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A local history and genealogy site for Wimpole, a village and parish in South Cambridgeshire
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Wimpole As I Knew It
By Alexander Campbell Yorke
Rector of Fowlmere in Cambridgeshire

A reminiscence of a Wimpole boyhood from 1852 to 1871.
Wimpole Rectory c1835, a Watercolour by E T Yorke
Wimpole Rectory c1835
A watercolour painting of the front elevation of Wimpole Rectory
by Eliot Thomas Yorke MP (1805-1885)
© National Trust
This essay was written in 1914 by Alexander Campbell Yorke 1852-1925, Rector of Fowlmere, 5th son of Henry Reginald Yorke 1802-1871 (Rector of Wimpole and brother of the 4th Earl of Hardwicke); the author was then a man of 62 and remembering his childhood at Wimpole Rectory.
This adaptation was edited by David Ellison and originally published as "Wimpole As I Knew It" by 'Bassingbourn Booklets' in 1979. A Biographical Note by David Ellison was published as an introduction to the booklet and can be found on this website.
Wimpole Rectory still stands in the grounds of Wimpole Hall. In 1996, the National Trust converted the lower floor into the Rectory Restaurant. The upper floors have been refurbished and are being used as estate offices.
Chapter Headings:
Of the Rectory House Amenities and Otherwise
Of the Church and its Services A Link with the Past
Round about the Park and Parish Uncle Hardwicke
Of some Social Conditions The Flavour of Old Times
[Closing Note] [Death of Alexander Campbell Yorke]
Of the Rectory House
My home was in the [Wimpole] Rectory from 1852 to 1871, and for the fifteen months thereafter my associations with it were close and intimate. In the wide bush of Australia and New Zealand my recollections were photographed on my memory, and Wimpole was the Mecca towards which eyes and heart were often turned.
There cannot be many glebe houses in England so comfortable and liveable as Wimpole Rectory. Such as it is my father [1] made it. Although its twenty-two rooms may seem to be unnecessarily extravagant, in large measure they were forced upon him.
When my father took possession in 1835 the house consisted of the central block under the two gables, with the room used as a study behind it, and two nurseries that overlooked the yard. The present dining-room was the kitchen. There were thus four rooms on the ground floor, and seven on the upper floor.
The house was in shocking neglect. It was for the most part a lath and plaster building painted yellow, the plaster in many places fallen away from the laths. Against the east end of the house the old tithe barn leant a decrepit shoulder. Along its front ranged the cart sheds. On its north side lay the little farmyard. As there was no arable glebe, and as tithes in kind had ceased, these buildings were useless.
Wimpole Rectory c1928
Wimpole Rectory c1928
Yet they were part of the glebe, and therefore had to be maintained and brought under periodical Dilapidations. The difficulty was met by turning the barn into kitchen, scullery, larder and servants hall; and, upstairs, the nurseries and laundry. By a slight enlargement of the back he made rooms to construct a back staircase of the same measurements as the front, in order that the servants might find no excuse for using the front stairs when about their work. Then as Cambridgeshire mud is a caution, he threw out the back hall, with its two upper floors, to save the front hall from dirty feet. The offices were built round the old farm yard. Such is the genesis of the house. The conversion of the cart sheds into the covered way was the contrivance of which my father seemed to be proudest.
The garden was supposed to be the kitchen garden, as the old medlaar tree and the apple trees in the border near the drive testify; but my father found it a mass of docks and nettles. Every flower bed he pegged out with his own hands, and save for some changes on its east side, it remains much as I always remember it. The hard frost of 1859-60 killed a fine arbutus and a Judas-tree; from the latter a chair was made that is still in my possession.
The two fine chimney-pieces were his erection. That in the dining-room he pieced together himself, with a carpenter to do the nicer fitting. The side pilasters are made from an old sundial pedestal cut in half. He gave an old woman a flannel petticoat for it, and had it to pickle for weeks to remove its coats of pea-green paint. The three panels are the head of an old bedstead, and the centre panel is charred by some old rush light. Of the masks above, the right hand one is a snuff box, and it can still be opened by the curious.
The one in the dining room is made of Flemish carving bought from time to time in Belgium. My uncle Hardwicke bought in these two mantelpieces for the Rectory. He paid £185 for them. The cost of these alterations and enlargements was great. My father has often told me that they cost him over £5,000.
[1] Henry Reginald Yorke, Rector of Wimpole and brother of the 4th Earl of Hardwicke.
Of the Church and its Services
[Refers to St Andrew's Parish Church, Wimpole]
The gallery in those days was supported by plain panelled, square, wooden pillars, painted stone colour. The pulpit, prayer desk and clerk's desk formed a modest and unpretentious three-decker. The pulpit was quite plain with a door, and I do not think the report, that the moveable platform in the library of the Hall is fashioned out of it, has any probability. The pews were all high-backed with doors painted in two shades of stone colour; and down the central gangway was a file of little benches without backs for the boys of the Sunday School. The officials of the estate and the upper servants of the Hall sat in the Chicheley Chapel. The Rector's pew, square and high-backed, was east of the pulpit, just under the tablet to my mother's memory.
St Andrew's Parish Church, Interior View 1839
St Andrew's Parish Church, Interior View 1839.
A watercolour by Henry Reginald Yorke (1802-71) Rector 1832-1871,
recording the alterations to the Church made in 1834-1835.
Note the arrangement of box pews and that the walls to the Nave were painted a rich red ochre.
© St Andrew's Parish Church (picture on loan to the National Trust)
The old lord and his family sat in the gallery, carpeted and furnished as a comfortable room. Across the south-west corner of it was a fireplace. Round its crackling fire the family drew their chairs in winter for the sermon. Sometimes the old lord made a desperate clatter, stoking and poking. Not seldom he knocked all the fire irons down with a clash. This was chaffingly taken by my father as a signal that the sermon was getting too long.
There was no vestry. A cupboard under the stairs did duty partly as the coal hole, partly as a screen behind which the Rector donned his bedgown and doffed it for his black silk before the sermon. The chapel was warmed by a large square stove just below the steps into the chapel.
