NATIONAL TRUST: CROFT CASTLE AND PARKLAND



THE FISHPOOL VALLEY PROJECT 2019

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2017   2018


Click here to skip the report on May and leap forward to read all about the excavations in July.



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It's always good to be able to see a project through to completion, here is the finished cascade and spillway on dam 1 first excavated in 2017.



The third season at Croft began in May as the contractors undertook 'dry' work concentrating on the restoration of the cascade on dam 7 and the spillway on dam 6. Work anywhere near water was carefully avoided as it was breeding season for the rare white clawed crayfish. This is what happened:

DAY 1
An interesting start to the week. I hadn’t appreciated the issues around the crayfish at this time of year so we had to change our plans a little. We opened up a trench just past the end of the cascade to uncover a deep channel full of tumbled but well shaped stones. Birch Brothers took out the stone sets from the cascade to reveal a serious retaining wall and what may be the remains of an earlier phase of spillway. All photographed and recorded. We also opened an area above the west end of the dam to look for the other end of the scouring tunnel examined in 2017. I’ve got an idea that we are looking at a two phase structure here. The area marked on the eighteenth-century estate map as a conduit is currently buried below a mass of brushwood however we have permission to shift it and Charlie was happy that it would be a crayfish free zone so we can start on that tomorrow as well.


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John starts on a little archaeological weeding at the foot of the cascade whilst Grant wrestles with part of the broken capstone from the top of the dam.




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Clive and Joan start on the large test pit above the west end of dam 7.                                                           Once one goes, they all go, taking out the stone setts from the cascade.




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Nick contemplates the intricacies of cascade construction.




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Once the contractors have done the heavy lifting we move in, I think that's Ian, to tidy up and begin the process of recording and analysis.



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The deep and quite impressive retaining wall on the east side of the cascade.


DAY 2
Another productive day. After I had drawn the new elevations of the side walls to the cascade the contractors lifted one of the capstones to examine the void below the main channel. This enabled us to extend the elevations and take a look at the other side of the cross wall. At the foot of the cascade a lot of topsoil and loose rubble was removed from the channel. It was agreed that the tree should go.

The test pit above the tunnel at the west end of the dam was cut down at one corner by well over a metre to reveal what is assumed to be the upper surface of the tunnel arch This area was fenced off due to the depth of the trench.

The highlight of the day was a visit from Imogen bearing cake!



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Excavations at the foot of the cascade continue with lots more rubble but no bottom.



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The test pit, now known as IP22, at the start and end of the day, interesting structures start to appear.




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Grant appears to loose his head over the void below the channel and here it is cleaned out with the rear of the cross wall in position.






DAY 3
An action packed day with a sudden shift down to dam 6 to clean and record the spillway. Jeremy Milln had drawn a part of the east wall but the brick paving had not been seen so we opened it all out and did some further excavation on the side walls facing the pool. At this point it became clear that as well as a major slump close to the centre of the spillway other areas of brick had also been displaced and loosened from the underlying clay some of them were bedded in. The surfaces were drawn at a scale of 1:10 and multiple photos taken.

Back up at dam 7 two of the volunteers carried on looking for the base of the cascade whilst the third ( thanks Malcolm) took down the levels in the test pit above the conduit. Excavations here at the start of the day uncovered a curious revetment of what appears to be corrugated iron sheeting. More to investigate here tomorrow.



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Relocated to the spillway on dam 6, a rush job to clean it all up and record it in its pristine condition... if you ignore the slumps.



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There are always lots of other things being done by the contractors in the valley, here is work underway to improve access to dam 7.



DAY 4
Huge excitement up behind the modern pump house. The team of volunteers started clearing the brush wood and followed the trail of building debris until they stumbled upon a wall and not just any wall but a well mortared one of large well dressed blocks. Exploring further we ended up with a corner and a second wall and perhaps most remarkable of all the remains of a ceramic tile floor! My best guess at present is that the name 'The Conduit' on the late eighteenth century estate map refers to a building centred on a natural spring with stone walls, a tiled roof and probably home to a cold bath as found at a number of other properties of the period. This could give us the major focus for our investigations in July and potentially another monument for valley bearing in mind that in places the wall could survive to a height of 1.5m. The plan for tomorrow morning is to uncover enough to identify the limits of the structure so I can start to think about the logistics of any future full excavation of the site plus there is a fallen tree to remove.



