INCE HALL. Wigan, Lancashire. 18th. February, 1854.

The explosion occurred in the Ince Hall, Arley Pits which belonged to the Ince Hall Coal and Cannel Company. Eighty-nine lives were lost with thirty-seven of the deceased being burnt to death of which eighteen were classed as being “badly burnt.” The others appeared to have died from suffocation by the afterdamp.

There had been an explosion in the same pit the year before that took fifty-eight lives but since then, on the recommendation of Her Majesty’s Inspector, Mr. Joseph Dickinson, the discipline in the mine had improved and the amount of ventilating air almost doubled but the system by which the mine was worked still remained very complicated.

The Arley seam at the colliery, was deep, 414 yards and worked on a large rise to the shaft and this impeded the return air since it had to travel downhill for seventy yards. With a system such as this, any slight change would interfere with the efficiency of the ventilation and at the time of the explosion, a storm was raging. At the time of the disaster, all the workings in the colliery were producing coal. An Upper seam was worked from mouthings in the shaft and they were ventilated by the same openings.

The Arley seam that was worked at the colliery was one of the most notorious and fiery in Lancashire and there had been explosions in it where ever it was mined, at the Burgh and Coppull colliery, those in Adlington and Blackrod and the Kirkless Hall colliery. The average thickness of the seam was four feet and at the Ince Hall colliery, there was not much trouble except where faults were encountered. The roof was of black bass about nine inches thick then a slaty metal from ten to fourteen feet thick overlain by hard rock of variable thickness; outbursts of gasses were known to come from these rocks.

The workings were divided into districts with a deputy in charge of each who examined the working places before the men entered and then went back to the shaft to inspect the men’s lamps. He inspected the gauzes and made sure that they were locked. Any violation of the rules such as smoking tobacco, removing lamp tops or continuing to work with a damaged lamp was dealt with by heavy fines, legal prosecution or instant dismissal.

The shafts were eleven feet four inches in diameter and the mine was ventilated by a furnace which was twenty-five yards to the west of the upcast shaft. The furnace was six feet wide and nine feet long and a dumb drift connected the return air courses which were controlled by doors and fresh air was directed down the downcast shaft by cast-iron pipes. The total quantity of ventilation in the mine was 77.130 cubic feet per minute with 10, 000 cubic feet going to the No.2 Jig.

The mine was worked by driving two levels to the south to the boundary and pillars worked back towards the pit. The top of the No.1 North Jig was also driven to the boundary to the coal under the town and had laid idle for some time as there were cotton mills on the surface. The district between these and the shaft was not perforated by drifts and the only new work driven into fresh coal since the explosion in March 1853 was on the down brows on the east side of the pit.

The explosion happened early in the afternoon when the ventilation was at its lowest and the men had been at work for a number of hours which had probably opened fresh feeders of gas. The centre of the explosion was about 140 yards from the shaft at a place where there was a large amount of the return air. The coal was burned right back to the furnace.

William Anderton of Ince, the overlooker on the surface of the Arley Mine and Cannel Pits, said:

On the afternoon of Saturday the 18th, I was at the works about half-past two. I was about 100 yards from the mouth of the Arley Pit and happened to be looking in that direction. I heard a report and saw smoke coming out of both pits the report was not very loud the smoke was thick and black and there was dust Thomas Robson, the sub-manager was with me. I had seen Mr. Darlington near the pit but he had left about three minutes before the explosion, saying he was going to Wigan. I knew an explosion had happened and made off to Mr. Darlington in Wigan but I did not find him readily, I got back again, leaving word that he should be sent after me. When I got back I found Josiah Dobinson, the underlooker, Robson and others had gone down. The men were coming out of the south workings very fast and as far as I heard, all came out of that side safely. I stayed at the top as I was in charge there. Soon the men began bringing people up from the north side they were more or less burned one of them, Sherrington, who died on Friday morning. He was not burned but seemed to be out of his mind, and almost raging, from the effects of the sulphur. Mr. Darlington came to the pit between half-past three and four o’clock and went down in a few minutes, only waiting to put on my pit coat. Other men went down as soon as possible for some who went down did not stop long and we got regular shifts. The first dead body that was brought up was Dobinson’s boy no more were got until late in the evening they were all removed to this yards and by Sunday evening eighty-seven had been recovered and so removed. Mr. Peace, Lord Balcarres’s manager, arrived on Saturday evening and sent for further help from His Lordship’s collieries, arrived on Saturday evening, which was made use of. I remember nine men, uninjured, being brought out about 10 o’clock on Saturday evening. I understood they were found in the north workings. During this time Mr. Darlington was still down the pit. I understood that no stoppage was made in the search until the whole of the eighty-seven bodies had been recovered.

