The Misses Atcherley and their seaside holidays

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Census records provide us with decennial snapshots of the lives of Atcherley sisters Anne, Hannah and Margaret from 1841 up to the end of the 1800s. These and other records tell us that by 1851 the sisters had moved from their native parish of Baschurch to College Hill in Shrewsbury, and that they remained there, unmarried and living comfortably on money from land and investments, for the rest of their lives. But what did they do in between the censuses? Well, for one thing they went on holidays at the seaside!

In Shropshire Arms and Lineages, published 1869, Frederick Kittermaster described the subjects of this story as follows:

Atcherley, The Misses, of College Hill Court, Shrewsbury, daugs. of the late John Atcherley, of Stanwardine, who died 1847, and who was representative of the family, and descended from Thomas Acheley or Atcherley, of Stanwardine, temp. Hen. VII., the father of Sir Roger Atcherley, Lord Mayor of London 10 Hen. VIII.

Anne, Hannah and Margaret Atcherley (baptised 14 November 1799, 11 Jun 1801 and 7 Apr 1817 respectively, at Baschurch All Saints) were three of ten children born to John Atcherley and his wife Anne Parton at Stanwardine in the Fields. Five of their siblings (four girls and one boy) had died in infancy or early childhood (see MIs at Baschurch All Saints (3)). Their two surviving sisters, Sarah and Martha, had both married by 1841 and the census for that year recorded the three spinsters with their parents, who by that time had moved from Stanwardine to nearby Weston Lullingfields.

Between then and 1851 the sisters had relocated to the county town of Shrewsbury. My guess is that this happened after the death of their father John; I am less certain as to whether the move took place before or after the death of their mother Anne in 1849. Anne, Hannah and Margaret had, along with their married sisters no doubt, each received a generous inheritance from their farming father – including, it would appear, shares of the rents and profits from his land. The 1851 census shows the trio as landed proprietresses. In later years they were recorded as fund holders or annuitants, or living on “income derived from property”.

The money derived from land (and other investments) by ‘The Misses Atcherley’ (as they were referred to not just by Frederick Kittermaster but also by the compilers of directories covering Shropshire such as the 1863 Post Office Directory and the 1870 Kelly’s Directory) paid for their home in Shrewsbury and for the services of one or two servants (from censuses it appears that a cook and a housemaid usually formed part of this Atcherley household). It also funded trips further afield.

We will probably never know the full extent of the Misses Atcherley’s sojourns away from Shrewsbury. Thanks to the visitors lists printed in the newspapers of certain seaside towns however, we know about a couple of their holiday destinations. One was Aberystwyth, on the Cardiganshire coast of Wales. Back in 1815 there were just two horse-drawn coaches a week running between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury (a journey of around 75 miles) during the summer and one in winter. By 1826, thanks to improved roads and the town’s increasing popularity as a coastal resort, coaches were making the journey in one direction of the other on most days of the week during the summer season. The author of a guide to Aberystwyth wrote “It bids fair to rival the first of the English Marine Bathing Towns.” Elsewhere in the book he explained why:

It is impossible on entering Aberystwyth, to catch the first glimpse of it, unaccompanied with the most vivid sensations of wonder and delight. It lies embosomed between its fostering hills, in a sweet valley, threaded by the Rheidol, close to the margin of the sea. Unlike the tame and monotonous scenery that characterizes many Watering Places, Beauty and Variety seem the twin Goddesses of the place; or, if a third be admitted, the presiding Deity of the bracing breeze, bright-eyed Health, completes the trio.” …

“In addition to the convenience and excellence of the bathing, the salubrious air, and surpassing beauty of the country, Aberystwyth possesses, like Scarborough and Brighton, an advantage over many places on the coast, that of a fine chalybeate spring in its immediate vicinity, the use of which is applicable to, and will much assist in, the cure of many diseases for which the sea is visited.

