Walking the City of London

Month: December 2017

The City’s lone church towers and the Blitz

William Sanson, a London auxiliary fireman, thought 7th September 1940 ‘one of the fairest days of the century, a day of clean warm air and high blue skies’. At 4:00 pm that afternoon, just across the Channel at Cap Blanc Nez, the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring was also enjoying the sunshine. From there he watched as 348 German bombers headed for London accompanied by an escort of 617 fighters. Looking up, Londoners who had not taken shelter could see this vast force some two miles high and 20 miles wide – they seemed to blot out the sun. London was pounded until 6:00 pm. Two hours later, guided by the fires set by the first assault, a second group of raiders commenced another attack that lasted until 4:30 the following morning. The  raids continued for 56 out of the following 57 days and nights. Sanson and his brave colleagues were no longer mocked as ‘army dodgers’ (who restaurants often refused to serve) but were re-christened as ‘heroes with grimy faces’.

Thanks to the efforts of the fire services and volunteers, many City churches survived the Blitz although some, such as St. Mary-le-Bow, had to be substantially rebuilt. Others were effectively lost apart from their towers and today’s blog visits the four of them that were originally designed by Sir Christopher Wren, assisted by  Nicholas Hawksmoor.

In Wood Street, just opposite the police station, stands the tower of St Alban’s. It’s a church designed by Wren in a late Perpendicular Gothic style and completed in 1685 to replace a previous structure destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire.

St Alban, Wood street

The church was restored in 1858-9 by George Gilbert Scott, who added an apse, and the tower pinnacles were added in the 1890s. It was destroyed on a terrible night, 29 December 1940, when the bombing also claimed another eighteen churches and a number of livery halls. Some of St Alban’s walls survived but they  were demolished in 1954 and now nothing remains apart from the tower – not even a little garden to give it some cover from the traffic passing on both sides. I’ve often been told someone lives there but I have never seen any evidence of it.

This is St Dunstan-in-the-East on St Dunstan’s Hill, just off Great Tower Street.

The body of the church had been rebuilt in 1821 but the Wren tower was retained and it survived the Blitz whereas the church did not. It is said that Wren had such confidence in its construction that, when told the steeples of every City church had been damaged in a hurricane that hit London in 1703, he replied ‘Not St Dunstan’s, I am sure’.

Where the church stood is now a lovely secluded public garden which is well worth a visit. Horror film aficionados will recognise the tower as the setting for the final scenes of the 1965 movie Children of the Damned when it, and the children, are wiped out by the military.

There are some cute cherubs on the west door, one of them fast asleep …


The St Dunstan cherubs

These walls and the tower are all that remain of Christchurch Greyfriars on the corner of Newgate Street and King Edward Street …

Scorch marks are still visible on the walls. The substantial steeple consists of triple-tiered squares.

The site of the Franciscan church of Greyfriars was established in 1225. Those considered to be significant enough to be buried in the medieval church included  four queens: Joan de la Tour, Queen of Scotland and daughter of Edward II; Margaret of France, second wife of Edward I and one of the church’s original benefactors; Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III (her heart is said to have been interred under the altar); and Queen Isabella, daughter of King Philip IV of France and wife of Edward II (nicknamed ‘the She-Wolf of France’ on account of her plots against her husband). Also buried here, despite having been given a ‘traitor’s death’, was Elizabeth Barton, who was hanged in 1534 for prophesying the death of Henry VIII when he planned to marry Anne Boleyn. The old church was destroyed in the Great Fire and a new church, designed by Wren, was completed in 1704.

Like St Alban Wood street, his church was another victim of the night of 29 December when incendiary bombs created the ‘Second Great Fire of London’ and only the west tower now stands. Incredibly, though, its wooden font is said to have been saved from the flames by a postman and it now stands a few hundred yards away in St Sepulchre-without-Newgate.

Where the main body of the church once was is now a very attractive garden consisting of heavily planted herbaceous borders including a variety of modern repeat-flowering shrub roses and climbers. The wooden towers within the planting replicate the original church towers and host a variety of climbing plants.