Through my boyhood Arrington sang its praises to the sound of the clarionet; Barrington lifted up its voice to the melody of a barrel organ. The late Mr. John Beaumont of Whaddon had given an organ to his parish church, but he had seen that church packed to hear the wondrous music of an iron cello made by the village smith. It is therefore imaginable that in the early nineteenth century, the Wimpole psalmody must have been quaint. But, as I knew it, it was decent, and reverent, if very unassuming. We had a harmonium in front of the sanctuary of which the schoolmaster (first Mr. Harrison, then Mr. Horsefield) was the musician. The men of the choir, in broadcloth or velveteen, sat round on the benches against the wall north and south of the sanctuary. The girls who supplied the treble sat facing the congregation on benches at the side and in front of the harmonium. These girls were always dressed in white straw bonnets with scarlet ribbons and 'curtain', and in black frieze cloaks with deep collars of scarlet cloth. The Canticles were chanted, 'Mornington' being the favourite chant for the Magnificat. The responses and alternate verses of the Psalms were monotoned; the Amens were inflected. We used the old Mitre Hymn Book and when its Appendix was published, 'Jerusalem the Golden', 'Brief Life is here our Portion' and 'O Paradise' were mighty favourites. One hymn tune, peculiar to Wimpole, and of unknown origin, called 'Ishmael' used to sweep us off our feet.
My father, with a twinkle in his eye, used to tell how the witty Dr Wilberforce, bishop of Oxford, preaching once in Wimpole church, had defined our service as "the ornamental parochial". The Sunday services were at 11 and 3. 'Sacrament Sunday' was the first in the month. On the other Sundays the 11 am service was always Matins, Litany and Ante-Communion, with sermon.
Wimpole Parish Church Exterior c1905
Wimpole Parish Church Exterior c1905
Note the proximity of the East Wing of Wimpole Hall, now demolished.
Postcard Image
Wimpole Parish Church c1905
Wimpole Parish Church Interior c1905
Note the interior walls of the Nave were painted a deep red oche.
Postcard Image
Before each service the Sunday School was held in the Chicheley Chapel. It largely consisted in rote work. As his co-adjutor in this my father had an Arrington man, John Charters; he was a Wesleyan, and sometimes had field preachings in the meadow behind his cottage under Arrington hill. He was a good and religious man, a blacksmith by trade. He had charge of the boys on the benches in the central passage during service. I see him now in his brown velveteen, with finger ever ready to slip between the pages of his large brown Prayer Book, the more effectually to swing it against some mischievous head.
One summer afternoon from his eyrie in the pulpit, my father saw two tramps creeping barefoot past the church to make an inroad on the rectory. He signalled to John Charters to go out and keep guard. And he signalled again and again. Each signal was misinterpreted as a call to exercise discipline on his charges. John's Prayer Book played about their heads, as Samson's jawbone upon the men of Lehi. His pathway was strewn with weeping, groaning boyhood. From that day John was dubbed 'the boy banger'.
My father was what would have been called in Scotland "a paperr meenisterr" for he always read his sermons. He had a large supply of manuscripts to draw upon, stacked in the lower cupboards of his study. Whenever he used one of these he would spend a day on touching it up. For this process he used a phrase caught from Bishop Harvey Goodwin; "cuffing and collaring my old sermons". He was always simple and earnest; and I can remember how once, in his declining years, the old preacher broke down and wept.
For robes he always at church wore the double-breasted cassock, with broad girdle tied at the back; a full surplice open down the front; a black scarf; and, in the pulpit, his MA gown. This, for the last five or six years of his life, he discarded in favour of the surplice. But I believe his motive was chiefly economy, and I can well remember his surprise that the daring innovation passed without comment.
Churchings and baptisms were always taken during the 3 pm evensong. The woman to be churched was always seated in the pew nearest to the Clerk's desk. She always wore a veil over her face. Except on 'Sacrament Sundays' there were no collections at any of the services. 'Diocesan' and 'Missionary' and 'Temperance' Sundays did not exist. Harvest Festival services had not reached us.
Round about the Park and Parish
[Wimpole Hall and Estate]
......On the hill to the west of the mansion stood the Hill House, a Georgian pleasure house for tea and spadille. It was of brick and stucco, with interior fittings of wood painted to look like green marble. From its upper floor could be viewed a lovely prospect of wood and tilth to the Royston hills.
Hill House, Wimpole 1781
View of the Hill House, Wimpole
Engraving published March 1781
On the flat below the Hill House were held in 1857 the revelries connected with Lord Royston's coming of age. The big tent for the feasting, packed with farmers and tenants of the estate, was erected on the side towards the Walnut Avenue. To me, a bairn of five, the supreme attractions were the real Punch and Judy show, and the Acrobat - a marvellous creature in spangled tights, who contorted himself hideously and swallowed a great sword and lumps of fire, till I thought that like Marley's ghost he must have no bowels.
On this same flat I once saw what now I know to be one of the wonders of the world - two eels making their way to their family and ancestral home in the Spring pond.
A legend has sprung up of late years that the Walnut Avenue was planted by the 'old Lady Hardwicke', from nuts brought in her pocket from (?) somewhere. I myself, as I shall presently recount, saw that old lady buried in 1858; and those trees were much older than her marriage (circa 1783). The story that I was taught was that they were the remnant of a larger avenue, the greater part of which was cut down during the French war, as walnut was then in great demand for musket stocks.
The Spring pond was that which supplied the eels for the mansion kitchen. "Wina's pool" (after which Wimpole is believed to have been named - I wish I would remember what we called it!) - was stocked with carp and tench. I well remember as one of the good things of life a carp from thence, stuffed with truffles, and served in a port wine sauce! Once, when almost dying of starvation among the sand-hills on Eyre's Creek in western Queensland, the vision of that lordly carp haunted me through a whole day's tramp.
In the open space, not far from the present cricket ground, was the Stew Pond, whose connection with old-time gourmandising lives in the name. I can remember a water souchet of a monstrous perch brought in from thence. That pond, like the old horse pond at the bottom of the rectory garden, is now filled in. It, and "Wina's Pool" used to be surrounded by low black posts with a single iron rail; very ugly! My father used to say that his brother (the 4th Earl) had them put up to celebrate his office as Post Master General, held by him in the short-lived administration of Lord Derby in 1852.
The upper and lower ponds were the home of jack and pike. I and my brothers have caught some fair sized fish there, 12 or 14 lbs; and I remember that we once caught one with a smaller jack down its throat, and in the jack s tummy was an undigested roach. My father used to tell me how once, when the water had been run off for the purpose of cleaning and deepening the ponds, two huge pike, weighing 36 lbs each, had been taken out. He used to say that they were as long as our drawing room hearth rug; but their eating was very weedy and muddy.