The first visit made to Aberystwyth by the Atcherley sisters (or at least, the first one I am aware of) took place in 1859. They would have travelled at least part of the way there (if not the whole way) by way of a good old-fashioned horse-drawn coach. The railways had extended into Shrewsbury from various directions from the end of the 1840s (starting with a connection to Chester in 1848), killing off most of the coaching services along those routes in the process. However in 1859 it was not possible to travel all the way from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth by train (and this remained the case until 1864).

The list of visitors to the town published in the Aberystwyth Observer of 16 July 1859 included the following (I have combined two parts of the list in a single image):

The Misses Atcherley of Shrewsbury were staying at Brynmor House, along with a number of other guests – some of whom were known to them. Mr. J. A. Jebb of Leominster was John Atcherley Jebb, a nephew of the sisters, the oldest son of Martha Jebb nee Atcherley. Aged 22, John was manager of the Leominster and Kington Railway at that time  and the following year he would be appointed traffic manager of the Bahia and San Francisco Railway in Brazil! Miss Jebb of “Prescott Villa” may have been one of John’s older sisters, then resident at Prescott in Baschurch parish. And Miss Jane Emily Barnett of Wikey House (or Wykey House, in the Shropshire parish of Ruyton-XI-Towns) was in fact 21 year old Jane Emily Basnett, who was a second cousin once removed of the Atcherley sisters, and also a third cousin once removed. She had been educated at a ladies boarding school situated almost next door to the Atcherley sisters in College Hill, Shrewsbury and must have known them well. How wonderful to find that the Atcherley sisters were maintaining such close links with their young cousins!

Six years later, the North Wales Chronicle of 30 September 1865 recorded the “Misses Alcherleys” of Shrewsbury staying at Bay’s Hill House in Clonmel Street, Llandudno. Then in August and September 1874 the Misses Atcherley – and maid – of College Hill Court, Shrewsbury were back at Aberystwyth for two to three weeks. The view of The Terrace below dates from the 1890s, but is probably not dissimilar to that which Anne, Hannah and Margaret would have enjoyed. Both of these trips would have been made by train. At the time of their Aberystwyth holiday of 1874, Anne and Hannah were both in their 70s and Margaret was aged 57. All three still had a few years left in them, and I hope they managed to share a few more holidays during those years.

The 1881 census would be the last to feature the three Misses Atcherley, as Hannah died in 1885. It is from the years after this event that I have found evidence of some of her sister Margaret’s other interests. On 10 October 1889, Miss M. Atcherley of Shrewsbury was admitted to membership of the Evangelical Alliance, having most likely put her name forward at a meeting of that society held at Shrewsbury on 30 September. At that meeting, Mr. Arnold gave “an account of the Alliance and its work in various departments—the fostering of the spirit of brotherly love and union, the great and world-wide results of united prayer as seen in the observance of the Week of Prayer, and the blessing which God had given to the efforts of the Alliance on behalf of those who were deprived of their religious liberty.” Then, in 1892 or ’93, “a testimonial to Miss M. Atcherley, late Secretary to the Ladies Association, Shrewsbury” amounting to £9 8s. 6d. was given by her to the Church Missionary Society to support the work of its Children’s Home.

At the time of the 1891 census the home of the two surviving Atcherley sisters was being shared with their widowed sister Martha Jebb, and their niece Ellen Jebb. Each of the Atcherley sisters was “living on her own means”. The extent of the Misses Atcherleys’ ‘own means’ is revealed by records resulting from their deaths: entries in the ‘National Probate Calendars’. Hannah passed away on 18 May 1885, leaving will; administration of her estate was granted to Anne and Margaret. Her personal estate was valued at £3,539 6s. 4d. Anne was the next to ‘depart this life’, on 1 August 1892. Again there was no will. Administration was granted to Margaret, with Anne’s effects totalling £6140 13s. 3d. (There was a further grant of probate, to John Atcherley Jebb, in 1898 when effects of £456 were recorded.) Unlike her sisters, Margaret Atcherley did make a will. She appointed John Atcherley Jebb and another nephew, John’s brother George Robert Jebb, as executors. Margaret died on 14 April 1898 at College Hill, her home of nearly 50 years, leaving effects of £9359 13s. 6d.