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The impenetrable tangle of brushwood cleared by the volunteers... as if by magic, OK actually with a lot of hard work, ultimately to reveal.... a wall!




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By the end of the day two walls and a corner.




The tree at the foot of the cascade was expertly felled by Jason who dropped it with great precision exactly where he wanted it and the root was removed by Grant at the controls of the digger. Not much new archaeology though we did get a chance to take a look at the section through one of the side walls. I told Nick that I was finished with the cascade so he was free to move on to the construction phase.

Down at the spillway at dam 6 I excavated the area around the slump at the centre of the brick paving and recorded the deposit beneath. Again I handed this over to contractors who lifted and stacked the remaining bricks.

The very deep test pit has now uncovered substantial walling, it may be associated with the culvert but it stops way short of the upstream face of the dam. Sections drawn and plan nearly complete, tomorrow I’ll finish off and hopefully start back filling.


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Exploring below the brick paving on the spillway to dam 6... it's just dirt.




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The tree is down, Jason slices it into manageable chunks ...




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... and Grant digs out the stump ...




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... leaving a mess which we tidy up to reveal, well not a lot really.




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Back in the test pit the limit of what is safe to dig is reached, it's time to try and understand it all.



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After all the dismantling it's great to see things being put back together again, the foundation for the debris catcher at the top of the cascade.



DAY 5
Well we certainly finished the week in style. Whilst waiting for the volunteers to arrive I completed the recording on our rather deep test pit at the west end of dam 7. We ended up with quite a complicated sequence involving the culvert through the smaller earlier dam of red clay being sealed by a cross wall before the later larger dam was dumped on top.

From 10.00 onwards the team of 5 volunteers set to to meet my immediate objectives namely first off to remove enough vegetation and topsoil to enable everyone to see the character of the new monument we have added to the Croft landscape and  also explore the limits of the site to aid me in thinking through logistics for July on the grounds that we may want to proceed with further investigations into this structure. With extraordinary efficiency a member of the Trust's staff turned up with his chain saw and we were able to slice up and remove the trunk of a fallen tree that was hampering our efforts. This enabled us to see the big picture of an extremely well build stone structure - probably square  and note arrangements for flooring (at least two periods) and draining the structure. At the moment I'm going to stick with the idea that this was both a conduit house which tapped the natural spring but could have been a cold bath too.

Huge thanks to all the volunteers and especially the team who went back in the rain on Friday afternoon to fill in the big test pit. There's so much to look forward to later in the summer.



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The last morning and work starts to assess the limits of the structure now known as 'The Conduit' a process helped by the removal of the fallen tree.




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After the logs have been rolled away the clean up starts.   Managing spoil could be a big issue, everything is moved up slope and stacked out of the way.




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The down stream wall plus drainage channel.




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The walling in the north west corner and a general view across the site looking south.




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Goodbye to it all, the site as left hopefully pending our return in July.




I was back for just one day later in May to take a look at the floor in the pump house. Scaffolding had gone up around the structure but I was mainly concerned with what was going on inside. With marvelous assistance from the contractor we were able to shift at least a tonne of assorted debris, all of it in buckets and up a ladder, before I cleaned by hand and then recorded a variety of different flooring 'episodes'. Once this was done the additional props and scaffolding needed for the next stage of the work could go in.



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The pump house from the north encased in scaffolding/



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the interior, a nightmare to photograph on account of the uneven light and shade but with a variety of flooring materials and surfaces





And so onto July.