My uncle had a wonderful boat built with a wheel at the stem, so that it could be wheeled from pond to pond. It was cumbersome and not a success.
These ponds chiefly linger in my memory as scenes of jolly skating parties. While my cousins and my brothers and sisters were at home, and the large St Quentin contingent from Hatley could come, they were merry parties indeed. On the big island we used to light a fire to cook the Irish stew and other warming meats. It was at one of these parties that Mr. H J Adeane proposed (for, I believe, the fifth time) for my cousin Libbett's hand - and won her.
The dingle between the ponds lingers with me as a wealth of bluebells, violets and primroses. I picked some there on Christmas Day of 1872, so mild was the season. And I can remember a kingfisher's nest in the chalk bank on the further side. My second brother Henry, once when washing his hands in the little stream there, lost a handsome, I think a carbuncle, ring. It was never found. Perhaps some day it will be brought in as a specimen of Celtic or Saxon jewellery.
The park was stocked with deer, and many a stag fight have I seen. In the lodge at the corner of the stables lived Job Male and his wife. One day a stag attacked him, and pinned him against the sunk fence. Job was a very strong man then; he took an antler in either hand, and just turned the brute over on its back.
Sometimes when the dairy cattle were turned out, and the mares and foals, I used - but you may be sure it was when my uncle and the family were away - I used to put the gong in the porch, and banging on it, soon had every hoof of stock standing in admiration on the sweep of drive below. A great store of chestnuts used to be laid in under the flight of steps to feed the deer in winter. They would get so tame as to eat out of our hands.
The park on its chalk was a terror for the stranger and the thin-skinned. Every bent was alive with harvest-bugs. My uncle used to grease his boots to catch them; and I have seen the grease red with the little torments. My father used to call them "the Wimpole witches" and it must be allowed that some connection can be found between them and "Old Scratch".
And, talking of wild beasts, here is a memory of something not seen now. The first night that my father slept in the rectory no less than thirty-six rats were caught on the front landing. He has told me how he once saw an army of rats, a solid moving phalanx, emigrating from the Home Farm. He used to impress upon me the danger of finding myself surrounded by such; and used to point his story by telling me of a Wimpole farmer, who, on his way home from Cambridge market, found himself and his horse surrounded by an army of the vermin somewhere at the foot of Orwell hill. They attacked him and his horse, and with difficulty and a hunting crop he fought his way through. It does suggest that at the Market Ordinary this agriculturalist.... But perish the thought! Had he not kept his saddle for eight miles.
Arrington was, I believe, never part of my father's cure. Certainly it was not in my early boyhood. Down to about 1860 The Reverend S B Dowell was the vicar; and such services in the way of weekly oversight as my father undertook were done voluntarily and neighbourly. Of course our interest lay in the almshouses. There was 'old Robby' who had been nurse in Lord Hardwicke's family. And Mary Lyon in her mob-cap and short puffed sleeves. And Mrs. Cooper with an almost unfailing greeting "Lawk-a-mussy-me-ho! How them girls (my sisters) do grow!"
Arrington Almshouses c1900
Arrington Almshouses c1900
The Almshouses were endowed in 1846 by Susan, 4th Countess of Hardwicke,
in memory of her mother.
Indelible is the memory of Peggy Payne, whose friendship was displayed in the oft request - "Woan't -ee hev a look at my poor dear leg?" No other epitaph should be hers but this of old:
Here lies the body of honest old Peg,
Who had no issue save one in her leg.
This same honest old Peg was so desperate cunning
That one leg stood still, while the other kept running.
At Arrington Bridge my thoughts run to Sophie Osbourne, a rather forbidding, melancholy, old crone, who lived in a tarred wooden cottage close to the Lodge. Apart from herself, of whom I was always rather afraid - she would have been burned as a Wimpole Witch a hundred years earlier - I used to like going there. She had decked, for a black-eyed hoyden of a daughter, a wondrous 'corner', with all kinds of weird and outlandish gew-gaws. I remember a pair of brass epaulettes her good man had brought home from the wars. But she, poor soul, was a martyr to the 'tic'; and I mind me of a queer diagnosis she once expressed, "yer see, sir, the Room-tics and the Room-tiz meets together and fights in my inside".
Tight up against the 'View' lived the Whitby family, pronounced Whidby. Over against them, across the road, lived Whetstone ('Drybrick') the Parish Clerk, a bricklayer. The Dimocks lived in the farm on the north and the Titchmarshes on the south. In New Wimpole I chiefly remember Joe Gadd the one-legged tailor, who used to cut down my big brothers' clothes, to fit me, and his sister, Kaziah. They had a cousin, Ann, who lived at the Victoria Lodge, and was induced by Mormons to go out to Salt Lake. At home she had been consumptive. Out there she grew hale, and became the mother of children.
I can just remember Mr. Harrison the schoolmaster, and his immediate successor. The only time I ever saw my father in a real temper was after an interview with the latter, who had said he wasn't any longer going to stand "having Harrison always stuffed down his throat". To him succeeded the excellent Mr. Horsfield, who I found still at his post when I returned from New Zealand in 1897. Those were the days of the old wooden school. At Christmas 1872 was given a Penny Reading in the school, where for the last time before leaving England I appeared. Ever since that evening I have had a weakness for "Hard times come again no more" and a longing to hear again a ballad sung by my cousin Libbett, "A rose looked in at the window, One bright November morn".
Mr. Horsfield was a great friend of Mr. Smoothy who had bought Mr. Russell's business from his widow. Many is the sixpence I spent in barley-sugar and sugar-candy at that Arrington shop; and many the cup of tea that I have had in its dark little parlour; Horsfield and Smoothy were two good friends - 'requiescant in Pace'.
The new house and dairy at the Home Farm were built in my day. The old farmhouse was quite unworthy, only lath and plaster, but it had a great flagged kitchen; and in the dairy behind Mrs. Cambridge used to give us boys dishes of cream. Mr. Eraut, the clerk of the works and estate architect, lived in the lodge near the gate on the New Wimpole road. He was from the Channel Islands. On my return, Mrs. Cambridge was ending her days in the very house that the Erauts had lived in.