The estates of both Anne and Margaret Atcherley included shares. Records show that Anne’s Consolidated Ordinary Stock was passed on to Margaret, whose own Consolidated Ordinary and 4¼% Debenture Stocks went to her aforementioned nephews. The stocks they had purchased were quite appropriate given the sisters’ fondness for travel, for the business in which they had invested was the Great Western Railway Company.

Picture credits. Stagecoach: from Aberystwyth Observer of 11 Feb 1860, at Welsh Newspapers Online; copyright status unknown but believed to be public domain. List of visitors: composite image from sections of Aberystwyth Observer, 16 July 1859, page 2, at Welsh Newspapers Online; copyright status unknown but believed to be public domain. The terrace, Aberystwyth, Wales: from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsc-07349; no known restrictions on reproduction.


[1] 1841 census of England and Wales. Piece 918, book 1, folio 38, page 5. Weston Lulligfields.
[2] 1851 census of England and Wales. Piece 1992, folio 477, page 28. Shrewsbury.
[3] 1861 census of England and Wales. Piece 1873, folio 16, page 26. Shrewsbury.
[4] 1871 census of England and Wales. Piece 2776, folio 7, page 6. Shrewsbury.
[5] 1881 census of England and Wales. Piece 2653, folio 19, page 31. Shrewsbury.
[6] 1891 census of England and Wales. Piece 2112, folio 13, page 20. Shrewsbury.
[7] Frederick W Kittermaster, (1869), Shropshire Arms and Lineages, compiled from The Herald’s Visitations and Ancient MSS. Appendix, page ii. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[8] Baschurch, Shropshire parish register covering 1799, entry for baptism of Anne Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-1, Film 510651.
[9] Baschurch, Shropshire parish register covering 1801, entry for baptism of Hannah Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-1, Film 510651.
[10] Baschurch, Shropshire baptism register covering 1817, entry for baptism of Margaret Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch C03390-1, Film 510651.
[11] Monumental inscriptions at Baschurch All Saints, Shropshire. See photos and transcriptions at MIs at Baschurch All Saints (1) and MIs at Baschurch All Saints (3).
[12] On this day: 21 March 1798 at
[13] Baschurch, Shropshire marriage register covering 1831, entry for John Jebb and Martha Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and Findmypast.
[14] The Post Office Directory of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, and the City of Bristol. Page 747. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[15] E R Kelly (ed.) (1870), The Post Office Directory of Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Worcestershire. Page 135. For abstract see Directories Part 2.
[16] Thomas Rees (1815), The Beauties of England and Wales. Volume XVIII: South Wales. Page 415. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[17] Thomas Jeffery Llewelyn Prichard (1824), The new Aberystwyth guide. Pages 1 – 458, and 192-3. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[18] Constance Everson (1984), Downward Journey: Stage Coaching in Shrewsbury 1833-1861. In: Barrie Trinder (ed.) (1984), Victorian Shrewsbury. Page 88.
[19] Aberystwyth Observer, 16 July 1859, page 2. Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[20] Western Mail (Cardiff), issue 7638, 10 Nov 1893. Article: The Mayors of South Wales, Portraits and biographies.
[21] 1851 census of England and Wales. Piece 1992, folio 475, pages 24 and 25. Head: Mary Elizth Arrowsmith, unmarried, 53, governess of ladies boarding school, born Leominster, Herefordshire. Pupil: Jane Emily Basnett, 11, born Shry [= Shrewsbury, in error for Ruyton-XI-Towns]. Plus 4 teachers, 4 servants (cook & housekeeper, housemaid, 2 house servants) and 18 more pupils (girls aged 8 to 17).
[22] North Wales Chronicle, 30 Sep 1865, page 12.
[23] Aberystwyth Observer, 22 Aug 1874, page 4; 29 Aug 1874, page 4 and 5 Sep 1874, page 4.
[24] Evangelical Christendom. Volume 43. Nov 1889. Pages 348-9. Copy viewed at Google Books (via proxy server).
[25] Church Missionary Society (1893), Proceedings of the Church Missionary Society for the year 1892-93. Pages 275-7. Copy viewed at Google Books (via proxy server).
[26] Principal Probate Registry: Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration (1885). Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966.
[27] Principal Probate Registry: Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration (1892). Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966.
[28] Principal Probate Registry: Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration (1898). Copy viewed at Ancestry – England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966.
[29] The Great Western Railway Shareholders Index (Volume 57 Folio 70 Entry 271). Copy viewed at Findmypast. Original document held by Society of Genealogists.
[30] The Great Western Railway Shareholders Index (Volume 75 Folio 7 Entry 29). Copy viewed at Findmypast. Original document held by Society of Genealogists.