Josiah Dobinson, the head underlooker of the Arley Mine had charge of the entire underground workings since the last explosion in March last. He gave this account of the disaster:

At the time of the explosion I was at my own house, about a quarter of a mile off, but being informed if it, I went to the pit directly and went down with Henry Burrill, the underlooker of the Cannel Pits and some others. The shafts were uninjured and the cage itself was all right. On getting to the bottom of the downcast shaft, we went to the engine house and lighted the lamps for he heard there was a light in the engine brow. Between the pits, there are double doors which we found closed and uninjured. We had to pass through them to get to the north side where I knew my boys and the rest of the men were and where I knew, from the state of the doors and the air in the downcast shaft, the explosion had been. As soon as we were through the doors, I went on to the upcast or bye-pit, but we could go no further on account of the sulphur. I found it impossible to get to the furnace that way, so I and others went up the No.1 north jug and got found to the furnace. We then went around by the No.1 north Jig and came to the furnace by a roundabout way. We found traces of fire the doors and props were still on fire the furnace was much damaged, and four of five yards of the brickwork thrown down. We got water buckets and put out the fire. Then we came along the main north lower level. We stopped at the air crossing over the foot of the No.1 north Jig, which was blown down. We travelled on as far as we could and found some bodies there. I went one way by myself, the air crossing having been first set right by putting up a few planks and a bit of cloth and a party of men went the other way. In No.2 Jig we found a boy lying alive and several others dead. The air stoppings were all blown up there and I could not get farther than the second air crossing. I returned along the horse level.

All the time Mr. Dobinson was relating his account, he was illustrating his progress on a detailed plan of the mine workings. He continued:

On the north side of the doors, we found nine men, sitting and waiting for someone to get them out they were very glad to see us. Those men told us that another man, Matthew Corless, that had left the slant Mr. Hewlett and myself went up and found the men dead. I came back to the top of the Jig and found twelve bodies lying dead. Gerard Fairbrother, a pony driver was one of them. The pony was found alive a long distance along the slant where he had left it. Had he stayed with it, he would have been safe. None of the doors on the level was injured and after we put up the air crossing it was good and I think that the nine men we got out alive may have lived a considerable time longer if we had not happened to get to them. All the bodies that were found at the top of the jig seemed to have been suffocated. There was not a mark of burning on them. I can not say exactly what time I was there it might have been nine or ten o’clock at night. I then went up the pit and saw Mr. Darlington at the engine house, the one at the pit bottom. Mr. Darlington accompanied me along the north level to No.2 Jig. We got further than I had able to get before but it was not so good as we could get into the working where the principal part of the men lay. I then went out of the pit and went home. One of my boys had been sent home.

I went down again soon after three o’clock on Sunday morning and made at once for the no.1 slant workings and managed to get through to the greater part of the workings between Nos. 1 and 2 Jigs. Some of the men who had been extinguishing the fire in some coal had got into the slant before me. The air was not very good but I could breathe freely. Those workings were the principal seat of the explosion all the bodies were found there more or less burned and in some places the coal had ignited. Many of the cloth stoppings and some of the brick ones had been knocked down. In Woodcock’s drift, which is one of the central places in No.1 slant, I found a fall of the roof extending over 50 or 60 yards and all the breadth of the place and covering the floor with about four feet of stone. It was a new fall, but I can not say whether it fell in consequence of the explosion or before. I know it was not down on Friday. Some of the men’s lamps were in their places; others had their lamps with them. John Brown’s lamp was broken by the explosion and so was one of a man named Ashbrooke but I never heard of any lamp being found unscrewed or with the top off.