The pretty garden at Christchurch Greyfriars

Situated slightly to the east of St Paul’s Cathedral is the tower of St Augustine with St Faith, Watling Street …

I like this view very much – the Cathedral and church tower complement one another beautifully

Rebuilt by Wren in 1682-3 the tower and spire were added in 1695 and are probably by Hawksmoor. The church was bombed to destruction on 9th September 1940 but you will no doubt be pleased to learn that Faith, the church cat, survived and became very well known. Days before she was seen moving her kitten, Panda, to a basement area. Despite being brought back several times, Faith insisted on returning Panda to her refuge. On the morning after the air raid the rector searched through the dangerous ruins for the missing animals, and eventually found Faith, surrounded by smouldering rubble and debris but still guarding the kitten in the spot she had selected three days earlier. Her story reached Maria Dickin, the founder of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, and for her courage and devotion Faith was awarded a specially-made silver medal. Her death in 1948 was reported around the world. For the full story of Faith I suggest you visit the wonderfully named purr-n-furr UK website and search for Faith, The London Church Cat. There is even a photograph of the famous moggie.

The surviving tower now forms part of the St Paul’s choir school. The new building was awarded the RIBA Architecture Award for London in 1968, being commended particularly for sensitive and intelligent handling of the context.

The Evening News reports on the bombing …

Over 30,000 Londoners died in the World War II air raids and they are commemorated by this understated monument outside the north transept of St Paul’s Cathedral. It was paid for by public funds raised following an appeal in the Evening Standard newspaper, launched in connection with the 50th anniversary of VE Day. The Queen Mother made a personal donation and carried out the unveiling on 11 May 1999.

It is a single piece of Irish limestone sculpted by Sir Richard Kindersley. The words on top, written in a spiral, are taken from Sir Edmund Marsh writing after the Great War, but quoted again by Winston Churchill in his history of the Second World War.

They read as follows

‘In War, Resolution: In Defeat, Defiance: In Victory, Magnanimity: In Peace: Goodwill’

And around the sides


Before the terrible onslaught of the Blitz, the first bomb actually fell on the City early in the morning of 25th August 1940. The event is commemorated by this engraved stone on Roman House at the corner of Wood Street and Fore Street. I only know about this because I can see it from my window in the Barbican!

The Christmas Quiz!

Hello, Friends,

Many of you have been following this blog from its early days in August this year (thank you so much for your support) and some of you have only subscribed recently. The Quiz is based on earlier blogs so long-time followers will have an advantage. Nonetheless, however long you have been a reader, I hope you find the questions fun. All the answers are given at the end as well as links to the blogs to which they refer, so hopefully some of you will discover new stories of interest.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Here is the Quiz:

1. Who used this room above Temple Bar to entertain Winston Churchill and the Prince of Wales after her husband bought the building for her in 1888?

2. Who submitted this plan for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666?

3. This lady on a building in Moorgate is holding a serpent and a skull – what do they symbolise?

4. What acclaimed artist added these golden leaves to the front of the Whitechapel Gallery?

5. Why is this little boy on a building near Bank junction holding a goose? Could it have something to do with the name of the street?

6. Fox’s in London Wall used to sell umbrellas – what does it sell now?

7. What Livery Company has been honoured by a King so that it is now an Honourable Company rather than (like others) a Worshipful one? This is its coat of arms …

8. Where do these devils live and what is the story behind them?

9. Henry VIII and his wife, Catharine of Aragon, appeared together on 21 June 1529 at the Black Friars Monastery – what was the occasion?

10. Who wrote the poem containing these famous lines and where is he buried?

And did those feet in ancient time,

Walk Upon England’s mountains green

And was the holy lamb of God

On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

11. What is the difference between a dragon and a griffin? Which one of these is which?

12. This beautiful and serene lady is dated 1669. What livery company does she represent?

13. This sundial (‘We are but shadows’) is on a building that was once a Protestant Church, then a Methodist Chapel, next a Jewish Synagogue and is now a Mosque. Where is it?

