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'Enclosure[a] is a term, used in English landownership, that refers to the appropriation of "waste[b]" or "common land[c]" enclosing it and by doing so depriving commoners their ancient rights of access and privilege. Agreements to enclose land could be either through a 'formal' or 'informal' process. The process could normally be accomplished in three ways. First there was the creation of "closes" [d], taken out of larger common fields by their owners.[e] Secondly, there was enclosure by proprietors, owners who acted together, usually small farmers or squires, leading to the enclosure of whole parishes. Finally there were enclosures’ by Acts of Parliament.
The primary reason for enclosure was to improve the efficiency of the agriculture. However, there were other motives too, one example was that the value of the land enclosed would be substantially increased. There were social consequences to the policy, with many protests at the removal of rights from the common people. Enclosure riots have seen by historians as 'the pre-eminent form' of social protest from the 1530s to 1640s.
- Was the removal of common rights that people held over farm lands and parish commons. 
- It was the reallocation of scattered strips of land into large new fields that were enclosed either by hedges, walls or fences. 
- The newly created enclosed fields were reserved for the sole use of individual owners or their tenants.
- Lord of the Manor
- Freeholders or Yeomanry. Proprietors of large and small proprieties
- Copyholders.[f] 
- Tenant farmers
- Farm servants living in their employers' house
Methods of enclosure
There were essentially two broad categories of enclosure, these were 'formal’ or ‘informal’ agreements. Formal enclosure was achieved either through act of parliament from 1836 onwards, or by a written agreement signed by all parties involved. The written record would probably also include a map.
With informal agreements there was either minimal or no written record other than occasionally a map of the agreement. The most straightforward informal enclosure was though 'unity of possession'. Under this, if an individual managed to acquire all the disparate strips of land in an area and consolidate them in one whole piece, for example a manor, then any communal rights would cease to exist as there was no one to exercise them.
Open field system
Before the enclosures in England, "common"[c] land was under the control of the manorial lord, but certain rights such as pasture, pannage, or estovers could be held by neighbouring properties, or (occasionally) in gross by all manorial tenants. "Waste"[b] land was often very narrow areas (typically less than 1 yard (0.91 m) wide) in awkward locations (such as cliff edges, or inconveniently shaped manorial borders), but also could be bare rock, it was not officially used by anyone, and so was often "farmed" by landless peasants.
The remaining land was organised into a large number of narrow strips, each tenant possessing several disparate strips[g] throughout the manor, as would the manorial lord. Called the open-field system, it was administered by manorial courts, which exercised some collective control. The land in a manor under this system would consist of:
- Two or three very large common fields[h]
- Several very large common hay meadows[i]
- Closes [d]
- In some cases, a park 
- Common waste. [b]
What might now be termed a single field would have been divided under this system among the lord and his tenants; poorer peasants (serfs or copyholders, depending on the era) were allowed to live on the strips owned by the lord in return for cultivating his land. The open-field system was probably a development of the earlier Celtic field system, which it replaced. Typically the open field system used a three-field crop rotation system. Barley, oats, or legumes would be planted in one field in spring, wheat or rye in the second field in the autumn and the third field would be left fallow. The following year, the planting in the fields would be rotated. The tenants pastured their livestock on the fallow field and on the planted fields after harvest.
Copyholders had a customary tenancy on their piece of land that was legally enforceable. The problem was that a copyhold tenancy was only valid for the holders life. The heir would not have the right to inheritance although usually by custom, in exchange for a fee (known as a fine), the heir could have the copyhold transferred. To remove their customary rights, the landlords converted the copyhold into a leasehold tenancy. Leasehold removed the customary rights but the advantage to the tenant was that the land could be inherited.
