Chester Motor Club History
On the 29th of September 1921, as a result of reading an advertisement on the front page of ‘The Cheshire Observer’ the previous week, placed by Mr Ted Davies of Davies Bros. Motorcycles, a group of enthusiasts got together at The Kings Head Hotel, Grosvenor Road, Chester to consider the formation of a Motor Cycle Club. After much debate, they formed an organization to be known as: The Chester and District Motorcycle and Light Car Club
From amongst the people attending this meeting was elected the first committee and Officers Of The Club. Mr A. Wood, Landlord of the Kings Head, was elected Chairman, Captain W.G. Hill was elected to the posts of Hon.. Secretary and Treasurer. The Captain was Mr J Gamon and Vice Captain, Mr j Crowther Walker. The committee was made up from Messrs R.W. Milton, W.H. Stokes, E. Parton, J. Graham Oates, D.W. Beck, Ill. Davies and a Mr Sandy Miles, according to the minutes which are deposited at The City Record Office. Others who attended that first meeting include Len Buttonwood, Cec Parker. Billy Philpot. Ernie Marsden, Beet Wright. Eric Whitely. lvor Watson, George Milton and George Gleave. Before 1921 however. all was not darkness on the motoring front in Chester as there appears to have been as existence “The Cheshire Motor Club”. whose secretary was one Harry Marsdan. This thrived until the First World War but was not to be resurrected after. It is said that the Trophies belonging to this organization still reside ‘in a bank vault in Chester. something which could make an interesting line of research some day.
Enthusiasm ran high. The first organized activity of the Club was a social run to Llangollen on the 2nd October 1921. Highlight of the day was a climb up Alt y Bath – then a rough. unmade stepped track At the first committee meeting on 20th October 1921 it was decided to apply for affiliation to the Auto Cycle Union in order to become licensed to run competitive motorcycle events. Things progressed apace. Social runs to such diverse places as Rhyl, New Brighton, Conquering Hero Hill, Berwyn. Worlds End, Cilcain, The Sun at Trevor and Pen y Ball, to mention but a few, were enjoyed on most Sundays. In the meantime members were looking for suitable stretches of road to race on They were successful and on Easter Monday 1923 the first Llinegar Hill Climb, for motorcycles only, was run. Len Wood and Dudley Beck was in charge presenting the Club with its first opportunity to help the local community by donating 3d out of each of 6000 programmes sold, at 6d each, in aid of the of the Ffynnongroew lighting fund. I believe some of the streetlights can still be seen today. Between 5000 and 6000 spectators in ideal weather watched riders on the 1056 yard climb.
Founder member Jack Smith was one of five riders to come to grief near the top of the hill, although none were seriously enough injured to need the attention of an undertaker who advertised his services in the programme, it was thought prudent, however, to bring Jack home in George Milton’s sidecar. Best performance and the Walker Cup went to Mr H.Porter with a time of 37.6 secs, while the Beck Cup for best performance by a local rider went to Mr C. Edwards from Holywell in a time of 47.4 sees. Contemporary press reports indicate the great support of the local populace and that H. Gaskell created much diversion by riding down the 1 in 6 hill standing on his saddle.
In 1924 the Hill was alive to the sound of music once again. This time Light Cars were included in the event and fastest time of the day for Light Cars went to Basil H. Davenport, a silk merchant from Macclesfield, driving a G.N. which he called B.H.D., in a time of 40.2 secs or 41.8 secs depending on which press report you read. This gave him the Beck Cup. whilst the Walker Cup went to Mr S J. Shepherd riding a 2.3/4, side valve B.SA. Another award for local riders went to Mr R Catherwood riding a 3 ½ Norton his prize was a pair of “Whippet Tweed Breeches”. T. Sinsister a trade entrant, put up F.T.D. on his 3 ½ Norton, but received no trophy, Shades of Gentlemen versus the Players. Basil Davenport’s car is now in the ownership of Club Member Robin Parker and is still active on the hills to this day. How this came about is a fascinating story in itself. Apparently during one run Basil had some sort of mechanical problem resulting in B.H.D. turning over on top of him – one of only three accidents that befell him in some thirty odd years of competition. An intrepid marshal lifted the car to enable Basil to wriggle out. They became great friends and Basil promised that the car would be offered to the marshal when Basil had finished with it – that marshal was Cec Parker, Robin’s father, who regrettably died before Basil retired from competition. You can imagine Robin’s surprise when a voice on the phone told him to “Come to Macclesfield and collect his car, now that I have retired”.