14. This famous cat has his own statue in Gough Square – who was his devoted owner?

15. The statues of these two queens are a 100 yards apart in Fleet Street – one ordered the execution of the other. Who are they?

16. Samuel Pepys worshipped in this church. The gateway to the graveyard prompted Dickens to call it ‘St Ghastly Grim’. What church is it?

17. Where can you find these two cherubs chatting to one another on an early 20th century telephone?

18. Lady Justice, bathed in sunlight, stands atop the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey. Who is this appearing to salute her?

19. What is the historical significance of this little drinking fountain on the corner of Snow Hill and Holborn Viaduct?

20. Three camels are led past the bones of a dead one. How did this portrayal end up in Eastcheap?


1. She was Lady Valerie Meux, a beautiful ex-actress and singer who had married Sir Henry Meux of the wealthy brewing family. There is lots more here about Temple Bar itself and this eccentric, and fascinating, lady: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/09/07/temple-bar-and-the-banjo-playing-lady/

2. The plan was submitted by Christopher Wren – you can read more about the City and its residents after the Great Fire in my blog City Living : https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/12/07/city-living/

3. She is part of a coat of arms incorporated into the wall of the old London Headquarters of the Metropolitan Life Assurance Society. The serpent signifies wisdom and the skull mortality. You can read more about old insurance headquarter buildings here: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/11/30/insurance-company-ghosts/

4. The artist was Rachel Whiteread and I have written more about Art Nouveau in the City in this blog: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/11/23/art-nouveau-in-the-city/

5. Why a goose? A clue is the ancient name of the street and the goose was a suggestion by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate its original market function. The street was, and is still, called Poultry – you can read more about it here along with other City animals: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/11/16/city-animals-3/

6. It is now a wine bar. Read more about its history and Art Deco in the City generally here: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/category/art-deco/

7. It is the Honourable Company of Master Mariners and King George V granted them this privilege. There is more about them here along with many other livery company coats of arms: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/11/02/coats-of-arms-a-quick-quiz/

8. They are known as the Cornhill Devils. The story goes that, when plans were submitted for the late Victorian building next to the church, the rector noticed that they impinged slightly on church land and lodged a strong objection. Everything had to literally go back to the drawing board at great inconvenience and expense. The terracotta devils looking down on the entrance to the church are said to be the architect’s revenge with the lowest devil bearing some resemblance to the cleric himself. Read more about them here: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/10/26/city-angels-and-a-few-devils/

9. It was the venue of their divorce hearing. On 21 June 1529 they appeared before Cardinal Wolsey and the papal legate Cardinal Campeggio, who were there to hear testimonies as to the validity of the King’s marriage. I have written about Blackfriars and medieval monasteries here: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/10/19/the-medieval-city-monasteries/

10. It was, of course, William Blake. It was originally from the preface of his epic Milton, a Poem in Two Books (c 1808) but is now best known as the anthem Jerusalem set to music by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916. Blake is buried in Bunhill Burial Ground. Take a walk with me there as I point out other interesting graves and monuments: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/10/12/stones-and-bones-a-walk-through-bunhill-burial-ground/

11. The first picture is a griffin and the second (the symbol of the City of London) is a dragon. A griffin (or gryphon) is a legendary creature with the body, tail and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet. Dragons, on the other hand, have a serpent’s tail, tend to be scaly all over and breathe fire and smoke. There are some more pictures here: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/10/05/dragons-and-maidens/

12. She is a Mercer Maiden and her symbol is part of the coat of arms of their Livery Company – according to their website she first appears on a seal in 1425. Her precise origins are unknown, and there is no written evidence as to why she was chosen as the Company’s emblem. This lady is the earliest surviving. There are more maidens here marking property owned by the Company: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/10/05/dragons-and-maidens/

13. It’s in Brick Lane. Read more about it (and other fascinating sundials) here: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/09/21/we-are-but-shadows-city-sundials/

14. He was called Hodge and he belonged to Dr Johnson. There is more about him here along with other City animals: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/09/14/city-animals-2/

15. They are, as I am sure you know, Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I. You can read more about the statues and their history here: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/08/31/three-queens-and-a-king/