The end of the Open Field system
Seeking better financial returns, landowners looked for more efficient farming techniques. Enclosure was seen as a way to improve efficiency,[j] however it was not simply the fencing of existing holdings, there was also a fundamental change in agricultural practice. One of the most important innovations was the development of the Norfolk four-course system, which greatly increased crop and livestock yields by improving soil fertility and reducing fallow. Wheat was grown in the first year, turnips in the second, followed by barley, with clover and ryegrass in the third. The clover and ryegrass were grazed or cut for feed in the fourth year. The turnips were used for feeding cattle and sheep in the winter. The practice of growing a series of dissimilar types of crops in the same area in sequential seasons helped to restore plant nutrients and reduce the build-up of pathogens and pests. The system also improves soil structure and fertility by alternating deep-rooted and shallow-rooted plants. For example, turnips can recover nutrients from deep under the soil. Planting crops such as turnips and clover was not permitted, under the open field system, because the unrestricted access to the field meant that other villagers livestock may graze on the turnips! Another important feature of the Norfolk system was that it used labour at times when demand was not at peak levels.
From as early as the 12th century, some open fields in Britain were being enclosed into individually owned fields. After the Statute of Merton in 1235 manorial lords were able to reorganize strips of land such that they were brought together in one contiguous block.
There was a significant rise in enclosure during the Tudor period. These enclosures largely resulted in conversion of land use from arable to pasture – usually sheep farming. Enclosure was quite often undertaken unilaterally by the landowner, sometimes illegally. The widespread eviction of people from their lands resulted in the collapse of the open field system in those areas. The deprivations of the displaced workers has been seen as a cause of subsequently social unrest.
Parliamentary enclosure and open fields
During the 18th and 19th centuries, enclosures were by means of local acts of Parliament, called the Inclosure Acts. Parliamentary enclosures usually provided commoners with some other land in compensation for the loss of common rights, although often of poor quality and much smaller. Enclosure consisted of exchange in land, and an extinguishing of common rights. This allowed farmers consolidated and fenced off plots of land, in contrast to multiple small strips spread out and separated.
Parliamentary enclosure was also used for the division and privatisation of common "wastes" (in the original sense of uninhabited places), such as fens, marshes, heathland, downland, moors. Voluntary enclosure was also frequent at that time.
At the time of the parliamentary enclosures, each manor had seen de facto consolidation of farms into multiple large landholdings. Multiple larger landholders already held the bulk of the land. They 'held' but did not legally own in today's sense. They also had to respect the open field system rights, when demanded, even when in practice the rights were not widely in use. Similarly each large landholding would consist of scattered patches, not consolidated farms. In many cases enclosures were largely an exchange and consolidation of land, and exchange not otherwise possible under the legal system. It did also involve the extinguishing of common rights. Without extinguishment, one man in an entire village could unilaterally impose the common field system, even if everyone else did not desire to continue the practice. De jure rights were not in accord with de facto practice. With land one held, one could not formally exchange the land, consolidate fields, or entirely exclude others. Parliamentary enclosure was seen as the most cost-effective method of creating a legally binding settlement. This is because of the costs (time, money, complexity) of the barriers in the common law and in equity to extinguishing customary and long-use rights. Parliament required consent of the owners of 4⁄5 of affected (the copyholders and freeholders).
The primary benefits to large land holders came from increased value of their own land, not from expropriation. Smaller holders could sell their land to larger ones for a higher price post enclosure. There was not much evidence that the common rights were particularly valuable. Protests against Parliamentary Enclosure continued, sometimes in Parliament itself, frequently in the villages affected, and sometimes as organised mass revolts. Voluntary enclosure was frequent at that time. Enclosed land was twice as valuable, a price which could be sustained only by its higher productivity.
Before enclosure, much of the arable land in the central region of England was organised into an open field system. Enclosure was not simply the fencing of existing holdings, but led to fundamental changes in agricultural practice. Scattered holdings of strips in the common field were consolidated to create individual farms that could be managed independently of other holdings. Prior to enclosure, rights to use the land were shared between land owners and villagers (commoners). For example, commoners would have the right (common right) to graze their animals when crops or hay were not being grown, and on common pasture land.
In each of the two waves of enclosure, two different processes were used. One was the division of the large open fields and meadows into privately controlled plots of land, usually hedged and known at the time as severals. In the course of enclosure, the large fields and meadows were divided and common access restricted. Most open-field manors in England were enclosed in this manner, with the notable exception of Laxton, Nottinghamshire and parts of the Isle of Axholme in North Lincolnshire.