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The life and crimes of Thomas Atcherley

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“Thomas, b. 27 Feb. 1766, d. s. p. July 1801” is all that the Burkes had to say about Thomas Atcherley in their publications on the Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry in the 1800s. He was born, and descessit sine prole (died without issue) 35 years later. Nowadays, family historians like myself are far more interested in what went on between the dates of birth and death of the people in our trees. My research into the Atcherleys has led to some unexpected discoveries about the life – and crimes – of Thomas, who turns out to have been the ‘black sheep’ of his family.

Thomas Atcherley was (as his inclusion in a book on the landed gentry suggests) born into a well-heeled family: The Atcherleys of Marton in Shropshire. Baptised at the parish church of Middle St Peter on 28 February 1766, the day after his birth, he was the family’s second son. He was also their last. Within two months of his birth his father Richard Atcherley was dead, at the age of 34. Further tragedy was to follow. Seven years after the loss of their father, Thomas Atcherley and his four siblings were orphaned by the sudden death of their mother, Jane Atcherley, in 1773. The Shrewsbury Chronicle described Jane as “A gentlewoman whose amiable deportment through life bespoke the pious Christian, the tender parent, and the agreeable acquaintance, which renders her death deservedly lamented.”

Atcherley children Dorothy (aged 11), Jane (10), Richard (9), Elizabeth (8) and Thomas (7) were now without their mother’s tender parental care. Who took responsibility for them from this point is unclear. Their paternal grandfather Thomas Atcherley and  most of their aunts and uncles had died long since. Their maiden aunt Dorothy Atcherley, then aged 45, may have played a part, but I suspect that it was another Dorothy Atcherley, the children’s 69-year-old grandmother, who became their guardian. By the time she passed away in 1792 at the age of 88, all three of her granddaughters were married and their future prospects secured.

The future prospects of Dorothy’s oldest grandson Richard, older brother of Thomas, were also assured. As the oldest son of the late Richard Atcherley senior he would inherit the bulk of the family’s estates. He was nonetheless given the means to pursue a respectable business through his apprenticeship to Messrs Widdens, Potts & Leake, a firm of attorneys in Chester. This had begun in 1781 when Richard was 17 and had cost £150. Surviving legal documents bear his signature as a clerk in November 1781 and as a witness, alongside Charles Potts, in 1783. Whether Richard pursued his legal career much beyond this time is open to conjecture. I have found no other references to him being an attorney. He would most likely have come into his inheritance on reaching the age of 21 on 13 October 1784 and may then have abandoned his apprenticeship. Deeds dating from March the following year, in which he was described as “Richd. Atcherley of Marton, Middle, gent.” show him selling off property in Shrewsbury’s Knocking Street, to Philip Heath of that town. He went on to marry and died, without issue, in 1834 (having taken steps before his death to ensure the continuance of the Atcherley name at Marton despite the end of the male line of the family – see Richard Atcherley and his hopes for posterity).