16. It is St Olave in Hart Street and you can read more about Pepys and his time in London here: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/08/24/samuel-pepys-and-his-own-church/

17. Now known as 2 Temple Place, the house where the cherubs grace the entrance was built in 1892 for William Waldorf Astor, and was one of the first London residences to have a telephone installed.  There are more stories about City cherubs here: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/wp-admin/post.php?post=380&action=edit

18. It is Prince Albert, mounted on his horse in Holborn Circus. There are other statues of Lady Justice in the City (all  blindfolded except one!). You can read all about them here: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/08/10/justice/

19. Unveiled on 20th April 1859, it was the first public drinking fountain in London. Many more fountains followed and their story is a fascinating one: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/03/21/philanthropic-fountains/

20. Constructed between 1883 and 1885, the building at 20 Eastcheap was once the headquarters of Peek Brothers & Co, dealers in tea, coffee and spices, whose trademark showed three camels bearing different shaped loads being led by a Bedouin Arab. The sculptor, William Theed, was very famous: https://symbolsandsecrets.london/2017/03/20/a-dead-camel-in-eastcheap/





That rings a bell …

Just off Whitecross Street is this doorway which makes me smile every time I see it. The story I have conjured up in my mind is that, some time in the early 1970s, the people living there found that visitors knocked on the door rather than ringing the bell. When asked why, callers usually said that they didn’t know there was a bell. As a consequence, the residents (who obviously had artistic talents) got out their paint brushes and added this helpful sign to indicate where the push button bell was. Brilliant!

This got me thinking about doorbells generally and their vanishing use in the City, where people are now ‘buzzed in’ or channeled via security guards or reception desks. So as I walked around looking for other blog subjects I kept an eye out for doorbells that have survived from a previous era – here are those that I have found so far.

Number 103 Cannon Street is a listed building dating from 1866 and is described as being of  ‘Byzantine style with some carved decoration and mouldings with shafts of polished pink granite to ground storey arcade’. It isn’t a house any more but beside its rather formidable doors are two very nice examples of bells from a time when home and office accommodation were in some way combined.


The bells are hidden when the door is open so this picture was taken at the weekend



When living space and workplace were closely located

I knew the Livery Companies wouldn’t let me down when it came to buildings that had been preserved right down to the smallest detail. The splendid blue door of the Wax Chandlers Hall has a complementary bell beautifully mounted.

6 Gresham Street EC2

Bell for the Wax Chandlers Hall

The bell at Stationer’s Hall, below, is rather austere …

Ave Maria Lane, EC4

Not surprisingly, the Goldsmiths are well guarded …

The doorbells in Gresham Street

I’m sure it’s pleasure keeping this one looking smart …

81 Coleman Street EC2

Number 5 Frederick’s Place was constructed in 1776 by the Adams brothers, John and Robert, of Adelphi fame. No wonder the old bell pull looks a bit wobbly now given the usage it must have had over the years. Lawyers, accountants and medical men were its primary residents over the years but at one time it housed a very different business. The London & Oxford Group, who are the current tenants, have researched the building’s previous occupants and in their notes on this subject they comment as follows

One of the more interesting enterprises carried on from here during the Edwardian era was a servants’ registry run by Owen Limms. At this date the supply of domestics still exceeded demand. Consequently, employers could afford to be very selective. It would have fallen to Owen Limms to weed out the fly-by-nights, drunkards and pilferers who represented a significant portion of those who beat a path to his door, and to instill in the remainder the habits of industry and piety.

I can’t help imagining these young folk reaching out and pulling this bell, nervously anticipating their interview with the no doubt formidable, and rather scary, Mr Limms.

Number 5’s imposing front door


‘Mr Limms is expecting you’

The Bank of England had a special arrangement for night time callers …

On the wall of the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street

This bell in Great Tower Street obviously gets a regular polish …

Entrance to Williams & Glyn’s Bank, 8 Great Tower Street

And finally, a visit to the secluded Wardrobe Place off Carter Lane. Number 2 has two bells …

Many old City doors seem to be blue

Housekeeper bell at 2 Wardrobe Place

Office bell at 2 Wardrobe Place

You can read more about the curiously named Wardrobe Place in my last blog City Living.
