There were three or four points at the extreme south of the workings in No1. slant where the fire seemed to have been the most severe. I have seen many of the lamps found in these places. They were all sound. Jas. Pilkington worked in the southernmost place. All the return air from the north main level passed close by the end of that place. Pilkington, had, that morning, holes through into the return air course at the bottom. He had not completed it, but the hole was about a yard or four feet long and about eight or nine inches high. The lower air passed through the hole and out into the return air course. In the bottom of the cut-through we found the remains of a shot which had gone off. There were the remains of the fuse, showing that it had burned but the powder remained in the hole. It is the business of the fireman from each district to fire the shots and it would be John Brown’s duty to fire this one. The men have not been allowed to fire their own shots since the last explosion. Some men have done so but in eight or ten cases they have been discovered and I have fined the men 5s. or 10s. Men have taken before the magistrates for smoking and one of them is now in prison. A furnace man was imprisoned for a month for neglect of the rules. If the shot in Pilkington’s place was lighted, I believe it was done by John Brown. His body was found driven fast into a corner almost directly opposite the cut through. It was covered with dust and rubbish blown out of the workings. Brown’s lamp was near him. It was much damaged but the screw was all right. From the position of Brown’s body, I think the force of the explosion had taken the direction from the No.1 slant workings towards the furnace of the upcast shaft. I expect that Brown waited near the corner after lighting the fuse until the shot went off. It was the last he would have to fire that day and he might have been injured by the coals if he had not waited as he did but had attempted to pass directly on to the cage so as to come out. I never heard of any complaint of Pilkington firing his own shots and from the position of the bodies, I feel sure Brown fired this one.

Robert Banks, collier of Wigan, was one of the survivors and gave this account of the explosion:

I work in this pit on the north side in the drift next to Woodcock’s, and was at work on Saturday, the day of the explosion. It would be about half-past two when I came out of my place, my drawer left before me. I had been in Woodcock’s place at about eleven o’clock. I have not seen anything wrong in my place, and the air was very good. I had only worked in it three days, having commenced on Wednesday, but played me on Friday as my hands were bad. I saw nothing wrong. When the explosion happened, I had got to the pit eye, and had been sitting in the engine-house at the bottom of the shaft, with my little boys, for three or four minutes. The reason I did not go up directly after I got to the pit eye was because the rule says, eight of us must go up on the cage at a time, and there was only five. Andrew Mulroy, who is living, but injured, was one of those within the engine-house to go up, and “Throp” as they call him (Thomas Lee), was the other. When the gas fired, I heard a noise, and there was a rush of wind, and I lay down them another rush of wind, not so much as the first, and I rose up, and there was a wind greater than ever. I was out of my senses for a while, and when I came to myself the blast had taken us away through the south pit, and I found myself lying there, near the downcast shaft. My boy was lying there not much hurt, but he had got a blow on his thigh my other was not hurt. Anthony Mulroy was hurt. There was no injury done to the engine-house that I could see.

James Murphy, collier, Ince, said:

I worked in the furthest place at the top of No.2 Jig north and was in it at the time of the fire. I saw nothing of the explosion, but I felt the air singing in my ears. I dropped my pick and was examining by brattice when it came a second time, and then I said, “O Lord, It’s fired!” The first time I was not sure the gas had fired. I put on my clothes, and called the two lads who were my drawers, and went out. I met a man, who told me they were all lying dead in the jig, and that it was getting bad with the sulphur there too. It was Samuel Worthington he is dead. The sulphur came to us and I said to him. “Well, if we don’t get someplace, we’ll not be for long.” He said, “There’s better air at the back of the jig.” I said, “Let’s go down the jig.”

He said, “It’s no use going there, where there’s a man lying dead.”

I sat down and considered a bit, then he said, “In the name of God, let us go down this here jig, for I don’t know no other way to get out of it.” Well, he got up with me, and we went some way down the jig but he said, “I can’t stand this here no longer, I will go back.” and he did. I never stopped, but went on, and the two boys who were with me dropped down somewhere or other on the jig. I had a tin bottle [tea can] and put it against my mouth and found benefit from it. After I had lost the lads I kept on for some distance, and then I fell, and how long a time I laid there I cannot say but after I came to myself I went along the north level, thinking I was still going to the shaft until I came to a cloth hanging up, and then I knew I was going wrong, I turned and went back to the pit, and I fell in with the searchers who sent me up.