Llinegar Hill (the hill) is still there, although I am not totally sure which piece of road was used. Reprints of the first series of 1″ Ordnance Survey maps give some clues, added to which there is a road in Ffynnongroew called ‘Llinegar Hill’ which runs up to where Llinegar was. I suspect that could be it.
Incidentally third fastest car time was put up by Dudley Beck with a very fast blown Austin Seven, with all aluminium body, and reputed to be the first supercharged car in Chester. At about this time Gordon England (of Brooklands fame and probably one of the first people to manufacture components for making standard cars quicker) also had a very fast Austin 7 which had benefited from his tuning activities. A wager was struck and to Dudley Beck’s credit his car proved the better and quicker vehicle.
As the 1925 event was in the final stages of preparation the government of the day decreed that Trials of Speed on the public highway were no longer to be allowed as a result of the public outcry after a spectator was injured at an event in the Home Counties. So after two successful years Llinegar was no more.
Through the following year while various ‘offroad’ events were being run, along with social occasions on most Sundays, a small group of members consisting of Frank Shaw, Ces Parker, Jack Smith and Messrs. Burgess, Eaton and Billy Philpott were searching for another venue for a Sprint or Hillclimb. Early in 1926 agreement was reached with the authorities responsible for Prestatyn Sports and Carnival Week to use, by some quirk of ownership, half a mile of “that new section of Main road between Gronant and Prestatyn” which I believe covers a section of the present A548 between Gronant and the A547 fork.
Reading contemporary press reports the fields on either side of the course provided ideal car parking and natural grandstands from which thousands of spectators watched the fun. Run on Bank Holiday Monday the 21st of August, for Motorcycles, some 50 or so competitors wrestled their machines against a strong headwind which limited terminal speeds to little more than 70 mph. The Wood Cup for Fastest Time of Day went to a Mr C. Waterhouse on a 496cc Sunbeam in a time of 23.8 sees. In addition he received the Davies Cup for best performance by a member of Chester Motor Club, for that is what the name had become. I suspect that the original title became too much of a mouthful and, as contemporary press reports often referred to ‘The Chester Club’, the new title seemed appropriate. In 1925, after much discussion, the name change was agreed by the committee.
Gronant was run again in 1927, on the 20th of August The weather was much kinder and the large band of spectators were confident that records would be set. They were not disappointed as, after a titanic struggle, both the Wood and Davies Cups went to Mr E. Searle on a 598cc Norton in 23.6 secs, crossing the line at well over 90mph. Other awards watt to George Milton (The Walker Cup), Bill Lord (The Deva Cup) and to C.L. Emery watt the Carnival Cup. I wonder where that one is now?
Regrettably this appears to have been the last of the Gronant events the reason for not running any more is not recorded. One of the principle attractions of Gronant from the spectator point of view, was that riders were started in pairs, an early form of ‘drag racing’ which allowed everyone to see who had won. There are strong rumours of The Club running events on Pen y Hal hill in Holywell but I have found no evidence of this except in Jack Smith’s notes in the 1947 year book.
A unique event was the Picton Trial, so popular that we had to run it twice in some years to cater for the demand. The Picton’ gave motorcycle riding a new dimension, in that you had to have a machine and a rider that could operate in two or three feet of mud. Many famous riders of the day rode at Picton. Run for most of its life by the combined efforts of the Kay and Whitely families the course is still mostly intact. Both sections are now bridleways bisected by the M53 and are a pleasant place to walk the dog. There is however no doubt in my mind that a combination of machine development and increased water extraction has caused a lowering of the water table meaning that the Picton as it was has gone forever. To such an extent, in fact, that what used to be a stern test of the finest Trials Riders would now be easy in a family saloon as long as the weather has been kind.
The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 created some consternation in the Club, causing us to lose seven events in that year alone. At the A.G.M. held on the 7th January 1940 a decision was made to ‘soldier’ on with the programme slightly curtailed until an Extraordinary G.M. on 6th of May at the Park Cafe in Foregate Street allowed for the cessation of competition for the duration of the larger event. During hostilities The Club supplied a County Organiser for the Home Guard. Cec Parker who had some 84 riders under his control, and three Divisional Organisers for the Cheshire County Police Motor Cycle Dispatch Corps, Jack Smith, Colin Edge and George Milton, providing what must have been one of the fastest Mail delivery services there was.
