very much oblige to you for’.

Letter from Mary Moore to Margaret Greg

Letter from Mary Moore to Margaret Greg

At first, reading these, some of which are identical word for word, it was funny to imagine a bemused Margaret Greg receiving these and noticing the pattern. But as you go on, you realise that the task of writing a letter was no mean feat for the average worker.

Reading the letters, it looks like one or two family members, possibly possessing a greater grasp of grammar, had been asked to produce template letters, which have then been carefully copied down by others.

Nevertheless, Quarry Bank Mill workers enjoyed a fuller education than most working class communities, where the hope of even being able to write was entirely distant.

Anonymous thank you letter

Anonymous thank you letter

The really charming thing about these letters is that despite being templates, the workers would often insert their own descriptions or tangents amongst the copied text, and it’s these bursts of personality coming through that make the letters so interesting.

Hannah Mary Venables’ voice is unmistakable, where she writes that she ‘saw so many of the visiters[sic.] noticing a group of Ladies [and] gentlemen whilst one of the gentlemen was talking very fast pointing out the paintings to them. We was informed that they wer[sic.] the Royal family of Wertemberg [Wurttemberg]’.

There are also moving glimpses into quite how much the workers valued the trip, with Mary Henshall writing, ‘The musicians began to play at two o’clock and we sat down and listened and I am sure I never heard any music so beautiful as that before’.

The Gregs were known for their unusually generous treatment of their workers, and these letters are the perfect examples of that generosity.

The Art Treasures Exhibition itself was a huge event, displaying fine art from all over the world, and is still considered to be one of the largest art exhibitions the UK has ever seen.

Picture of the Art Treasures' Palace

Art Treasures’ Palace

What’s more, it was not held in London, but instead on the outskirts of industrial Manchester at Old Trafford. This building, designed to resemble London’s extravagant Crystal Palace, once dominated the area near what is now the site of Manchester United’s stadium.

Ground plan of Art Treasures' Palace

Ground plan of Art Treasures’ Palace

The exhibition’s approach to its visitors was also somewhat progressive- we know that the admission ticket was reduced from half a crown, to sixpence when entering after 2pm in an attempt to entice a broader range of society to visit rather than targeting only the middle and upper classes.

Interior of Art Treasures' Palace

Interior of Art Treasures’ Palace

Although this scheme was abandoned due to a lack of revenue, it signalled a change in prejudiced attitudes towards the working classes, where they were being increasingly seen as part of society rather than beneath it. There’s no doubt that the workers’ enjoyment of the exhibition proves the worth of their visit.

These letters certainly give you a fascinating and fresh perspective of the personalities that have helped to form the story of the mill and the opportunity they shared to experience Victorian grandeur.

The work done in the archive as part of the Quarry Bank Project is helping us to discover more about Quarry Bank and it’s history.  To find out more about the project, please visit our website.


Renovate where possible, repair where necessary

April 10, 2015


In Power Volunteer Bruce’s last blog about Nether Alderley Mill, the important restoration work was part way through and a tremendous amount of work was being done.  Bruce continues the story here.

We left Nether Alderley Mill with the vertical shaft lifted out of its bearings and supported on a chain hoist, and the lower water wheel axle lifted 75mm and also supported on chain hoists.

Since then, a block of resin based cement has been installed on the top of the support stone both to raise and to level the bearing surface. This cement, when fully cured, can support around 60 tons, so should cope with the weight of the mill machinery – about 5 tons for the lower water wheel, probably slightly less for the vertical shaft when fully rebuilt.

In addition, further to stabilise the support stone, holes were drilled in it to a depth of 1.5 metres into the bedrock, and 30 mm steel bars were inserted and grouted into place so that the stone should not be able to move again.

Position of 30mm steel bar at Nether Alderley Mill

The brown wood shavings show where 30 mm steel bars have been grouted into place.

Meanwhile, back in their workshop, the Norfolk Millwright Alliance had been working on the various items removed to renovate where possible, repair where necessary, and prepare replacements where the originals were beyond repair.

Also, while waiting for the work on the support stone to be complete, the millwrights installed a new pentrough (a trough made of wooden boards which carries the water) for the lower wheel, as the old one had let more water fall onto the back of the wheel than went down to drive the wheel!

New pentrough

New pentrough

They also installed a spillway below the pentrough, in order that water deliberately spilled to prevent the wheel from turning, is now directed away from the wheel – this will make the mechanism much more efficient.

New spillway below the new pentrough

New spillway below the new pentrough

Now for the reconstruction! First the support plate and the bearings for the lower wheel and the bottom of the vertical shaft were refitted on the new, level, surface, and the waterwheel axle bolted into its bearing.