City Living

Ten years ago a detailed analysis of the population of the City of London revealed that, with the number of residents at 9,185, the City had the second smallest residential population of any English Local Authority with the exception of the Isles of Scilly!

Just to put this into even greater perspective, before the Great Fire of 1666 the population estimate was 80,000 of whom about 70,000 lost their homes in the conflagration. The Fire created an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild the City and proposals were speedily produced by eminent people such as Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke and John Evelyn. In Wren’s case, he imagined a reconstructed capital full of wide boulevards and grand civic spaces, a city that would rival Paris for Baroque magnificence

Christopher Wren’s plan for rebuilding London © Trustees of the British Museum

None of the plans were implemented – defeated by the sheer complexity of revoking existing  freeholds, renegotiating leases and the likely cost of compensation. Post-fire, some streets were widened and new legislation was introduced requiring buildings to be more fire resistant.

‘No man whatsoever shall presume to erect any house or building great or small, but of brick or stone’.

1667 Rebuilding Act

By mid-1667 surveyors were already at work designating boundaries and meticulously marking out building plots. Interfering with these markers was discouraged by the threat of imprisonment or ‘being taken to the place of his offence and there whipped until the body be bloody‘.

By 1688 it is estimated that between 12,000 and 15,000 buildings had been rebuilt and London was being enhanced further by the 51 new churches designed by Wren plus, of course, the construction of a new St Paul’s cathedral.

In my latest walk around the City I have been looking for residential buildings that have survived despite redevelopment, the Blitz and, in one case, the Great Fire of London itself.

Cloth Fair was named in honour of the medieval festival Bartholomew Fair where merchants gathered to buy and sell material. The Poet Laureate and conservationist John Betjeman moved into number 43 in 1955 and his residency is commemorated with a blue plaque. Nearby at number 41/42 is the oldest house in the City. Built in 1615, it survived the Great Fire due to its being enclosed and protected by the priory walls of St Bartholomew. The building was originally part of a larger scheme of eleven houses featuring a courtyard in the middle, known as ‘The Square in Launders Green’ – the original site of the priory laundry.

Incidentally, you’ll notice the building has no window sills. The post-Fire Building Acts required window sills at least four inches deep or more to be installed in homes in order to reduce the risk of fire spreading upwards.

41/42 Cloth Fair

1 and 2 Laurence Pountney Lane are a remarkable survival from the early 18th century. They were built in 1703 as a pair of red brick, four-storey houses, on the site of a single post-fire house. They are considered to be finest surviving houses of this period in the City with elaborately carved foliage friezes around the doors and cornice above and ornate shell-hoods over the doorways.  The virtuosity of the woodwork is explained by the fact that the houses were built by a master carpenter, Thomas Denning. He had worked on Wren’s church of St Michael Paternoster Royal nearby and would later contribute to Hawksmoor’s St Mary Woolnoth. Like other ambitious craftsmen, Denning branched out into the cut throat world of speculative building. At Laurence Pountney Hill he appealed to the market by ingeniously contriving two basements beneath the houses. This created an abundance of storage space that would be attractive to the London merchants, whose houses doubled as business premises. Denning’s speculation paid off; on 15 July 1704 he sold both houses to Mr John Harris for £3,190, a tidy sum.

1 & 2 Laurence Pountney Hill

The delightful doorway hoods. Look closely – the cherubs on the right are playing bowls!

Here is a close-up (you may have to concentrate – they are not always obvious)

The date still visible despite years of over-painting

Numbers 27 and 28 Queen Street are a pair of mid-18th century houses set back behind a forecourt. They are some of the finest examples of their type in the City, with their elevated position giving them an additional prominence.