War did not completely stop our Club’s competitions as George Newnes organised a bicycle rally through Chester on the 15th January 1940. The route included the notorious St. Mary’s Hill, which caused the downfall of at least one rider. When you consider the cycles available at that time it is surprising that only Frank Roden fell off. A second cycle event was run over the Picton course being won by Colin Edge. This made Colin the only person to have won the Trial on both motor and man powered cycles.
The first post war meeting took place in George Milton’s garage in Union Street on 10th of June 1945, with the committee convening 10 days later. A few events were run during the rest of that year, but things really got under way in 1946 when 28 events were run. These included: 6 Grass Track meetings, 3 Trials. 2 Dances and one each of the following, Scramble, Rally, Freak Hill Climb, Dinner and Hotpot Supper. In 1947 we published a Club Handbook which had all sorts of useful information set out for Members including the programme of competitive and social events shown below:
10thDinner Dance and awards at The Queen Hotel
19th A.G.M. at The Queen Hotel
20th Invitation Trial for cars & motorcycles
26th Grasstrack races at Spy Hill Farm, Mouldsworth
21st Combined Sprint on Summers Drive
29th Cheshire Centre Grasstrack Championship
24th Grasstrack races
7th Grasstrack races
18th Lea Peters Memorial Scramble at Malpas
26th Closed to Club Car Trial, (maybe the 1st Bartley)
23rd Picton Trial, followed by the 23rdA.G.M. at The Queen Hotel.
14th Northern Experts Trial, a National Championship event
Interspersed with all these were various social runs and events which have not yet found their way into my records.
One milestone, which survived into the sixties to become one of the oldest Speed events in the North was the Queensferry Sprint, run mostly on the main access road to John Summers Steelworks at Shotton and occasionally on the runway at Sealand Aerodrome. One of the most interesting facts relating to the times set up at Queensferry was that F.T.I). For Motorcyclists started at 22.6 sees by Bob Bony on a 998cc Brough Superior and was left by Reg Dearden on a 541 cc Norton at 22.4 sees, a time set in 1953. The times for Cars started at 28.4 sect by Gillie Tyrer driving a 328 B.M.W. and was left at 22 sec dead by the late Ken Wharton driving a 2 litre supercharged E.RA. (RUB) also set in 1953. This appears to have been a mighty good year for Sprinting. One significant reason for this could have been the heathen brews with which Motorcyclists habitually fuelled their machines compared to the almost watery Pool Petrol used by the four-wheeled brigade. In addition I suspect that the fifties saw the aid of the specialist sprint vehicles, most of which were based on pre war racing machines. These were probably reaching the aid of their development potential even before the arrival on the scene of the first of the post war motor cars and the resurgence of the Racing Car industry.
It was in 1949 that John Cooper and Peter Collins both drove Coopers at Queensferry. John went on to create the legendary Cooper Bristol, which carried Mike Hawthorn to many victories and provided the basis for his future with Ferrari. The Mini Cooper and the car that carried Sir Jack Brabham to his two Formula One World Championships, Peter went on to partner Mike in the Ferrari works team and also drove works Mercedes and Aston Martin in Sports Car racing. In fact anyone who was involved in Sprinting competed at Queensferry during its lifetime.