Support plate and bearings on top of the new resin cement block

Support plate and bearings on top of the new resin cement block

Then the vertical shaft was carefully lifted into its bearing and delicately moved, millimetre by millimetre, until the wallower engaged properly with the pit wheel, and the shaft itself was exactly vertical.

Positioning the vertical shaft and wallower

Positioning the vertical shaft and wallower

Wallower now fully engaged

Wallower now fully engaged

The new top bearing was then fitted to the new beam, and the vertical shaft was fixed and ready for the next stage.

New top bearing

New top bearing

The original compass arms which support the great spur wheel were both broken, so new ones have been made from oak.

New compass arms – spur wheel sections held together with a ratchet strap

New compass arms – spur wheel sections held together with a ratchet strap

In addition, the wooden sections of the great spur wheel have been repaired. There were many holes through the sections, which indicated that in the past the iron track plates had been moved on several occasions – all of these had to be filled.

Repair section on great spur wheel

Repair section on great spur wheel

Where necessary, damaged sections were replaced with new oak so that when the wheel was replaced it would be possible to get it exactly circular.

More repairs

More repairs

Once the sections had been bolted together, they were then bolted to the compass arms, and the careful work to measure what needed to be done to get it both circular and horizontal started. In one place a few millimetres needed to be removed from the circumference, but in another a fillet had to be made to increase the circumference by about 20 mm in the middle, tapering to nothing at the ends.

Some shaved off ….

Some shaved off ….

and a piece made to increase the circumference

and a piece made to increase the circumference

The track plates could now be fitted – these were carefully spaced so that the gap between the teeth was consistent all round, which had not been the case before it was dismantled.

One track plate fitted ….

One track plate fitted ….

and another one added

and another one added

As these teeth engage with the vampire gear (which transfers the drive from the lower wheel to the shaft driving the mill stones), it was also necessary to lift the vampire gear to accommodate the fact that the great spur wheel is now higher than it was. The axle of the vampire gear is now horizontal, rather than sloping down towards the great spur wheel.

Back together and engaged with the vampire gear

Back together and engaged with the vampire gear

It would be good to report that that was the finish – but on testing the mechanism when being driven by the waterwheel, it was found to be not quite right – so the track plates came off again, the great spur wheel was further modified, the track plates refitted.

On further testing, it was still not quite right, so the cycle was repeated until it was deemed to be as good as it could be. The mechanism now runs much more smoothly, much more easily, and much more quietly than it has ever done, so the millwrights can be proud of their attention to detail, and their determination to “get it right”.

Unfortunately the mechanism was completed only on the Tuesday before our season opening day on Thursday, so it has not been possible to set up the millstones in order to be able to mill grain into flour yet – but this will be done as soon as possible.

Nether Alderley Mill is open on Thu, Sat and Sun from 1-4pm until October

Bruce Williams

Quarry Bank has won the Lottery

March 27, 2015

Hello everyone, my name is Emma and I am the project coordinator for the Quarry Bank Project. Over the next few years I will be joining the blogging team to relay all the wonderful things happening with the Quarry Bank Project.

As you may be aware, back in January, Quarry Bank was awarded a £3.9million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Of course we were ecstatic and it has taken some time to bring us down from cloud 9.


Members of the project team with the Heritage Lottery Fund bid back in October 2014

Members of the project team with the Heritage Lottery Fund bid back in October 2014

I expect that you are all thinking why has Quarry Bank been given such a generous amount of money?

In 2006, the National Trust acquired Quarry Bank House, home to Samuel Greg and his family. Again, in 2010, we were able to bring the Upper Garden, glasshouse and Gardener’s Cottage back into the fold.

By acquiring these missing parts of the estate, we now have the opportunity to bring the whole site to life and tell the complete story of the Industrial Revolution. We will be providing access, to parts of the estate never before seen by the public, including Quarry Bank House and a Worker’s Cottage.

Opportunities to visit Quarry Bank House

Opportunities to visit Quarry Bank House

We will be restoring long lost historic pathways through the Northern Woods, restoring the 1830s derelict glasshouse and creating better orientation and access across the site with new footpaths and a new welcome building. That’s not all; we will be refreshing the mill and inserting an external lift that will provide access for all to all five levels of the mill. Don’t worry Quarry Bank will be open throughout this work and you be able to watch as we transform the site.


The 1830s derelict glasshouse will be restored

The 1830s derelict glasshouse will be restored

This project is more than restoring the physical landscape, it is about people, the people who once lived and worked here and the people who enjoy Quarry Bank today…you.