The history of enclosure in England is different from region to region. Not all areas of England had open-field farming in the medieval period. Parts of south-east England (notably parts of Essex and Kent) retained a pre-Roman system of farming in small enclosed fields. Similarly in much of west and north-west England, fields were either never open, or were enclosed early. The primary area of open field management was in the lowland areas of England in a broad band from Yorkshire and Lincolnshire diagonally across England to the south, taking in parts of Norfolk and Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, large areas of the Midlands, and most of south central England. These areas were most affected by the first type of enclosure, particularly in the more densely settled areas where grazing was scarce and farmers relied on open field grazing after the harvest and on the fallow to support their animals.
The second form of enclosure affected those areas, such as the north, the far south-west, and some other regions such as the East Anglian Fens, and the Weald, where grazing had been plentiful on otherwise marginal lands, such as marshes and moors. Access to these common resources had been an essential part of the economic life in these strongly pastoral regions, and in the Fens, large riots broke out in the seventeenth century, when attempts to drain the peat and silt marshes were combined with proposals to partially enclose them.
Both economic and social factors drove the enclosure movement. In particular, the demand for land in the seventeenth century, increasing regional specialisation, engrossment in landholding and a shift in beliefs regarding the importance of "common wealth" (usually implying common livelihoods) as opposed to the "public good" (the wealth of the nation or the GDP) all laid the groundwork for a shift of support among elites to favour enclosure. Enclosures were conducted by agreement among the landholders (not necessarily the tenants) throughout the seventeenth century; enclosure by Parliamentary Act began in the eighteenth century. Enclosed lands normally could demand higher rents than unenclosed, and thus landlords had an economic stake in enclosure, even if they did not intend to farm the land directly.
While many villagers received plots in the newly enclosed manor, for small landholders this compensation was not always enough to offset the costs of enclosure and fencing. Many historians believe that enclosure was an important factor in the reduction of small landholders in England, as compared to the Continent, though others believe that this process had already begun from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Enclosure faced a great deal of popular resistance because of its effects on the household economies of smallholders and landless labourers. Common rights had included not just the right of cattle or sheep grazing, but also the grazing of geese, foraging for pigs, gleaning, berrying, and fuel gathering. During the period of parliamentary enclosure, employment in agriculture did not fall, but failed to keep pace with the growing population. Consequently, large numbers of people left rural areas to move into the cities where they became labourers in the Industrial Revolution. Thus in a real way the English Parliament, seeking to increase profits on farm land also created the workers needed to increase the rapid expansion of the factory work force, by forcing people out of the surround county into cities.[failed verification]
By the end of the 19th century enclosure had been carried out in most parishes, leaving a village green, any foreshore below the high-tide mark and occasionally a lower number of small common pastures.
Public roads through enclosed common land were made to an accepted width between boundaries. In the late eighteenth century this was at least 60 feet (18 m), but from the 1790s this was decreased to 40 feet (12 m), and later 30 feet as the normal maximum width. The reason for these wide roads to was to prevent excessive churning of the road bed, and allow easy movement of flocks and herds of animals.
Marxist historians have focused on enclosure as a part of the class conflict that eventually eliminated the English peasantry and saw the emergence of the bourgeoisie. From this viewpoint, the English Civil War provided the basis for a major acceleration of enclosures. The parliamentary leaders supported the rights of landlords vis-a-vis the King, whose Star Chamber court, abolished in 1641, had provided the primary legal brake on the enclosure process. By dealing an ultimately crippling blow to the monarchy (which, even after the Restoration, no longer posed a significant challenge to enclosures) the Civil War paved the way for the eventual rise to power in the 18th century of what has been called a "committee of Landlords", a prelude to the UK's parliamentary system. The economics of enclosures also changed. Whereas earlier land had been enclosed to make it available for sheep farming, by 1650 the steep rise in wool prices had ended. Thereafter, the focus shifted to implementation of new agricultural techniques, including fertilizer, new crops, and crop rotation, all of which greatly increased the profitability of large-scale farms. The enclosure movement probably peaked from 1760 to 1832; by the latter date it had essentially completed the destruction of the medieval peasant community. Many landowners became rich through the enclosure of the commons, while many ordinary folk had a centuries-old right taken away. Land enclosure has been condemned as a gigantic swindle on the part of large landowners. In 1770 Oliver Goldsmith wrote The Deserted Village, deploring rural depopulation. An anonymous protest poem from the 17th century summed up the anti-enclosure feeling, and has been repeated in many variants since, even being applied to the contemporary privatization of the Internet:
The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common,
But lets the greater felon loose
Who steals the common from the goose.