As planned week one began on the site of the Conduit
here are the daily reports:

DAY 1

Arriving around midday we were able to join some of the volunteers for lunch before heading down to the valley. Birch Brothers were there waiting for their welfare facilities to be delivered. Our team of volunteers made an excellent start clearing the undergrowth and beginning to remove turf and top soil and large amounts of rubble especially from the south wall of the building. Early days yet so several options remain open regarding the nature of the structure. The big issue will be the continuing question of what to do with the spoil, lots of carrying material up the slope to dump it. Anyway we have the area cleared and marked out and are set to press on tomorrow. There is an issue, we really need to remove a small ash tree growing in the south west corner, perhaps we can get Jason to look at it.




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Before we started we visited some old haunts to examine the work being done on the grotto and the finished work on the cascade.



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Everyone sets to work with a will on a preliminary clearance of the site. On the west side tree roots are exposed plus an opening which may have brought in the original piped supply of spring water to the pool.




DAY 2

Sarah and I started the day up at the summer house where we weeded and swept, tidying up the monument before roping it off. Back at the Conduit work was facilitated no end by Jason popping up to fell a small sickly ash tree and then by David slicing it up and Malcolm helping clear the timber. Sarah and Viviana then excavated what looks like a later drain and perimeter wall whilst levels within the walled area were progressively reduced as buckets of soil and rubble were hauled away. Midway through the afternoon Ian uncovered the edge of a deep central pool surrounded by a paved walkway about 65cm wide. A little later excavations within the south east corner revealed the remains of what looked like slate paving, all enormously interesting. Results tomorrow should be really spectacular.

I also monitored the work done down at dam 7 where the concrete barrier was broken out. At the end of the day I recorded a rather uninteresting profile through the dam.


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The steps and summer house site slightly overgrown and half an hour later tidied up.





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Viviana investigates a curious arrangement of bricks and stone 'upstream which turns out to be a drain whilst below, with tree cut down the roots a teased out from the wall.





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A partial section through dam 7 not especially informative as we are well above the level of the stonework to the east.



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Thanks to Ian's efforts the extent of the walkway and the edge of the central pool start to become clear.




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Whilst in the south east corner for a moment I think we have slate paving... we haven't.


DAY 3

A terrific effort from all concerned today. The morning was devoted to excavating the top of the south wall but then after that it was all hands to the inside and the shifting of huge quantities of brick and rubble. We set up a really efficient system for filling buckets and removing spoil. As a result we now have exposed around two thirds of the peripheral walkway and about half the perimeter of the central pool. Tomorrow we shall hopefully complete the uncovering of the full extent of the pool which is looking pretty square. The surrounding wall is now standing to a height of 1.2m in places.







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John, David, Fran and Ian hurl themselves at the south wall whilst Sarah makes a start on drawing in the north west corner... sigh.




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Work is really proceeding well with the limits of the perimeter wall now clear right round the site.  By the end of the day we are close to seeing the whole walkway.

DAY 4

Down to the pump house first thing to take a closer look at the current state of the inside. The scaffolding will certainly help with access for some of the drawings although it is rather in the way when it comes to making a photographic record. Essentially this means we'll be quite happy to get on with the work next week without any further input from the contractors.

Recording was started in earnest on the Conduit or plunge bath as we should perhaps now call it. The site plan is well underway and profiles and elevations completed. There’s still plenty of drawing to do but we aim to have the bulk of it done by lunchtime tomorrow when we depart for the weekend. Our heroic crew of volunteers: Fran, David and John really worked hard on the rather thankless task of clearing an increasingly sticky mass of fallen brick and rubble to the point where we now have the entire perimeter wall and walkway uncovered and have started to excavate the pool itself. I’m hoping to at least see the bottom tomorrow which I guess will give us a pool somewhere between 1 and 1.5m deep.



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By lunchtime we had the sides all clear and were able to concentrate on the central pool and here is the site at the end of the day. Note the overflow channel in the middle of the east side.




DAY 5

So we did not get down to bottom this morning despite everyone's best efforts, still it leaves us well poised for next week.  A few things remain concerning about the site. Firstly apart from the tile and brick along the east side in what quite frankly looks like a bit of a repair job, we have no evidence to date the structure. Take that away and you could be looking at a well preserved Roman monument! Then there is the question of its function. Cold bath / plunge pool remains the favourite although there is the issue of the naming of the site as 'conduit'. If this was simply an elaborate arrangement to collect spring water the question is what was then done with it? Should we be concerned that the tank does not have a waterproof lining?