Another of the survivors, William France, who was underground for between seven and eight hours before he was rescued gave this account to the press:

I went to the pit about five minutes to five on Saturday with seven or eight others. I worked in Nos. 7 and 8 places of the 1st. Jig on the North Side. The brow was about 400 yards long and it turns out of the main road about 600 yards from the pit eye. There was a distance of about 3 yards between the places and there were nine to ten places on the brow. When the blast happened, I was filling my last box of the day. My drawer, Benjamin Simpkin, who is about twenty years old, had come in and he was holding the light. The blast knocked me against the sides of the workings and I soon recovered from being stunned. Then I ran about 10 yards down the brow with my drawer after me and I thought that if I was going further I had better see if the air was going right again so I took the light and went back to my place. There was no air stirring and in the road, it felt quite heavy. I picked up my clothes and put them of in haste telling Simpkin to do the same. He said, “What’s the hurry? I don’t like stopping here.” But although the report was aloud one, we did not think anything very serious had occurred. After getting out I was not satisfied as to which way to go. I turned back to see if there was any air stirring and found there was a little but it was going the wrong way. After we got to a pair of doors on the level at the top of the jig and when I opened the doors the gas hit my face like a cloud and I could not go one. I turned back and I thought of going out on the South side. On the way up we saw the body of a man who had tried it before and had been overcome. I think he was alive and we tried to draw him out but we could not withstand the sulphur and we had to leave the man and return back as fast as we could as the sulphur was well nigh choking. We tried to get round to the main return but we could not manage it. The sulphur stopped us again. We returned to get round to the back of the door and stayed there until help came. Before they came to us I took my dinner wrap and went to dip it into a pool where the horses get their drink and covered my mouth and nose with the wet cloth and ventured through the door. Just beyond I saw seven or eight lying dead in a heap. One of them was one of the Balderstones. The other was George Barlow. I had it in mind to put the cloth over Barlow’s mouth but it had dried out and I thought he was breathing. If the men had stayed at the back of the door as we did, they would have been all right. It would be about 10.30 when we got to the pit bank above ground. I am getting better now but I am still weakly at times. It was awful work and me and my drawer at one time saw them men and boys lying around all groaning and dying.

Those who lost their lives were:

  • William Dobison aged 13 years, rolley hooker, son of the underlooker of Ince Green Lane.
  • Richard Jones aged 29 years, married with a child, horse tenter of School Lane.
  • Henry Peet aged 54 years, head fireman of Ince Green Lane who was married.
  • Robert Webster aged 23 years, drawer, married with a child of Queen Street, Wigan.
  • Richard Dickinson aged 15 years, rolley hooker of Broom Street.
  • David Harrison aged 35 years, fireman, married with four children of Wagon and Horses Yard, Millgate.
  • James Webster aged 14 years, a helper.
  • Thomas Dobison aged 15 years, pony driver, brother to William.
  • Nicholas Sullivan aged 12 years, door tenter of Whatmough’s Yard.
  • Joseph Thompson aged 13 years, pony driver of Lowe’s Square.
  • Thomas Walker aged 14 years, drawer of Britannia Bridge.
  • Thomas Chatterly aged 19 years, drawer, married of Bridge Street, Chapel Lane.
  • William Houghton aged 23 years, drawer of Vauxhall Road, Scholes.
  • John Cassidy aged 15 years, door tenter of Black Swan Yard.
  • Thomas Down aged 20 years, drawer of Boy-Well Lane.
  • James Gregory aged 20 years, collier of Rigby’s Yard.
  • James Kelly aged 23 years, drawer of Cooper’s Yard, Scholes.
  • George Jolley aged 15 years, drawer of Chapel Lane.
  • John Alpine aged 16 years, drawer of John Street, Scholes.
  • James Whittle aged 30 years, hooker-on, married with two children of Warrington Lane.
  • William Hayman aged 25 years, married with three children, colliery of Barrack Yard.
  • Edward McGowan aged 11 years, driver of Greenough’s Row.
  • John Hesketh aged 28 years, collier, married with one child of Barrack Yard.
  • James Robert Nelson aged 10 years of Ince Green Lane.
  • James Pilkington aged 35 years, married collier with three children of School Lane.
  • William Rotherham aged 30 years, collier of Orrell.
  • John Mather aged 15 years, pony driver of Lyon Street.
  • William Leicester aged 50 years, collier married with a child of Bridgwater Street.
  • William Horrocks aged 22 years, collier of Wallgate.
  • Edward Preston aged 17 years, drawer of Lyon Street.
  • William Gerard aged 12 years, pony tenter of Warrington Lane.
  • William McClennan aged 35 years, collier, married with four children of Bull Yard, Scholes.
  • William Scott aged 18 years, hooker-on of Club Row.
  • John Marsden aged 19 years, drawer of Cooper’s Yard.
  • James Sharrock aged 10 years, pony driver.
  • John Atherton aged 19 years, collier.
  • Gerrard Fairbrother aged 14 years, drawer of Lyon Street.
  • John Fletcher aged 13 years, drawer of Lyon Street.
  • William Fairbrother aged 11 years, door tenter, brother to Gerrard.
  • William Mulderig aged 18 years, drawer of Greenough’s Row.
  • Mark Shore aged 24 years, collier, married of School Lane.
  • William Waddilove aged 32 years, married of School Lane.
  • Nicholas Fletcher aged 25 years, collier of Wigan.
  • Peter Roscoe aged 33 years, married, plate layer of Well’s Yard, Wigan.
  • Thomas Bald aged 20 years, drawer of Stanley Row.
  • Thomas Mitchell aged 22 years, drawer of Nicholas Nook.
  • James Rigby aged 28 years, collier, married with one child of Nicholas Nook.
  • Joseph Rigby aged 26 years of Frankfort Street.
  • John Ashbrook aged 24 years, collier of Stanley Street.
  • Patrick McCormick aged 25 years, collier of Stanley Street.
  • Richard Woodcock aged 37 years, collier, married with three children of Stanley Street.
  • Robert McAllister aged 25 years, drawer of Nicholas Nook.
  • James Bentham aged 30 years married with two children of Back Ince Lane.
  • John Balderstone aged 22 years, collier of Bridge Street.
  • James Balderstone aged 17 years, drawer brother of James and John.
  • Thomas Balderstone aged 11 years, drawer, brother of James and John.
  • James Goldring aged 11 years, drawer, of Lowe’s Square.
  • George Barlow aged 24 years, married with one child, collier of Victoria Street, Wallgate.
  • Matthew Corless aged 29 years, married collier of Hallgate.
  • Stephen Rowe aged 33 years married with two children of Club Row.
  • Francis McNaught aged 11 years, pony driver of Ince Green Lane.
  • John McGowan aged 19 years, drawer of Greenalgh’s Row.
  • Thomas Baxendale aged 29 years, married collier of Ince Green Lane.
  • Michael McDonough aged 22 years, drawer of Nicholas Nook.
  • Owen McDonough aged 20 years brother of Michael.
  • John Markland aged 24 years, collier married with two children of Wellington Street, Scholes.
  • Edward Lindsay aged 33 years collier married with five children of Wellington Street, Scholes.
  • James Markland aged 22 years, collier brother of John.
  • Richard Graham aged 10 years, door tenter of Ashton Street.
  • William Gerrard aged 10 years, door tenter of School Lane.
  • Henry Dawber aged 24 years, married with one child of School Lane.
  • Richard Jackson aged 22 years, drawer Redhouses, Wigan.
  • Michael Farley aged 22 years, drawer of Black Swan Yard.
  • Samuel Worthington aged 26 years, married with one child of Frankfort Street.
  • William Dauber aged 21 years, collier of Schofield Street.
  • William Yates aged 10 years, door tenter of Birket Bank.
  • Johnathan Dyson aged 10 years, door tenter of Britannia Bridge.
  • Martin Tunstall aged 25 years, drawer of Frankfort Street.
  • Samuel Holding aged 33 years, platelayer, married with one child
  • Thomas Marsden aged 25 years of Coopers Yard, Scholes.
  • Charles Benson aged 10 years of Nicholas Nook.
  • Patrick McCabe aged 20 years of Black Swan Yard.
  • Edward Fairhurst aged 21 years, married collier of Ince Green Lane.
  • Richard Bromley aged 50 years, married with six children of Ince Green Lane.
  • Michael Cunningham aged 20 years of Greenalgh’s Row.