27 and 28 Queen Street

If you look at this picture of 41 Crutched Friars below you will see the entrance arch to a narrow thoroughfare on the right. This is French Ordinary Court – named for the fact that in the 17th century the Huguenots were allowed by the French Ambassador, who had his residence at number 41, to sell coffee and pastries there. They also served fixed price meals and in those days such a meal was called an ‘ordinary’. The lane itself dates from the 15th century and perhaps even earlier. It  was further enclosed in the 19th century as the railway station was constructed above, transforming it into a cavernous passage. French Ordinary Court was commonly known as ‘Spice Alley’ until the late 20th century, the smells lingering from the old warehouses nearby – something I can attest to personally since I frequently used it as a short cut in the 1970s and 80s.

The French Ambassador’s residence until the 18th century

Dr Johnson’s cat Hodge looks towards their old home. Once surrounded by the throbbing printing presses of Fleet Street newspapers, Gough Square is today a quiet haven off the noisy main road. Now known as Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square was built by one Richard Gough, a City wool merchant, at the end of the seventeenth century. It is the only survivor from a larger development and Dr Johnson lived here from 1748 to 1759 whilst compiling his famous dictionary.

Dr Johnson’s House in Gough Square

Amen Court is a private enclave of houses occupied by the Canons of St Paul’s Cathedral. Given its name by a former processional route of the clergy, the court consists of a range of three houses of the 1670s along with six Queen Anne Revival houses dated 1878-80, the group unified by the use of red bricks. In his flat here in January 1958, Canon John Collins started the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Amen Court – note the nice original ironwork including ‘snuffers’ for extinguishing lighted torches

Part of the Chiswell Street Conservation Area, these buildings are a fine example of terraced town houses dating from the late 18th Century and built for the then burgeoning middle classes in London. A plaque on number 43 tells us that numbers 43 to 46 were rebuilt in 1774 after a fire in 1773 and restored in 1988. There is an attractive wooden sundial in the adjacent courtyard which reference the fire.

Often referred to as the ‘Whitbread Brewery Partners’ Houses’

The inscriptions read: ‘Such is Life’,  and, around the sides, ‘Built 1758, burnt 1773, rebuilt 1774’

The curiously named Wardrobe Place, just off Carter Lane, is a tranquil spot and marks the location of what was once the King’s or Royal Wardrobe.  In the 1360s the executors of the late Sir John Beauchamp sold his house here to King Edward III for the storage of his ceremonial robes which were then transferred from the Tower of London. In addition, the Wardrobe held garments for the whole royal family for all state occasions, together with other furnishings and robes for the King’s ministers and Knights of the Garter. In his diary, Pepys records visiting it in order to borrow appropriate Court dress. The facilities were gradually extended to comprise stables, courtyard warehouse, workrooms, great hall, chapel, treasury, kitchens and chambers.

Beauchamp’s house was destroyed in the Great Fire and in 1673 a Crown lease was granted to William Wardour, who redeveloped the site with houses arranged around an open courtyard. The north and east sides were begun in 1678. Wardrobe Court, as it was known until the late 18th century, was described in John Strype’s Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster (1720) as ‘a large and square court with good houses’.

Wardrobe Place

Ghost sign in Wardrobe Place – ‘Snashall & Son – Printers, Stationers & Account Book Manufacturers – 1st Door on (?)’

I couldn’t write about homes without mentioning this great man, George Peabody (1795-1869)

George Peabody by W.W.Storey 1867-69

Here he sits, looking pretty relaxed, at the northern end of the Royal Exchange Buildings. Born in Baltimore he became extremely wealthy importing British dried goods and, after visiting frequently, became a permanent London resident in 1838. In retirement he devoted himself to charitable causes setting up a trust, the Peabody Donation Fund, to assist ‘the honest and industrious poor of London’. The Peabody Trustees would use the fund to provide ‘cheap, clean, well-drained and healthful dwellings for the poor’ with the first donation being made in 1862.

My ‘local’ estate is the one on Whitecross Street and dates from 1883 – the design is very typical Peabody, with honey coloured bricks and a pared down Italianate style.

Block E, which survived the Blitz

Resident planting

Peabody now own and manage over 55,000 homes across 29 London boroughs as well as Kent, Sussex and Essex. Do browse their website – the section on the Trust’s history is particularly interesting.


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