I have found no evidence that an apprenticeship was arranged for Thomas Atcherley. Like his older brother, he too most likely came into his inheritance on his 21st birthday, which was 27 February 1787. Just what that inheritance was I do not know with any certainty, but it may have been the “fortune of some thousand pounds” which he was later reported to have squandered (see below). Whatever he may have received, by 1794 he had not only lost it but had also got into debt. Being unable to repay those to whom he owed money, he was imprisoned at the Northgate Gaol in Chester. Evidence for this appears in notices published in the Chester Chronicle, and also in The London Gazette, including the following in the Gazette’s issue of 29 July 1794:

THE following Persons being Prisoners for Debt in the respective Gaols or Prisons hereafter mentioned, and not being charged in Custody, on the Twelfth Day of February, One thousand seven hundred and ninety-four, with any Debt or Debts, Sum or Sums of Money, not exceeding in the Whole the Sum of One Thousand Pounds, do hereby give this Publick Notice, That they intend to take the Benefit of an Act, passed in the Thirty fourth Year of His present Majesty’s Reign, intituled An Act for the Discharge of certain Insolvent Debtors, at the next General Quarter Session, or General Session of the Peace, to be held in and for the County, Riding, Division, City, town, Liberty, or Place, or any Adjournment thereof, which shall happen next after TWENTY-ONE Days from the Publication of their FIRST NOTICES in the London Gazette. And they do hereby give Notice, that true and perfect Schedules, containing Discoveries of all their Real and Personal Estates, hereafter to be sworn to, are now ready to be delivered to any Creditors applying for the same, in Manner as by the said Act is directed, to the Goalers or Keepers, or their Deputies, of the said Prisons.

Not far beneath this notice appeared the following:

Chester’s Northgate (illustrated below) was one of four gates giving access to the city, and doubled as the City Gaol for Felons and Debtors until 1807 when a new prison was erected near Watergate. It was visited in March 1774 and again in 1787 by John Howard, the noted campaigner for penal reform, during his extensive investigations into prison conditions in Britain and Europe. Howard noted that felons had a spacious day room, but that their night-room or dungeon measured 14 feet by 8 and had “No light, nor any communication with the external air, but by two leaden pipes of about an inch diameter laid in from the gate-way.” The ‘women-felons’ were confined upstairs in a room called the upper dungeon. Fortunately for Thomas Atcherley, the gaol had “many convenient apartments for debtors” – though I doubt they were as pleasant as Howard almost makes them sound! Furthermore, in addition to having access to a courtyard used by the felons, debtors had “the privilege of walking in the keeper’s garden.”

Debtors were released if their debts were paid (either by others or by themselves with money earned while in gaol). However at the time when Thomas was imprisoned, debtors were expected to pay for their keep while incarcerated and so it was possible for their debts to increase rather than decrease. Evidently the debts owed by Thomas Atcherley were paid and he was released – but just five years later he was back behind bars. He was by this time using a new middle name, Hill, which he appears to have acquired as part of a series of deceptions which eventually led to his downfall. The story of his crimes and of how he was brought to justice was reported in the Reading Mercury of 7 October 1799:

Thomas Hill Atcherly, the person advertised in the Sun and other London newspapers of March last, for defrauding Innkeepers in various parts of the kingdom, is now in confinement at Newbury, having been apprehended by Mr. Batten, of the Tuns in that town on Saturday last. Both Mr. Batten, and Mr. Haskins, of the Sun had been imposed on by this man about 18 months since, and he has since been practising similar cheats at Guildford and several other places. What adds to his disgrace, is that he squandered a fortune of some thousand pounds, and has made even his own brother, a man of family and fortune, in Shropshire, a dupe to his artifices, and deceived many of the clergy and gentry by introducing himself as a relation to Sir Richard Hill.

Two weeks later the same paper relayed the news of Thomas’s conviction and punishment: “Thomas Hill Atcherley, the famous impostor, was convicted at the sessions holden for the borough of Newbury on Tuesday the 15th instant, of petty larceny, and sentenced to a month’s imprisonment and 40 lashes at the public whipping post.”