In April 1772, a Home Office intelligence report noted
A paper signed "near Dorchester", was addressed to the King (the newspapers taking notice of His Majesty's desire to see the price of provisions lowered), to lay before him the evils of forestalling and engrossing. As examples of engrossing in the neighbourhood of Dorchester, the writer instances the manors of Came, Whitcomb, Muncton, and Bockhampton. The first, he says, about thirty years before, had many inhabitants, many holding leasehold estates under the lord of the manor for three lives. Some of these had estates of 15l.,[k] 20l.,[l] and 30l a year, being for the most part careful, industrious people, obliged to be careful to keep a little cash to keep the estate in the family if a life should drop. Their corn was brought to market, and they were content with the market price. Their cattle were sold in the same manner.
Their children when of proper age were married, and children begotten, without fear of poverty. But the lord had since turned out all the people, and the whole place was in his own hands, while not half the quantity of corn was sown that formerly had been. The writer also gives an account how one Wm. Taunton, though only a tenant of the Dean and Chapter of Exon, was gradually getting the whole parish into his own hands. He says, comparing his own with past times, that formerly a farmer that occupied 100l a year was thought a tolerable one,[m] and he that occupied four or five hundred pounds a very great one indeed; but now they had farmers that occupied from one thousand to two thousand per annum, who did not want money to pay their rent, as did the little farmers, who were obliged to sell their corn, etc. The writer gives it as the general opinion that the kingdom had become greatly depopulated, some averring the population to have decreased by a fourth within the preceding hundred years. He further says: "Your Majesty must put a stop to inclosures, or oblige ye lord of ye manor to keep up ye antient custom of it, and not suffer him to buy his tenant's interest; to have all the houses pulled down, and ye whole parish turn'd into a farm: this is a fashionable practice, and by none more yn Jn° Damer, Esq., ye owner of Came, and his brother Lord Milton."— Admiralty, pcl. 164, No. 26. 1219: Forestalling and Engrossing
Manorial lords' enclosure of common land (particularly to monopolise local sheep farming) and the consequent eviction of commoners or villagers from their homes and their livelihoods became an important political issue for the Tudors. Enclosure led to homeless, displaced inhabitants, potential underclass rebels. The King's advisers were extremely nervous about such impoverishment or "beggaring". Commoners kept informal homes and farms, a broad stream of non-collectivised tax revenues. Workers were strong-limbed, frequent military conscripts for the crown. In the sixteenth century, lack of income made one a pauper. If one lost one's home as well, one became a vagrant; and vagrants were regarded (and treated) as criminals. The authorities saw many people becoming what they regarded as vagabonds and thieves as a result of enclosure and depopulation of villages.
Reflecting these factors, the anti-enclosure acts of 1489 began those aimed to stem enclosure. From the time of Henry VII, Parliament began passing Acts to stop enclosure, to limit its effects, or at least to fine those responsible. Over the next 150 years, there were 11 more Acts of Parliament and eight commissions of enquiry on the subject.
Initially, enclosure was not itself an offence, but where it was accompanied by the destruction of houses, half the (land's annual) profits would go to the Crown until the lost houses were rebuilt (the 1489 Act gave half these net revenues to the superior landlord, who might not be the Crown, but an Act of 1536 allowed the Crown to receive this half share if the superior landlord had not taken action to claim it). In 1515, conversion from arable to pasture became an offence. Once again, half the profits from conversion would go to the Crown until the arable land was restored. Neither the 1515 Act nor the previous laws were watertight in stopping enclosure, so in 1517 Cardinal Wolsey established a commission of enquiry to determine where offences had taken place – and to ensure the Crown received its punitive half-share of annual agricultural profits.