Next week will certainly see the excavation of the tank completed and although finds have not been particularly common there are certainly exciting possibilities as we reach the bottom. We will then see what mechanism existed for draining the pool nd hopefully we will  be able to dig outside the east wall and uncover the outlet channel. there will be more work to do up stream to examine the water supply to the site plus the possibility exists that there may be other structures in the vicinity which we will need to identify.



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A busy scene as the pool is cleared with Clive and Joan hands on with Julie working the bucket chain and the recording continues apace and here is the pool with three or four courses of walling at close of play on Friday.




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The classic before and after photos,  the view looking north east from the start of the week to the end.




DAY 6

Starting once more at lunchtime on Monday we continued recording the stone walling with elevation drawings. The volunteers again did sterling service: Ian, David, Clive and particularly Joan worked with a will to lower the levels of rubble within the central pool. This paid off as we uncovered an additional step in brick round the north, east and west sides as well as the site of the outflowing drain. Especially exciting was the discovery at the foot of the west wall of the incoming supply in a lead pipe still flowing with crystal clear spring water!  Beyond the pool, down stream, we removed quantities of rubble to ensure a ready flow of water out of the site.

To the north of the main structure Sarah and I worked on the incoming drain and the separate largely collapsed retaining wall excavating a new stretch and drawing the western most part. Late in the afternoon we undertook a quick inspection of the on-going work on dam 7 photographing a newly exposed section on the north side as well as examining other spring locations further up the valley.





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A fresh start on Monday afternoon with the main focus on reducing levels within the central tank and of course recording. Much time is spent pondering the mysteries of water flow




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By the end of the day, a new discovery the brick step plus the first sight of the in-coming lead pipe and its gushing supply




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Just to prove we have poetry in our souls we made a late afternoon excursion to Croft Ambrey, the Iron Age hill fort, to admire the ramparts but mainly collect interesting trees.






DAY 7

The first couple of hours were spent in surveying the fabric of the pump house itself together with the wheel pit and the timbers that carried the wheel and associated gearing. We met with the contractor on site and agreed that our phase of the recording work would be completed by the end of the week .

Back up at the conduit work continued to remove the rubble fill from the central pool. From this point onwards excavation was essentially carried out by touch under water. A particularly significant find was a large piece of folded lead sheet that looked as if it had been used to cap a post or possibly a pyramidical roof. At one stage the outlet became blocked and the pool rapidly refilled until Malcolm managed to clear it. The gush of water downstream was quite impressive. Beyond the east wall Ian, Julie and Malcolm deepened the channel but more importantly began examining the outer face and foundation of the east wall. Sarah who had spent the morning excavating the next stretch of the northern retaining wall moved on to work on elevations whilst I completed the plan of the walkway.

Meanwhile John and Fran had made a start on investigating the area ‘up stream’ beyond the north west corner of the pool. A series of features, largely in a state of collapse, were identified including a couple of additional drains and a possible pitched stone surface.

We were able to welcome several visitors to the site and those who brought dough nuts were especially welcome. I had been in correspondence with Julian Munby, head of buildings archaeology at Oxford Archaeology and he was able to cite a number of similar structures in and around Oxfordshire with a ledge around the sides of the central pool which were without a doubt conduit houses and this rather sways opinion away from a plunge pool towards a structure connected with the water supply which is by the way excellent, I sampled it this morning.





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Pondering the next steps in excavating the central tank and later that day the place is a hive of activity.




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Unfortunately as the levels decreased the waters kept on rising, even so we were able to recover a particularly significant sheet of lead, now awaiting further study




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Just when we thought we would have to give it up Malcolm managed to wiggle a ranging pole in a rather mysterious way and the waters came pouring out.




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The waters empty tied away, for now, so the full extent of the brick step could be seen. John and Fran turn their backs on mud and work up the valley.