When we were forced to change the course from a standing start half mile to a S/S quarter mile followed immediately by a flying quarter due to changes in the road, this brought a whole new set of targets to aim at. There was often a constant battle between two great Heroes of the sprint world, both riding 998 cc Vincent machines. They were Neville Higgins and ‘The Heap’ and George Brown and his ‘Nero’ and ‘Super Nero’ machines who waged war on each other at almost every venue they entered I well remember standing alongside George on the start line and watching him snuff the air and scuff the road surface with his boot and mutter “122”. Out came the big Vincent warmed up and raring to go. On came the green light. In went the clutch and, with a thunderous roar, George and Nero were away breaking the timing beam exactly 12.2 sees late. Poor Neville shook his head and never did get down to less than 12.4 secs either that day or any other at Summers Drive. This I think happened in 1959 but pales into insignificance what in 1962, in terrible conditions of hail and snow, Josh Randles made F.T.D. in the car event driving a Cooper Monaco with a time of 14.27 secs. ‘Iron Man’ Brown wheeled out ‘Super Nero’ and hurtled down Sealand’s runway in an incredible 12.24 sees. It is, however, important to record that Neville Higgins did put up F.T.D. at Queensferry on more than one occasion, finally leaving the record at Sealand at 12.10 sect. He still rides big Vinceots and now works for SAAB in Sweden. The highest speed recorded over the flying quarter mile was by Gillie Tyrer in his “D” Type Jaguar at 131.58 M.P.H., a performance which nearly had him clocking on for the next shift at the Steelworks beyond the railway. For some reason I am unable to locate any speeds for motorcycles, so I feel I may not be doing justice to our two wheel competitors.
In 1964/5 we moved back to Summers Drive for the last two years before losing out to the new style management of British Steel. Sealant airfield had been decommissioned by the R.A.F. and had deteriorated far too much to be used again so the search was on for an alternative venue. We ran one event on Wallasey Promenade in 1965 for cars and motorcycles, which was less than successful for a variety of reasons. One by one the local airfields fell under the influence of commercial developers, Hooton had become Vauxhall Motors, Prees Heath had been ploughed up, Poulton was not available and Borras had become a gravel pit. Burtonwood, near Warrington held out some hope and in l971/2 we ran two events there.both of which were won by Barry Sewell in the Marcos that he races to this day. Then we lost that venue due to the development of Warrington New Town. It was not until twelve years later that we managed to get a date at Oulton Park where we again managed to run two sprints, before the policy of the circuit owners changed and they decided not to allow sprints anymore – probably because there were more profitable uses for the circuit. However, we live in hope of finding another venue for speed events.
In 1947 Mr. Stanley Bartley, proprietor of Upton garage, presented The Club with the Bartley Trophy to be awarded for best performance in a Car trial. The first occasion I have been able to find any record of The Bartley Trial is on 8th May 1950 but anymore about this event has proved very elusive. However the 1951 event received extensive coverage in Autosport. The event was run on Sunday the first of April over a route of some 40 miles starting from Davies Garage at Padeswood and finishing at Rivalyn Garage, Loggerheads. A number of sections with delightful names were used, including. High Street (near Caergwrle), Short and Sweet, Jungle Avenue. Swan Song. The Camel and Boundary Stone which lay on private ground within a cock’s stride of Loggerheads, all this activity happening under the watchful eye of the Trophy donor himself. Cyril Corbishley went home with the premier award having driven his C.C.S (Cyril Corbishley Special) powered by a 1446cc Ford engine to a clear victory. Ross Preston took second driving his mid engined self-built special, powered by Austin. Other award winners included Miss H.B. Kemble (1172cc Ford), K.R. Bailey (1442cc Bailey Special), AA. Butler (1172cc Clegg Special), R.A. Hopkinson (1172cc Bancroft Special) and B.F. Clegg in another 1172cc Clegg Special. It must be said that these were not trailer borne vehicles but, for the most part, home built road going specials in the purest sense of the word, aided in no small way by the mass of bits and pieces left over from pre war times. The Bartley ran as a trial until 1957 when enthusiasm for trials waned somewhat and it developed into a road rally. Little did the organisers realise the beast they were spawning.
In its heyday, The Bartley was the ‘Motoring News’ event everyone wanted to win. Over the years it gained a reputation for a ‘right good thrash’ being at various times voted best event in both the B.T.R.D.A. Silver Star and Motoring News Championships. Tough it certainly was. For example in 1977 if you had one fail you did not get into the first three overall. Theo Bengry and Paul Watkins dropped 51.00 minutes to lead home 43 finishers from 102 starters. Clerk of the Course Martin Wright had promised a Rally to test navigators and so it was. Rally Sport beaded their report “Without doubt, the toughest Motoring News event of the year, if not the decade, Chester Motor Club’s Bartley Rally saw the entire top ten seeded crews retire during the event”. It was some 30% easier the next year as no fails got you into the first four. Motoring News reported: “The organisors had certainly watered down this event from last year and for the majority of competitors it was probably a fantastic event”. This was in all honesty true, proven by the winners only dropping 11 minutes 24 seconds.