After 1529 or so, the problem of untended farmland disappeared with the rising population. There was a desire for more arable land along with much antagonism toward the tenant-graziers with their flocks and herds. Increased demand along with a scarcity of tillable land caused rents to rise dramatically in the 1520s to mid-century. The 1520s appear to have been the point at which the rent increases became extreme, with complaints of rack-rent appearing in popular literature, such as the works of Robert Crowley. There were popular efforts to remove old enclosures, and much legislation of the 1530s and 1540s concerns this shift. Angry tenants impatient to reclaim pastures for tillage were illegally destroying enclosures. Beginning with Kett's Rebellion in 1549, agrarian revolts swept all over the nation, and other revolts occurred periodically throughout the century. The popular rural mentality was to restore the security, stability, and functionality of the old commons system. Historians would write that they were asserting ancient traditional and constitutional rights granted to the free and sturdy English yeoman as opposed to the enslaved and effeminate French. This emphasis on rights was to have a pivotal role in the modern era unfolding from the Enlightenment. D. C. Coleman writes that the English commons were disturbed by the loss of common rights under enclosure which might involve the right "to cut underwood, to run pigs".
In May and June of 1607 the villages of Cotesbach (Leicestershire); Ladbroke, Hillmorton and Chilvers Coton (Warwickshire); and Haselbech, Rushton and Pytchley (Northamptonshire) saw protests against enclosures and depopulation. The rioting that took place became known known as the Midland Revolt and drew considerable popular support from the local people.[n] It was led by John Reynolds, otherwise known as 'Captain Pouch' who was thought to be an itinerant pedlar or tinker, by trade, and said to have originated from Desborough, Northamptonshire. He told the protesters he had authority from the King and the Lord of Heaven to destroy enclosures and promised to protect protesters by the contents of his pouch, carried by his side, which he said would keep them from all harm (after he was captured, his pouch was opened; all that was in it was a piece of mouldy cheese). A curfew was imposed in the city of Leicester, as it was feared citizens would stream out of the city to join the riots.[n] A gibbet was erected in Leicester as a warning, and was pulled down by the citizens.
Newton Rebellion: 8 June 1607
The Newton Rebellion was one of the last times that the non-mining commoners of England and the gentry were in open, armed conflict. Things had come to a head in early June. James I issued a Proclamation and ordered his Deputy Lieutenants in Northamptonshire to put down the riots. It is recorded that women and children were part of the protest. Over a thousand had gathered at Newton, near Kettering, pulling down hedges and filling ditches, to protest against the enclosures of Thomas Tresham.
The Treshams were unpopular for their voracious enclosing of land – the family at Newton and their better-known Roman Catholic cousins at nearby Rushton, the family of Francis Tresham, who had been involved two years earlier in the Gunpowder Plot and had by announcement died in London's Tower. Sir Thomas Tresham of Rushton was vilified as 'the most odious man' in Northamptonshire. The old Roman Catholic gentry family of the Treshams had long argued with the emerging Puritan gentry family, the Montagus of Boughton, about territory. Now Tresham of Newton was enclosing common land – The Brand – that had been part of Rockingham Forest.
Edward Montagu, one of the Deputy Lieutenants, had stood up against enclosure in Parliament some years earlier, but was now placed by the King in the position effectively of defending the Treshams. The local armed bands and militia refused the call-up, so the landowners were forced to use their own servants to suppress the rioters on 8 June 1607. The Royal Proclamation of King James was read twice. The rioters continued in their actions, although at the second reading some ran away. The gentry and their forces charged. A pitched battle ensued in which 40–50 people were killed; the ringleaders were hanged and quartered. A much-later memorial stone to those killed stands at the former church of St Faith, Newton.
Western Rising 1630–32 and forest enclosure
Although Royal forests were not technically commons, they were used as such from at least the 1500s onwards. By the 1600s, when Stuart Kings examined their estates to find new revenues, it had become necessary to offer compensation to at least some of those using the lands as commons when the forests were divided and enclosed. The majority of the disafforestation took place between 1629–40, during Charles I of England's Personal Rule. Most of the beneficiaries were Royal courtiers, who paid large sums to enclose and sublet the forests. Those dispossessed of the commons, especially recent cottagers and those who were outside of tenanted lands belonging to manors, were granted little or no compensation, and rioted in response.
In other countries
- Also known as Inclosure
- Land of a poor quality that was only useful for grazing animals or collecting fuel. Holdings described "not in use" or "waste" paid no tax.