The Ellistons lived at Thornbury Farm. At Cobb's Wood Farm was a man called Coy, whose son was a parishioner of mine in Masterton, New Zealand. At Pate's End I can recall the Mulberry, Bullen and Rule families. William Bullen was for years the rectory gardener.
There was also a queer, ogreish, old man, whose name has slipt me. He was very wizened and very dirty; in great part due to his occupation as stoker at the Saw Mill. Of him the following was told:
There was great waste of engine grease. It was thought the bearings were heated, and brimstone was mixed with the grease to detect the faulty bearing. The waste still went on, and there was no identificatory smell. A watch was kept. It was then found that this old man was used to toast his bread at the furnace fire, and butter it with the grease.
"But wasn't the brimstone nasty?"
"Well, it wor rather strong!"
Once, when the fires were raked out, and the boilers being cleaned, the old fellow disappeared. He was found asleep snugly curled up in the warm boiler.
The Saw Mill soon after its installation was the scene of two nasty accidents. Mr. Adeane of Babraham was inspecting it with curiosity, and watching the billets for firewood being sawn up by the circular saw. A knotty billet was whirled by the saw against his forehead. He was instantly killed. A man called Keep was the engineer. He tried to adjust a belt in the big shed without stopping the machinery. His jacket was caught, and his brains dashed out.
The engineer and friend of my boyhood was Chapman, a delightful and enthusiastic man. He had a fine lathe of his own make, which stood in his kitchen, and at which he sometimes allowed me to work. He had also, as befitted a man who had worked on the foot-plate, a real working model, of his make, of a railway engine. While at the mill he took up photography and my albums are full of excellent views and portraits done by him. His wife was a gentle soul, but deformed and hump-backed. What passion of love, or tragedy of fate, was it that bound these two together?
Brick End carried for me the most memories; perhaps because it was reached by a delightful walk through the shrubberies, past the old orchard where Devonshire Pearmains blushed rosy red upon us; and partly because its people were attractive. In the top cottage lived the Pratts. My father used to say that he could trace the Pratts through the Registers back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. He might have gone further. For there was a John Pratt, a servant of Geoffrey Cobbe, who was an aggressive and prominent actor in the Peasants' revolt of 1381. Some day I must look in the Hundred Rolls of 1279 to see if there be not even then a Wimpole Pratt.* They were a handsome swarthy race. Charlotte, now the aged and crippled Charlotte Rumbold, was a Pratt; and she was a picture. The handsomest woman that I ever remember to have seen. In harvest time to see her swinging along the road with a bundle of corn balanced on her head, both arms akimbo, was a study in colour, figure and poise.
(*Certainty is impossible, since surnames had hardly developed in 1279, but there is a tenant with the distinguishing description "ad pratum" - near the meadow - and the surname Pratt may have been so derived! If so, 700 years must be a near record. - David Ellison.)
Then came the Mulberries, he a son of Moses Mulberry of Pate's End. Once, when visiting there with my father, we found Tom at home.
"Why, Tom! How comes it that you're not at work?"
"Lor, sir, I’ve been feeling mortal bad."
"Eh! What’s the matter?"
"I fetches my bre'th so short."
"Short? Where do you fetch it from?"
"Here!" said Tom, laying a hand like a side of bacon on his chest.
"And where else should you fetch it from?"
"Here!" and the hand passed down over an acre of fustian to his stomach.
"But I'm better than I wor" Tom continued.
"Taken anything for it?"
"I swaller'd a handful o' shot this mornin' to keep my lights down!"
Next door was old Tom Ingrey, hedger and ditcher, and his old wife. A crusty laconic fellow was Tom. I met him one morning down by the New Wimpole corner.
"My old 'ooman's done for now," he said.
"What's up now, neighbour?"
Aye, "Bu'nt" she was. She had fallen into the fire, and after lingering a few days she fell asleep.
I think the Rumbolds came next; Charlotte and her husband living with the old couple. These were 'dreffle old': at their death both were over 90; she, who survived longer, reached, I think, 'her 97'. When the old man lay a-dying my father called me up to see something that he said I was never likely to see the like of in my life. The clothes were turned back from the old man's feet. He had never cut his toenails in his life, and they were crumpled round his feet like ram's horns.
Not long before old Mrs. Rumbold's death my father took me in his phaeton to Brick End. She hobbled out to the gate to see him off, and, as he was stepping into the carriage, he asked her if she had ever seen a railway train. Her answer being in the negative,
"Get in, neighbour," said he, "and I'll drive you up the Old North Road" - the line had  shortly before been opened, so that I am writing of 1864 or '5 - "and you shall see a  train for once in your life."
"Lawk-a-mussy-me-ho, sir! I should be feared." And she wouldn't come.
"Tell me, Mrs. Rumbold. Did you ever go out of the parish in all your days?"
"Lor' bless 'e, yes sir! I once walked to Or'ell"
A dirty, slatternly family, of bad reputation, named Harradine, lived in one of the cottages just above the Valley Farm. At the Tower lived Goodman, the head gamekeeper. He was rather a canting sort of man, He told me once, when I met him with gun on shoulder going to shoot rabbits in the park, that he felt "like David going out against the Philistines". At the Valley Farm lived the Lambs.
Round this circuit of Ends and village my father used to go quietly on his work. He had a weekly Cottage Lecture
at Brick End, in the Pratt's house;
at Pate's End, in the Mulberry’s;
at New Wimpole, in the Gadd's;
at Arrington Bridge, in the Whitby's;
at Pump Hall, in, I think, the Goates';.
Twice a week he took a scripture class in the school.
His successor, the Reverend Edward Liddell, did not think that a young man was justified in living in so easy a cure. He resigned, and went to Jarrow, where strenuous work soon broke him down with premature paralysis.
The Sunday School treat was always held in the Rectory meadow. There was always a big 1 o'clock dinner, with huge rounds of beef, tarts, and plum-puddings. Usually the feed was held under the elms near the gate. Sometimes they were under the big chestnut in the shrubbery of the mansion. It is literally true that I have heard a boy say that he thought he could eat a bit more pudd'n if he might unbutton his waistcoat; and another that he could if he might stand up!
Of some Social Conditions
Farming, I believe, was never doing better than during my boyhood. Rents ran, I have heard, from £2 to £2 l0s. But wages did not advance beyond the old 9s a week until, somewhere about 1856, the coprolite digging forced its way on to the Wimpole Estates. The diggers received from 20s to 25s per week, and farm wages had to go up, or not a labourer would have been left on the land.