The Bartley road rally continued until 1978 when, with a change of name it became ‘The More & Gamon Trophy Rally’ supported by the local British Leyland distributor. It went through a major resurgence until 1983 when, due to another change of sponsor, which subsequently failed to materialise, the Bartley was run again in 1984. The tide was turning and public opinion, not to mention the ‘powers that be’, were making it more and more time consuming to run acceptable standard of event, so The Club decided to retire from road rallies until, and if, the situation becomes more equitable. The Bartley was not dead as in 1989, and again in 1990, it was run as a Stage Rally at Oulton Park. The Martini Rally, sponsored as the name suggests by Martini & Rossi, was one of the Country’s Premier road rallies. It was run by The Club for some years, starting in 1955. It was initially run as a daylight event on a Sunday over a 140 mile route in Cheshire and North Wales. Starting in City Road and finishing at the Mollington Banastre where awards were presented by The Club Patron, Lady Mary Grosvenor. First overall were Cliff Abbott and John Corfe with no penalties in a Triumph TR2. Second place, with one penalty mark was taken by Grahame John (driving his fathers Rover 75) navigated by Peter Lightfoot. Incidentally the Martini was Graham and Peter’s maiden event. Out of 36 starters 28 reached the finish with first class awards going to Dennis Done, Arthur Hill and Jack Williamson, who all lost 2 marks. The team award went to ‘The Happy Wanderers’.
Although there were only seven Martini’s, the event gained a reputation for an honest, no gimmick night rally with more than its fair share of support One statistic of which we should be aiming to repeat every time we run an event, is that all seven were oversubscribed. This was more a measure of the quality of the rally, than the value of its solid silver replicas. Martini and Rossi then re-thought their publicity program and corporate policy dictated that their motorsport budget should be spent on events which did not compete on public roads.
The Bernie Rally, supported by Bernie’s Motor Auction. Queensferry and later to be twinned with the Martini was first run in 1952 rapidly developing into a major restricted rally run mainly in Wales. In fact the 1953 event can best be described by quoting the Autosport report: “Competitors in the Bernie Trophy Rally, on the 18/19 July found the first part of the 500 mile course very easy, and all arrived at the Cardiff control with time in hand. However, the main section from Cardiff to Chester by way of the Welsh mountain passes proved tougher going and only 10 entrants were left with clean sheets at the finish, where the final tests found the winner”. For the record the winner was G. Boyle in an M.G. TD. who lost 40 marks, and of the seven teams entered, only two finished intact, both with the same penalties.
In 1962 The New Bernie Rally became our first event to be included in the Motoring News Road Rally Championship and, until problems with ‘black spots’ in 1967, maintained its rightful place in the top half of that auguste series. The roads and tracks of North Wales were home to The Bernie and provided many well known crews with many nights of satisfying hard work It did however come to an ignominious end, something I still remember to this day when, having been accepted into the Ford Motor Company backed Mexico Championship, we suffered the trauma of being widely remembered as the only club ever to cancel a round of that premier series. No one has had the nerve to rum a Bernie since. Maybe the time is nigh…?
In the early seventies Ken Mumford and Martin Pratt set out to find sufficient private roads in our area to run a special stage rally. Between us we must have surveyed, if that is not too grand a word, every yard of non-public road in Cheshire and North Wales. I seem to remember Ken estimated it as some 2-300 miles and out of this we gained permission to use one piece that was just over 2 miles long. During this protracted search we obtained a Forestry Allocation from the Welsh Association Of Motor Clubs, and started again, aided by John Pratt and Mike Neal At that time only the R.A.C. and the Welsh Rallies were using the hallowed ground belonging to the Forestry Commission, which meant that almost anyone who wanted to could get an Allocation. However we came under some criticism from the member clubs of the W.A.M.C. the comment being that we had had an allocation for nearly two years and had done nothing with it, so maybe we should let someone else try. This we did and C & A Motor Club took over the W.A.M.C. allocation and in 1975 the first all stage ‘Gwynedd Rally’ was run in the North Wales forests. The Gwynedd was the first restricted status rally to be run on Commission land in North Wales but we were not to be outdone however and, taking advantage of the rules which existed at the time we obtained an allocation from the A.N.W.C.C. and ran the first of the Cestrian’s later in 1975. One interesting item, which I remember from those days, was that the deposit required by the R.A.C. from clubs wishing to negotiate with the commission was £110, a sum of money that The Club did not have. After much discussion about seven or eight committee members made interest free loans to The Club to make that amount available. As far as I remember everyone got their money back so the present treasurer can stop worrying. So after many years of trying to run a special stage rally of any sort and constantly being told by the R.A.C. authorities that there were no forests available, one afternoon John Pratt and Ken Mumford sat in the District Conservator’s office in Ruthin and heard the magic words “tell us what you want and we will see what can be done”.