Inside the church of St Peter at Middle in Shropshire, members of the Atcherley family of Marton are remembered on wall-mounted monuments. Richard Atcherley, brother of Thomas, is commemorated as “a man of integrity and sincerity”. The deaths of the brothers’ parents, Richard and Jane, are also recorded, and there are memorials to some of the later heirs to the Atcherley name, arms and Marton estate. But there is no mention of Thomas ‘Hill’ Atcherley, who must have brought shame upon a devout, Christian family which, for the most part, obeyed (and in some cases enforced) the law.

As we have seen, Thomas died in July 1801. At 35 years of age, he had lived a year longer than the father he never knew. Now, more than two centuries later, his life – and his crimes – are remembered not through a tablet in a church but by way of this electronic memorial. Family historians tend to be rather forgiving of their families’ black sheep. Whether Thomas’s own family ever forgave him for his crimes I know not, but I hope that as good Christians they did.

Image credits. Extract from London Gazette, issue 13689, 29 Jul 1794, page 780 used under the Open Government Licence v2.0. The Old North Gate from page 253 of Chester in the Plantagenet and Tudor Reigns. Image adapted from a scan downloaded from the British Library Flickr Photostream; no known copyright restrictions.


[1] John Burke and John Bernard Burke (1847), A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland. Volume I, page 32. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[2] Middle, Shropshire parish register covering 1766, entry for baptism of Thomas Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch P01576-1, Film 908237.
[3] Memorial inscriptions at St Peter’s church, Myddle, Shropshire. See MIs at Myddle St Peter (2) for photographs and transcriptions.
[4] Shrewsbury Chronicle, 5 Jun 1773, page 3.
[5] More, Shropshire, parish register covering 1792. Entry for burial (at Middle) of Dorothy Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Abstract in Parish Register Society and Shropshire Parish Register Society (1900), The Registers of More, Shropshire, page 82 viewed at Mocavo, the Internet Archive website and at the melockie website.
[6] Wem, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1782. Entry for marriage of Robert Taylor and Dorothy Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Abstract in Shropshire Parish Register Society (1908), Diocese of Lichfield Volume X, The Registers of Wem, Part II, page 742 viewed at Mocavo, the Internet Archive website and at the melockie website. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch I02493-9, Film 1657606, Ref ID item 5 p 163.
[7] Loppington, Shropshire, marriage register covering 1782. Entry for marriage of David Francis Jones and Jane Atcherley. Copies viewed at Shropshire Archives and at Findmypast. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch I03467-9, Film 1701251.
[8] Chester Holy Trinity, Cheshire, marriage register covering 1785. Entry for marriage of Robert Corbett and Elizabeth Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast. Indexed at FamilySearch, Batch M00967-1, GS Film 0924608 IT 1.
[9] The National Archives. Board of Stamps: Apprenticeship Books, Series IR 1. Warrant No 24, Inds 38, Brought 23d October 1781. Entry 14. Copy viewed at Ancestry – Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures, 1710-1811.
[10] James Coleman Collection, Document D. D. 1,351. In index (MS Word format) downloaded from National Library of Wales website.
[11] Hawarden Deeds, Documents 1605, 1606, 1607: Nov. 5. [1783]. In index (MS Word format) downloaded from National Library of Wales website.
[12] Shropshire Archives item 3668/44 dated 25 March 1785. Abstract at Access To Archives.
[13] Chester Chronicle, 18 Jul 1794, page 3.
[14] London Gazette, issue 13689, 29 Jul 1794, page 780.
[15] P Broster (1781), The Chester Guide. Page 35. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[16] John Howard (1777), The State Of The Prisons In England And Wales. Volume I. Page 442. Copy viewed at Google Books. (See also the John Howard League website.)
[17] Joseph Hemingway (1836), Panorama of the City of Chester. Page 117. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[18] Debtors, at Victorian Crime and Punishment (website, accessed 14 Jul 2014).
[19] Reading Mercury, 7 Oct 1799, page 3.
[20] Reading Mercury, 28 Oct 1799, page 3.

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