But if wages were low, so too were cottage rents. I have understood that the comfortable cottages at Brick End were let at only 6d a week; and that thus my uncle was always able to retain a good class of labourer on his property. If that were so, the coprolites enabled my uncle to continue that policy; for they brought him in quite £5,000 a year. Nor could he wish to drive his men out into the barracks that the speculators ran up to accommodate the diggers; each barrack, as at Whaddon, having a beer shop under the same roof as the men's quarters.
And, if wages were low, luxuries were not in evidence. The clothing factory as yet was not. The men dressed in fustian, velveteen and moleskin. The older men still affected the smock frock, grey worsted stockings and yellow gaiters of former generations. The women used plain print dresses, and lindsey-woolseys, and alpaccas. In winter the older women always used to come to church in long red cloaks. Bonnets were plain straw, or silk, with muslin caps in front and heavy curtains behind. No woman ever wore any jewellery other than her wedding ring.
Bakers', butchers' and grocers' carts did not go skurrying about, delivering goods and taking orders. Bread, for almost the whole year, was baked in the large brick ovens of every pair of cottages, from the summer's gleanings. These were threshed by the housewife with the flail, ground at the nearest mill, and, as I have said, baked at home. Every cottager fattened a pig or two for home consumption; and the midday meal was of boiled cabbage with a bit of bacon fat atop to give it a flavour. Butcher's meat was only seen on Sunday. The good man took out to the fields a dinner of cold liver, or some such trifle of unappetising fare; and was therewith content. His wife never let him go a-field without getting up to give him a hot breakfast.
At Russell's shop in Arrington, which served Wimpole too, hams and bacon, such as every cottager now expects, were almost unknown. Monstrous flitches hung inside, and either doorpost was garnished with a gigantic ham. But it was bear's bacon and ham from the Rocky mountains.
Tea I can remember at 4s a lb. It was a marvel when it dropped to 2s 6d. It was all China tea. India and Ceylon leaf came quite late in my boyhood, and then only to flavour the weaker growth of China. Green tea was a rare delicacy. A 2 oz twist of tea was an acceptable present to the old cronies. The sugar affected by the cottage folk was a dark stuff from Mauritius or Demerara, full of molasses and great lumps looking like black beetles. The approved manner of drinking tea was, first to put in the mouth a spoonful of this sugar, and then to gulp the tea through it.
Sewing machines were unknown. I can recall the amazement and almost incredulity with which I saw them in the 1862 Exhibition. Every cottage housewife made her own and children's clothes, mended all the family duds, and knitted her good man's stockings. In those days she hadn't time to gad about and gossip.
Amusements did not exist for Wimpole. The annual feast, a time of beer and noise, can hardly be remembered as recreation. Once or twice, in charge of my nurse, I was allowed to view it of an afternoon. I remember buying some gilt gingerbread, and seeing a van with a Fat Woman and a Spotted Boy on exhibition. Cricket and football were impossible. None of my brothers or cousins were cricketers; and the village lads were too scattered. Once Mr. Cambridge of the Home Farm asked me to play with his boys. But there were only two and himself. So, though the old man called a sycophantic "Prutty! Prutty!" to my yorkers, the sport languished after one evening.
For the cottager the one connection with the outer world was Matthew Prime's, the Orwell carrier's cart. There were no bicycles till my Rugby days: and then not for the poor. Mr. Dowell, the vicar of Arrington, used to come over on a four-wheeled velocipede. My sisters often walked to Cambridge for their shopping. I once walked to Royston to order a fly for a visitor at the Rectory.
My father introduced the Matin Harvest Bell at 6 am so that the gleaners might start fair to their work. He also introduced the clothing club; and a winter evening school, held in the Rectory kitchen. There was an annual dole of bread, of whose origin I am ignorant, given out on one Sunday afternoon.
The Meyerses at the "Hardwicke Arms" used to brew their own beer; and rattling good beer it was. We used to say that the water from their horse pond brewed the best beer in the county. My uncle too used to brew his own table-beer, and that for the Rent Dinner. All through the winter he insisted on a Loving Cup of hot spiced ale being served, and drunk with the usual ceremonies, at his table. The brewery at New Wimpole was not built until after 1873. It was built, so it is said, because my uncle had rowed with them for using the "Hardwicke Arms" as a private residence and not as an Inn.
The introduction of the threshing machine set the country-side alight with incendiarism in 1850. That is not in my recollection, but I do remember the troops of Irish reapers that came in at every harvest. I can also remember the dismay when the scythe was substituted for the reap hook, and the horse rake for the hand rake. It must have been about 1860 that the steam plough was first used on the estate, somewhere on the hill towards Eversden. Threshing machines were always hauled by horse power from place to place. The first Traction Engine was regarded as a danger and a road destroyer.
The Railway was then a new thing for us Boeotians. The GNR, although it built the line to Shepreth, did not run the trains between Hitchin and Cambridge. It was the Eastern Counties that then had the running powers over the branch; and miserable was the accommodation offered. The 3rd class carriages were just like cattle trucks, unglazed and un-upholstered. The engines were like toys, small, and with funnels of disproportionate length. The trains were 'Parliamentary', maintaining a dignified speed of 15 miles per hour.
People were not quite reconciled to this reckless speed, over which they themselves had no direct control. Mr. Chapman, the vicar of Bassingbourn, always preferred to walk to London. My grandmother, Lady Campbell, on her periodical visits to us, travelled in state in her own travelling carriage with a pair of horses and a postilion. It must have been quite '56 or '57 before she unbent her haughty reserve. Even then she preferred the journey to Royston in her own conveyance. She, her companion, and her maid, composed themselves with dignity in the travelling carriage as of old, and were run up on to a truck at King's Cross, pulled up the windows because of the smoke and the tunnels, and so were borne to Royston, hitched on to the tail of a train.
There they were met by a postillion and a pair of horses from the Bull Inn, and their ruffled dignity mollified before arrival at the rectory. The splendour of the postilion in his plum-coloured jacket and silver-tasselled cap, the importance of the great travelling carriage with its queerly shaped 'imperials' strapped on the roof, linger among my earliest peeps upon the world from the windows of my night nursery. Down to the end of his life my father never would perform the double journey to and from London in one day. It was tempting Providence twice in the twenty-four hours.