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The aftermath, not exactly washing but certainly something hung out to dry. 




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The conduit house at Wick Farm, Barton, Oxfordshire (Thanks to Julian Munby for the photo) and the same at Chipping Campden, the exterior and the inner tank.



DAY 8

Back again for a couple of hours into the gloom of the pump house to carry on with the intensive business of measuring and drawing the surviving machinery and then after a quick burst of work up at the Conduit alongside the volunteers we all had to retreat to a safe distance whilst Louis, under Jason's supervision, took down a Wych Elm that was growing almost immediately above the west wall of the building, it had to go. Once cleared, and further thanks to John for shifting all the trimmed off branches, we could resume work. This resulted in the second significant find of the excavation a splendidly engineered combined filter and plug all made in lead. We were carrying on working underwater and excavating pretty well blind to remove fallen roof slates, stone and brick. Another stunning effort, again, especially by Joan and Clive.

By the end of the day we had probably pulled out enough material to bring us within striking distance of the bottom... or so we thought. Efforts had continued apace, particularly on the part of Ian to deepen the out-flowing channel to reduce water levels in the tank. Unfortunately the deeper we dug the further down stream the channel had to be cut. Finally after having made several measurements we concluded that we just wouldn't be able to to go any further with this particular epic struggle. Meanwhile efforts were made to work up the small valley to the north west in order to make sense of the jumble of stone and brick up that end, no sense to it yet
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In the depths of the pump house, full PPE gear. A slightly more casual look, apart from Joan's water proof trousers, as we watch trees get cut down.




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... and here it goes, Louis in action.




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Back in the tank Joan is delighted as the lead filter comes out.



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Intensive work at one point to lower levels by bucketing, it worked up to a point but then re flooded.




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... and the fruits of another post-dig archaeological excursion, the view from Wigmore Castle.






DAY 9

On the previous day the contractors had partly removed the roof to the pump house letting in for the first time for some time some much needed light. This speeded up our job no end and we were pretty well able to complete the planning and photography in the first couple of hours of the day. Back up at the Conduit we were joined by Janine who was up for a serious day of digging plus later in the day the arrival of Imogen with a whole crowd of visitors around for a conference but down to see the sights.

Work concentrated on the area to the north and west of the building with a degree of clarity being achieved in the sense that it was pretty obvious that we were looking at an area that had been subject to repeated attempts at drainage followed by occasional catastrophic episodes of flooding with the consequent destruction. One very remarkable discovery involved the excavation of few stones by Anita and Fran just down from the north east corner of the building which turned into a complete collapsed corner from the original structure. Down in the tank a determined effort was made to reach the bottom. This involved almost complete immersion in order to reach down deep enough to lift out the accumulated rubble and mud. It became clear after a little probing that we may have hit bottom by 'digging' in just a small area in the south east corner but this was at a depth of nearly 1.10m below current water levels. Reluctantly we decided there was no future in pursuing this until we could reliably drain the tank and keep it dry, perhaps a task for next year?






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The roof is off the light is in. A view looking down into the pump house.




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Sarah could get on with her measuring without a torch, three cheers.



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Up top we arrived to see a clear pool of water gently rippled by the incoming spring, an attractive setting to sit down and draw stones.




DAY 10

The last day began with the much feared call to 'clean for photography' so Ali, Julie and Ian got to grips with removing trampled topsoil, fallen twigs and above all roots whilst Sarah and I finished off the drawing and then started to clean the walls and interior  of the building ready for  a whole load of photographs. Unfortunately the lighting conditions with strong areas of light and shadow were not great until just after we had cleared up and were ready to go at which point I scooted back down and took more.

The site was left open with a touch of orange barrier fencing just to warn walkers away. Plenty still to think about regarding the site's future, with finds, conservation/preservation. removal of spoil and future excavations all still on the agenda.






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After cleaning, the view up the valley from pitched stone surfaces to white clay via brick drains.




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The fallen corner with the full structure in the background. The site sealed off until next time.






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The ultimate before and after photo, May to July 2019