There was a full and detailed inquest into the deaths of the men and the cause of the disaster. When all the evidence had been given the Coroner summed up and the jury retired to consider their verdict:

We find that the death of the eighty-nine persons under consideration was occasioned by tan explosion of firedamp within the workings of the Arley Mine of the Ince Hall Colliery, on Saturday 18th, ultimo. We find the explosion occurred close to Pilkington’s drifts and was ignited, as we believe, at Pilkington’s shot. The origination of the gas which exploded, we verily, believe, from a sudden and accidental outbreak from some point far from the seat of the explosion and we would point to the fall in Woodcock’s place as the only likely source shown for the emanation of such an outburst. We give it as our opinion that the general management and ventilation of the mine in question, from the time of the lamentable explosion to the present, had been satisfactory, and the system of working, under the peculiar circumstances of the pit, uncensorable. Under the circumstances of this awful explosion, we would strongly recommend to the management, that, as far as possible, the use of gunpowder in the working places within the mine should be wholly discontinued.

After the verdict had been delivered the Coroner commented:

My own appearance is entirely in concurrence with the whole of the verdict. I beg to congratulate you on the result of this inquiry, and particularly congratulate the management of these works on the result also. I think under all the circumstances they have shown themselves entitled to all consideration, and I hope they feel they have met with it as far as possible in a court of this nature. Another point I would congratulate them on is, that all the bodies were brought out of the pit so soon after the explosion.

Mr. Mayhew stated that there were several mines of great extent and some worked under conditions of peculiar difficulty and during the past four years, Mr. Darlington had the management, there had mot been a single death in them.

Joseph Dickenson sent a letter to the Company dated 11th May 1855 which said:

Having on the 11th inst. made further inspection of the Arley Pits at the Ince Hall Coal and Cannel Works, and also ascertained particulars as to he additional precautions intended to be taken in carrying on the mine, I beg to submit for your consideration the following observations.

1st – with reference to the recommendations of Messrs Forster and Elliot’s report of the 5th instant, which may be summed up as follows, viz.

That the air courses be enlarged.

That all the return air be passed through a dumb drift, clear of the furnace.

That the return air from the goaves or large wastes do not pass working places along the main rolley ways.

That naked lights and gunpowder be discontinued except in particular places where permitted by the viewer. The shots to be fired by a good experienced overmen.

That the lamps have glass cylinders to prevent tobacco from being lighted at them.

The first three of these recommendations have my concurrence. The remaining two I consider incomplete. It having been proved that two awful explosions have occurred by firing shots in this mine — the shot in the latter instance having been fired by one of your most careful and experienced foremen – it seems necessary that gunpowder be entirely prohibited. And with regard to safety lamps, if it be determined to use glass lamps, I think they should be of such construction that the light becomes extinguished when in an explosive atmosphere.

2nd – It appears of importance in a fiery mine dipping at the rate of 1 in 6 or 1 in 7, like the mine in question, that the workings should not extend a certain distance to the rise of the shafts. The rise workings have now reached 500 yards from the shaft levels or about 70 yards perpendicular above the bottom of the shafts. It is questionable whether this limit is safe, but I am quite satisfied it ought not to be exceeded and it is highly desirable that an air pit be sunk to the rise to relieve it. The point in the Menses property spoken of for an air pit is about 1,100 yards to the rise of the present shaft levels, a distance which should not be attempted uphill, and which is such as to point to the necessity and desirableness of an intermediate pit.

3rd. As the present system of working entails greatly increased risk of explosions, it seems highly important that it should be altered to the most approved system of working in similar seams. Having men getting coal at so many points where the pressure of air is great, and where, if leakage takes place, the inner workings may be almost entirely deprived of ventilation. Driving levels to the boundary, and working the coal backwards from the extremities, seems the safest method but if your determination be, as I understand it is, to work the coal forwards as at present, it would add much to the safe working if the working places were confined to near the face of the levels, and not scattered from the pits to the face of the levels, as at present. Keeping the workings in a compact form would enable you to secure the air to the face of the workings by permanent stoppings without the intervention of the numerous doors and crossings.


Mines Inspectors Report, 1854. Mr. Joseph Dickenson.
The Wigan Examiner.
The Wigan Observer.
Evidence taken before the Coroner’s inquest at Wigan relating to the explosion of gas which occurred in the Ince Hall Coal and Cannel Coals’ Arley Mine, February 18th 1854, with introductory remarks by James Darlington.
The Illustrated London News, 25th February 1852, p.158.

Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.

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