In those days the Midland ran into London over the metals of the GNR to King's Cross. The St Pancras station was still a wonder, and its architecture and design matters for discussion, when I went to Australia. The present station at Cambridge was considered a marvel of skill when it was first erected. Prior to that, it and that at Ely, stood on either side of the line, four towers at the corners with foot-bridges across the metals. But, as regards communications with the south and west of England, Cambridge stands exactly as it did fifty years ago.
It must have been about 1848 when the Bishop of Oxford paid a visit to Lord Hardwicke. My father had a pleasant memory of his wit. The semi-Gothic of Paddington, and the stupendous Doric of the Euston gateway were under discussion. How to classify these achievements was the question. "Oh! " said the Bishop, "I should put them under Early English Railway."
The Old North Road past the Wimpole Gates was known to my father in his boyhood, while he was at Harrow. It was then (circa 1817 - 1820) infra dig for a Harrow boy to wear a greatcoat. In the depth of winter, on an outside seat, my father has travelled from Edinburgh to London without a greatcoat. The only concession allowed to human weakness was that the British boy might put on two starched shirts.
It was within his knowledge, although I do not think he claimed to have been a passenger, that galloping down Arrington Hill to the change at the "Hardwicke Arms", the coach ran into a mob of cattle. One of the great beasts was lying down right in the road; and, before he was up, the coach was atop of him; The beast gave a heave, and over went coach and passengers into the ditch.
Amenities and Otherwise
My uncle and aunt did not entertain very largely; they always, until marriage and duties dispersed the families, had a grand Christmas dinner and family party. And while their own sons and daughters were at home, they had private theatricals of considerable merit. But, though Lord Lieutenant, his County entertainments were at long intervals.
I remember, way back in the 60s, a great Fete Champetre to which everybody of County position was invited. It was not long after the formation of the big Dining Room; and as marquees were not then much used, there was a perpetual 'collation' throughout the afternoon in that room. One of the guests was Mr. Sampson, Rector of Kingston: a Creole from the West Indies. He had a full and mellow voice. My uncle was always friendly with the old man, who used to hunt an old black mare two days in the week; and drive her in his shandridan the other four. From the head of the table my uncle called out:
"Sampson, are you looking after yourself all right?" and the answer came rolling up,
"Thank you, my lord. I've feasted by eyes, and taken care of my inside."
The fifth earl was guilty of an unpardonable omission of hospitality. He gave a dinner and ball to all his tenants and estate officers. The thing, I am told, was splendidly done, with a grand supper in the big room. After supper when all was being cleared away, it was discovered that Mrs. Wickes, the wife of the steward, had been forgotten, and was sitting in high dudgeon, solitary, in the corner. Of course Lord Hardwicke ought to have taken her into supper himself; but he had forgotten. Lord Royston, a boy, and already in bed, was hauled out of the blankets, shoved into his smartest velvets, and brought down to lead the lady to a tête-à-tête supper in the Red Dining Room. She declined the hospitality, and refused to be comforted. It is said that the rupture thus made between the earl and his steward contributed not a little to the final disaster.
The thing I chiefest wish to tell of is of a Ball, a real County Ball, which, if ever it was given, must have been in my boyhood. I speak doubtfully, and the reasons for my reserve will by and by be set forth. I will only say here that I have no knowledge of it save from a document in possession of the Reverend E C Conybeare, late vicar of Barrington. That gentleman took it down verbatim from a police pensioner in his village. The tale is so interesting, so picturesque and so vivid, that it is worth preserving, although I cannot tell it at the length and with the vigour of the original.
That police officer states that he then resided in Orwell, and was detailed for duty at the front of the Mansion on the night of this County Ball. The Ball was given by the Lord Lieutenant in honour of the Prince of Wales, then residing at Madingley.
But the Prince could not be present. He had informed Lord Hardwicke that he had been hastily summoned to his father's bedside, and was leaving at once. His Lordship was not to stop the ball, only to make HRH's apologies. Lord Hardwicke had replied and had requested the Prince to apprise him of the condition, or of the death, of the Prince Consort.
Carriages rolled to the door, and a brilliant company assembled. Dancing went on. About midnight this constable heard the sound of galloping hoofs in the distance down the Royston road. Nearer and nearer, louder and louder. A pause for admission at the great gates. Then louder, louder, louder as the ramping hoofs thundered along the Park Road. Into the light before the hall door dashed a messenger from the Telegraph Office at Royston; the sweat dripped from his horse. Up the steps he ran the fatal yellow envelope in his hand. His Lordship comes hurriedly to the door; tears open the envelope; sinks into a chair, saying, "Sinking fast, Sinking fast!"
A hurried conference was held with Lady Hardwicke and it was decided not to disturb the guests. Instructions were given to the messenger to convey any further telegram to the man who would be waiting for it at the lodge at the Whaddon end of the avenue. Wickes and Cambridge were set to organise the matter. All hands that could be gathered were posted at intervals of 200 yards down the long avenue. The man who was to receive the message was to call its contents out to the next; and so on, right up to the door of the mansion.
Suddenly out of the darkness was heard the calling voice. Louder, clearer, clearer, louder boomed the call, until at last they heard it as the boom of a passing bell; "Dead! Dead! Dead!" Sobbing and speechless the earl and his countess sank down in the hall. The ball was over.
The old policeman confirms his story strangely. He says he knows it is true because he remembers composing a poem on the Death of the Prince Consort, as he walked home through the moonlit glades of Cobb's Wood.
I have said that I do not remember this ball. Possibly I had not yet returned from Cheam School for the Christmas holidays. Yet I think I should have heard of it. After hearing the story I referred the question to my cousins, the Lady Biddulph and the Hon Alexander Yorke, Neither remembered it. Yet, even if absent, they would have been told about it; certainly they would have been summoned to attend so important a function.
Final discredit is brought upon the moving tale by a reference to dates. I had a lingering recollection that the Prince Consort died on a Saturday. Sir Theodore Martin's Life of the Prince Consort settles it. The Prince of Wales "was summoned by telegram from Madingley" on the evening of Friday 13 December 1861. He arrived at Windsor "at 3 o'clock on Saturday morning. The Prince Consort died at 10.15 on Saturday night 14 December 1861.
The ball could not therefore have been on the Friday night twenty-four hours before Prince Albert's death. And I am positive that no power on earth would have induced my uncle and aunt to give a ball on a Saturday night, to people whose very distance would keep them out of bed till well into the Sunday morning observance.