So was The Cestrian born. Ian Hughes won the first one, followed by Barry Lee, Dereck Evans, Frank Pierson. Brian Mitchel, Mike Stuart and Phil Collins. The Cestrian was Mike Stuart’s first National win. After a few ‘ear1y teething problems The Cestrian developed into one of the best value for money one day events of its time. Our old friend Autosport reported one event thus: “It was without question a superb value for money rally, but why couldn’t crews have repeated the 11 miler, its start just a mile from Cefn Du? Clerk of the Course Mike Neal summed it all up stating that it would have been impossible to do so and keep costs down, but I am working on it”. This sentiment was echoed throughout all of the contemporary reports. Sadly, the enforced change in pricing policy made it impossible to run the event and maintain its value, so after two abortive attempts The Club pulled out of forestry rallying The Cestrian now runs at Aintree Motor Racing Circuit as a tarmac stage rally and The Club has recently renewed its interest in Forestry events by applying for an allocation from the Welsh Association of Motor Clubs. While it may be some time before our name comes to the top of the W.A.M.C. list I, for one, am pleased that there is a renewed interest in running in the forest.
In 1960 a new form of motorsport arrived in this Country from America, known there as ‘Go Kart’ racing. Our Club was one of the first to introduce this novel form of low cost racing to existing motorsport enthusiasts and, in early 1960, we ran a demonstration around some 5 gallon drums on the pit straight at Oulton Park This soon degenerated into a series of unofficial races and, mainly through the good auspices of Les Jones and Jack Morgan our Club became one of the premier Karting Clubs in the Country. After some years the Karters decided to form their own club and so the Cheshire Kart Club was formed, still to this day, I might add, under the guiding hand of Les Jones.
At International level, the Club has always been well represented. Frank Roden competed the first ever R.A.C. Rally in 1951 and continued with many other events such as the MCC, Redex, Daily Express and Scottish Rallies. At about this time George Milton decided to take up rallying and for his first event in 1950 he entered the Monte Carlo Rally crowed by Colin and Peggy Edge. They finished 21st overall out of some 400 starters. George entered and completed the Monte for the next four years becoming our Clubs first life member of the Monte Carlo Rally Drivers Club, awarded to all competitors who complete five Montes in succession. Many other members competed in international rallies both, at home and abroad, Arthur Shinn, Gordon Stratton, Vernon Cooper and Dennis Done all entered the Monte. Val Seal and Bill Sinclair, George Newnes and George Powell, Graham John and Henry Dodd all teamed up to do the R.A.C. at various times. Archie Dobell competed in five Tulip a Welsh and an RAC, taking a second in class on the 1964 Tulip. Gordon Stratton’s best result was a 3 litre class win on the 1959 Monte. George Newnes won the best London Motor Club member award on the London Rally.
Other members, with apologies to those forgotten or overlooked, who have represented the Club on international rallies over the years include, Ian Harwood, Iain Mclaren, Gerdi Frickel, Gordon Amery, Stan Booth, Pauline Shaw, John Pratt, Ces and Mike Offley, Keith Billows, Mike Hamer Frank Pierson, Mike Hinde, Pat Faichney, Barry Hughes and the Powley brothers. Brian and Roger. These stalwarts of the Club competed on such diverse events as the World Cup Rally, the London to Sydney Marathon and such ‘local’ events .as the Tulip, Welsh, TAP, Scottish, Alpine, RAC in its many guises, Monte Carlo and Pirelli Classic Marathon.
o over the first seventy years of its life our Club has been prominent in practically all known forms of Motorsport and maybe a few that are not so prominent.
This text has been scanned from an original text and unfortunately some errors may occur. Written by Martin Pratt. Edited and produced by Paul Robinson. Entire contents copyright © 1991
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