We will research, catalogue, digitise and properly store the archive and use the stories to create new exhibitions both here and online, for you to enjoy. We will create exciting and innovative exhibitions and events that will make you want to return again and again.

The project also aims to engage with the community in ways that we never have before. We will be working with Primary schools to support their curriculum and getting young children to engage with their local heritage.

We will be working with training bodies and higher education to provide opportunities for people to learn new skills in catering, hospitality and cultural heritage. We will also be attending local events to keep you up-to-date with all the goings on at Quarry Bank.

Wilmslow Show

Setting up for the Wilmslow Show 2014

With the expansion of things to see and do at Quarry Bank, we will need more of your fantastic support. We have hundreds of volunteers who are very excited and enthusiastic about our ambitious plans, why not join them?

Over the course of the project, we will be developing 21 new roles in addition to the current volunteering offer. So there will be something for everyone to get involved with.

Are you excited yet? Like us, we want everything to happen now so you can experience all these fascinating benefits; however, this project will take four years to complete, so bear with us as we begin the work. Don’t worry though; I will be here to provide updates on our progress.

In my next post, I will reveal what will be happening over the next 12 months and beyond.

One more thing, the Heritage Lottery Fund gave us a generous £3.9million but the overall cost of the project is £9.45million. For our dreams to be realised we need to raise £1.9million through a public appeal. We are half way to reaching this total, please help us with the final push. Do visit the website to see how you can help us.

Thank you!

HLF Logo


Printing block collection and a 70 piece puzzle

March 20, 2015


Museums are like icebergs, what you see is only a fraction of what is really there.  Quarry Bank is no exception and in the unassuming rooms at the back of the Mill, which house the collection and archive, are many intriguing items.

The Drawn Out of Love exhibition has taught me a lot about artistic printing so when Ally our Collections and Archive Officer told me about our collection of over 1,500 textile printing blocks, I couldn’t wait to have a look.

Dapple Deer, wood engraving by Barbara Greg

Dapple Deer, wood engraving by Barbara Greg from the ‘Drawn Out of Love’ exhibition

Beautifully designed, our collection of wooden printing blocks were used for a very different purpose to those in the exhibition.  These textile printing blocks were used to print patterns onto cotton fabric, which was then exported around the world.

Most of the blocks in the collection date to the late 19th century and the influence of trade, particularly throughout what was then the British Empire, can be seen.

Printing block inscribed 'Abdull  Sattar Mohamed Bros.Rangoon'

Inscribed on this block is ‘Abdull Sattar Mohamed Bros. Rangoon’

Wooden printing block which reads 'Calcutta'


As you can see the blocks are designed in reverse so when dye is added and the block pressed onto the fabric, the design will appear the right way round.

The Greg family used them to identify cloth which came from Quarry Bank.  This block, probably 20th century, reads R.G (for Greg) & co. Quarry Bank Mills and has the Greg family crest in the centre.

Printing block used on cloth sent around the world from Quarry Bank Mill

Printing block used on cloth sent around the world from Quarry Bank Mill

Some have elaborate designs.

Wooden printing block reading 'Celebrated Shirting known all over the world'

‘Celebrated Shirting known all over the world’

Others are more practical, giving the type of cloth.

Wooden printing block which reads 'bleached'


Wooden printing block which reads 'Algadon'.  This means cotton in Spanish

‘Algodon’ means cotton in Spanish

Others are carved with patterns, each block coming together with the others to build up a design.

One particularly complicated pattern is made up of 70 individual blocks, each of which states the colour to be used when printing.

While we therefore know what colour the overall pattern would have been, unfortunately they are not numbered, so we don’t know what order they should go in!

Trying to piece them together would be like doing a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces look very similar and without any idea of what the final picture should look like.


Wooden printing block with a flower pattern

This beautiful flower printing block is one of 70 blocks which make a single pattern.

Over 70 wooden printing blocks on shelves in the Quarry Bank Archive

The 70 blocks numbered 8301.

I can only imagine how painstaking this kind of pattern would have been to hand print.  They certainly must have had steady hands.

Blocks like this would have been used to print textiles for upholstery and the finished results may have looked something like this.

Patterned fabric

Patterned fabric

Most of the blocks were produced locally and are an important part of the textile history of the North West.

Makers mark on a printing block which reads 'Ellinger & Co. Manchester

Mark which shows this printing block was made in Manchester

Caring for objects like these, part of our extensive archive and collection, is a very important aspect of the work the National Trust do here at Quarry Bank.  I very much look forward to bringing you more behind the scenes stories.

If you feel inspired to have a go at printing why not try our printing workshop for adult beginners with artist Lily Cheetham, this Sunday 2-4pm 



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