The story however, is too good to be lost.
A Link with the Past
Between my uncle, the fourth Lord Hardwicke, and the title and estates,
once stood five lives. The widow and dowager Countess of the third earl
long survived; dying on 26 May 1858.
I can recall standing at the rectory window that overlooked the churchyard, that of the Green bedroom, and seeing the funeral as the body was borne round the east end of the church to its resting place in the vault under the Chicheley Chapel. I can see now the shoulder-borne coffin, covered with scarlet velvet; the tawdry gilt mountings, and the gilt coronet atop.
I am writing this in 1914. That was in 1858, as I have said. The extraordinary thing is that I have thus seen the obsequies of a lady whose grandfather was married in the reign of Charles II. The 'merry monarch' had given the bride away and had danced at the festivities. By a bridge of only three arches I am linked to the year 1663. ... I think in Scott's "Tales of Grandfather" is some account of this wedding.
Uncle Hardwicke
A few reminiscences of the fourth Lord Hardwicke may be of interest. Among ourselves he was known as 'Old Blowhard', a nickname that came, I believe, from the Navy, and was disclosed to us boys by my father.
It exactly suited him. He was a domineering, masterful old man; with, at times, a very rough tongue. A martinet of the old school on his own quarterdeck - that describes him. He was a terror to us his nephews. We respected him, but we feared him; and it was only when age softened him that I in any way can say I loved him. Looking back, and trying to understand him, I think I should say that he was a man of a large heart, but, where his interests were concerned, of a narrow mind: a man accustomed to rule his ship, and determined to carry that discipline into private life.
Charles Philip Yorke (1799-1873)
The 4th Earl of Hardwicke
"Old Blowhard"
Charles Philip Yorke (1799-1873)
The 4th Earl of Hardwicke
To us his nephews he was particularly stern, with a sternness that he did not display towards most others of his kith and kin. Perhaps it was that he feared, as we lived alongside him and thereby had a certain range over his property, that we should presume on our relationship, and must be kept down. At any rate, the rectory - and I include my father, his own brother - was kept as much at arm's length as the lodge where lived his steward. But perhaps we really were a nuisance.
When I was an undergraduate in 1870, I possessed a gun, was a fairly good shot. But, whenever one of my cousins had asked me to join a shoot, the old Blowhard, sitting on his pony 'Stonewall Jackson', would call out:
"Goodman, put Master Campbell two hundred yards away from the line. I'm not going  to be shot at by one of my nephews."
Yet at the very time he allowed in the firing line a grandson aged only 14, to whom he himself had given a gun.
About that same time my eldest brother, Colonel of the 12th Bengal Lancers, was home on furlough. We were asked to dine at the Big House. It was quite a family affair; besides ourselves only a married cousin and her husband. This guest after dinner carried off my brother, and perhaps an hour passed before they appeared in the Gallery where we were sitting.
"Colonel Yorke, where have you been?" rapped out the old martinet.
"I've been with ---*, having a cigarette in your study.
"Then I would have you know, Colonel Yorke, that I don't allow my nephews to smoke  in my study."
"Then, my lord, if your nephew may not enjoy the same hospitality as your son-in-law,  I will wish you a very good night."
(* Though Yorke omits the name: it was Victor Montagu, who tells the identical story in his "Reminiscences of Admiral Montagu", London, 1910 - David Ellison)
This painful little scene will enable a right perspective of his political attitude. Take, for instance this from the same year 1870, just after the telegraphs (and then we had already a station at Arrington) had been taken over by the state. I heard him say at his own dinner table,
"That d____d fellow Gladstone will be putting a spy of his into my livery, in order to  receive a daily telegram about what Lord Hardwicke had for dinner."
There wasn't a thought of self-importance in it. It was simply that he must be captain, absolute Captain, in his own ship.
Taking of telegraphs, here's a funny little incident. In those days we all had an instinctive dread of them. We could not think that anyone would use them save for the most important and dire communication. Thus when a yellow envelope was handed to him one night at dinner, his Lordship gasped and we all apprehended the worst. Pulling himself together, his lordship opened it. Then he banged his fist on the table.
"D___n the man! It's Monsieur ------, who telegraphs from Paris, "Your venison is  admirable. I am now enjoying that magnificent haunch.""
As Captain Yorke, in 1833, he had been returned as Member for Cambridgeshire. In this election he struck his prevalent note as 'Post Captain'. From his old ship he obtained the use of the Captain’s gig and crew. The gig was mounted on a trolly, the crew manned it, and with oars raised to the salute, they were hauled through the town; Captain Yorke, in full rig, cocked hat and all, sitting in the stern sheets.
My father used to tell me of this, and in 1898 I met John Hoppett, who had been Porter at Trinity gate, and he told me that as a boy he had been sat on a wall to see this procession.
His pet aversion was the wearing of foot-paths in the grass alongside the roads in the park. Rows of stumps, sometimes six deep, were driven in by the roadside for the unwary to break their toes against. I have stood by the old man on his porch as he roared, simply roared, a volley of mariner's oaths at a foot passenger beside the road below the drive. No one, but the Captain of the ship, or his men on duty, was to tread his quarter deck.
The big, big D that shows up in the above anecdotes was the fashion not only of the 'Queen's Navee' in his days of service but of ordinary conversation. The Duke of Wellington and Lord Melbourne used the expletive freely even in talking to Majesty herself. I say this in order that the following may not be judged too severely. It relates to the building of the new stables in 1850.
In 1885 I was at Bodalla in New South Wales. The gardener was a chirpy, cheery, chatty old man, named Bowman. One day he accosted me:
"Are you any relation of Lord 'Ardwicke: Ah! 'E wor a mighty proud gen'lem'n, 'e wor. When I wor a boy, I used to be at work buildin' them stables: and the old Lord, 'e used to come down ev'ry mornin' arter breakfast. And oh Lor! 'E used to damn our eyes proper, 'e did. Ah! 'E wor a mighty proud gen'lem'n!"
These little characteristics do not picture the 'old lord' in a very estimable light. But they are part of him. Yet, none could have sat alone with the old man in 1872 as I did, when failing health was upon him, and the great catastrophe to his house impending, - when he was racked with the pain of arthritis, and estranged from his eldest son, without finding that under his rough exterior there was a heart as soft as butter.