- Although 'owned’ by the manorial lord, commoners had legal rights over the land and the manorial lord could not enclose it.
- Small fields or paddocks usually created by the partitioning of larger ancient open field.
- By 1750 this had led to the loss of up to half the common fields of many English villages.
- Copyholders, held their land according to the custom of the manor. The mode of landholding took its name from the fact that the title deed received by the tenant was a copy of the relevant entry in the manorial court roll
- There was no standard size for a strip of land and most holdings had between forty and eighty.
- Large area of arable land divided into strips.
- Known as dole or dale meadow.
- Efficiency meant improvements in per unit acre yields and in total parish output.
- About equivalent to £1,932 in 2019 today.
- About equivalent to £2,575 in 2019 today.
- About equivalent to £2,575 in 2019 today.
- The people involved in the protest were not just the dispossessed tenants of depopulated Midland villages but also included urban-dwellers struggling to make ends meet in the towns, especially Leicester and Kettering.
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- Moore, Barrington (1966). Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press.
- Neeson, J. M. (1993). Commoners: Common Right, Enclosure and Social Change in England, 1700–1820. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-56774-2.
- Overton, Mark (1996). Agricultural Revolution in England: The transformation of the agrarian economy 1500–1850. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-56859-3.
- Polanyi, Karl (1944). The Great Transformation.
- Shaw-Taylor, Leigh (2001). "Parliamentary Enclosure and the Emergence of an English Agricultural Proletariat". Journal of Economic History. 61 (3): 640–662. doi:10.1017/S0022050701030030. JSTOR 2698131. S2CID 153691075.
- Thirsk, Joan (1958). Tudor Enclosures. London: The Historical Association. ISBN 9-780-852-78154-8.
- Thirsk, Joan (1984). The Rural Economy of England. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-907628-28-1.
- Thompson, E. P. (1963). The Making of the English Working Class. London: Penguin. OCLC 802843122.
- Timmer, C. Peter (1969). "The Turnip, The New Husbandry, and The English Agricultural Revolution". The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 83 (3): 375–95. doi:10.2307/1880527. JSTOR 1880527.
- Turner, Michael (1986). "English Open Fields and Enclosures: Retardation or Productivity Improvements". The Journal of Economic History. 46 (3): 669–692. doi:10.1017/S0022050700046829. JSTOR 2121479.
- Wood, Andy (2001). Riot, Rebellion and Popular Politics in Early Modern England (Social History in Perspective). Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave. ISBN 978-033-363762-3.
- Beckett, J. V. (1991). "The Disappearance of the Cottager and the Squatter from the English Countryside: The Hammonds Revisited.". In Holderness, B. A.; Turner, Michael (eds.). Land, Labour and Agriculture, 1700 1920. London: Hambledon Press.
- Chambers, Jonathan D. "Enclosure and labour supply in the industrial revolution." Economic History Review 5.3 (1953): 319-343. in JSTOR
- Dahlman, Carl J (1980). The Open Field System and Beyond: A Property Rights Analysis of an Economic Institution. Cambridge University Press.
- Everitt, Alan (2000). "Common Land". In Thirsk, Joan (ed.). The English Rural Landscape. Oxford University Press.
- Gonner, E. C. K (1912). Common Land and Inclosure. London: Macmillan & Co. 
- Humphries, J. (1990). "Enclosures, commons rights, and women". Journal of Economic History. 50 (1): 17–42. doi:10.1017/s0022050700035701.
- McCloskey, Donald N. "The enclosure of open fields: Preface to a study of its impact on the efficiency of English agriculture in the eighteenth century." Journal of Economic History 32.1 (1972): 15-35 online.
- Thirsk, Joan (29 December 1964). "The Common Fields". Past and Present. pp. 3 25.
- Literary references
- Judt, Tony (25 March 2010). Ill Fares the Land. Allen Lane/Penguin. ISBN 978-1-84614-359-5. (Title taken from Goldsmith's work The Deserted Village)
- Marx, Karl. "27. Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the Land". Das Kapital [Capital]. Marxists.org (in German). 1. Retrieved 4 March 2012.
- The Yellow Admiral by Patrick O'Brian
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