My father was different. Too kind and gentle. A most delightful companion; well-read, though not learned; able to converse on any topic well; a bit of an antiquary; a bit of an artist; yet excelling in nothing but lovableness. As he lay near his window in the days before his death it was pretty to see him wave his hankerchief to the children as they turned up the drive for their 'few broth' or milk, and to watch the answering wave back with the little bob or curtsey. They all loved him.
The Flavour of Old Times
....I think it was in 1856 that my father first went into residence as a Canon of Ely. I was the first boy that wore knickerbockers at Ely. No doubt they were very wonderful, as they had been built by my old governess. Anyhow I used to be followed by a gaping crowd, asking, "Is it a man or a boy?"
Ely was still in the period of George III. The official dinners of the canons were only for the male creature. It caused quite a stir when my father broke through the tradition and gave dinner-parties for both sexes. It was as scandalous as mixed bathing. And that he should have his own cook, and cook it all in his own kitchen! Who ever heard the like? It was taking the bread out of the mouth of Mrs Brown who invariably dished up boiled chicken and tongue, and of Mrs Smith who invariably sent up roast chicken and bread sauce.
The dinners of the Ely 'Quality' were gargantuan. Vast tureens of oxtail soup, huge masses of roast and boiled, all carved a l'Anglaise on the table. You sat down at 3.30 or 4 o'clock. You ate slowly and healthily; washed down your viands with 'Sherry-white-wine', heavy Madeira, or full flavoured Port. At 7, after three hours' stodge, the ladies rose to go to the Drawing-room. The gentlemen sat over their nuts and wine till 9. They then 'joined the ladies'. On entering the Drawing-room they found, smoking on the side-table, a great bowl of punch!
To these hospitable feasts, as to their dances, the approved conveyance for the ladies was a Sedan chair. Out of this in my father's hall I have handed scores of dames - aye, right down to 1870. But it is time to leave this bygone society of Ely, where surely Mr. Pickwick, the Wardles and Mrs Nickleby must have passed some portion of their lives.
We will make the return journey by road; and will choose our day, Christmas Day, 1860.
As Canon in residence my father had to take the afternoon service in the Cathedral, and yet desired to keep the usual Christmas festivities at the Wimpole Big House. The only means of performing the journey was by driving the whole twenty-three miles via Cambridge. The country was deep in snow, and there was a parlous frost. The night of Christmas Eve had registered 18 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. As we sat in the carriage our breath hung in icicles from the roof. From Stretham to Wimpole was nineteen miles and we slid on the snow like a sledge. The wheels could not turn. What the driver must have suffered he never told. But when people talk of wanting an 'old-fashioned winter'.... "Ugh - h!
With that cold snap on us, Uncle Hardwicke told us how once - when he was in command of a vessel (was it the Crazy Jane?) - on the Nova Scotia Station they were bowling along in pleasant summer weather, the crew in white ducks and summer rig, when a fog and icy wind suddenly swooped upon them. In shortening sail the hands of one seaman were frozen. The man tried to restore his circulation by rubbing his hands together. His fingers actually broke off!
....On my uncle's table I can always remember a small model in brass of Trotman's anchor. He was a great advocate for that device. It is told of him that demonstrating its efficiency in the House of Lords, he planted his foot on the model (perhaps this very one) and, hauled so stoutly on the cord that it broke, and 'old Blowhard' turned a somersault on the floor of the Painted Chamber. As that form of anchor was adopted in the Navy in 1852, and Lord Hardwicke was in the Government that year, I suppose we can clinch the incident.
The 'Warrior', or first English ironclad, was launched in 1860. I can remember the discussion in the Big House as to the merits of wooden walls and iron. I was amazed to learn that people expected iron to float: and, being in the experimental stage of boyhood, I went home, and conclusively proved that it could NOT by throwing my nail scissors into the wash hand basin. I can remember that talk caused by the laying of the first Transatlantic cable in 1857.... I can remember the wonder of the [SS] Great Eastern, and how Scott-Russell [1] visited Wimpole a few days after we had read of her boiler bursting off Brighton. I can remember the Exhibition of 1862 [2] with the Majolica Fountain, the Steam-hammer and the Tinted Venus....
We live in a time when parish doctors and district nurses and school clinics occupy the field. I will therefore conclude this section by one or two medical memories. The Rector of a neighbouring parish [Ed: Croydon?] was looked after by a very prim, precise and prudish sister, very much the Rector's sister. This good lady came one day to ask for slugs from our garden. Why? She was attending to the needs of a consumptive parishioner, to whom in the last extremity she had prescribed a broth of slugs boiled in milk. She told us of another patient in the agonies of cancer, to whom she was administering poultices of live earthworms...
[1] John Scott Russell FRSE FRS FRSA was the Scottish naval architect and shipbuilder who built Great Eastern in collaboration with Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
[2] The International Exhibition of 1862, or 'Great London Exposition', was a World Fair. It was held in South Kensington, London.
"Here the Rector's reminiscences break off. He had been writing them in 1914, so possibly he put them aside for the duration, and never completed them, though giving a typed copy to W M Palmer, the Linton doctor and celebrated local historian.
"On Dr Palmer's death the essay, filed among his papers, was deposited with Palmer's notes in the Cambridge University Library. The full essay includes some historical and antiquarian notes which have been partly superseded by more recent work. In these selections older spellings have been retained, though capitalisation and punctuation have been slightly modernised."
David Ellison
From the 'Cambridge Evening News' June 1925:
"While reading the Athanasian Creed on Sunday morning, the Rev A Campbell Yorke, rector of Fowlmere, was seized with a heart attack and expired almost immediately. He was 74 and, by a tragic coincidence, was making preparations to retire from active ministry. He had ministered in Australia and New Zealand until 1897 when he came to England and took the living in Fowlmere."

This page was last updated on: 5 August 2020.
Wimpole Rectory in 2013
Rectory Restaurant, 2013
Wimpole Estate, National Trust
St Andrew's Parish Church, Wimpole
St Andrew's Parish Church, Wimpole
A living church for the Parish of Wimpole, located within the National Trust's Wimpole
Hall Estate. The Church is managed and maintained by the Parochial Church Council.
Aerial View of St Andrew's Parish Church 2016
Aerial View of St Andrew's Parish Church 2016.
The Rectory can be glimpsed on the right.
© John Fielding 2016, all rights reserved.

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