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Theatres and Halls in Newport, South Wales

Victoria Theatre / Lyceum Theatre / ABC Cinema - Empire Theatre - New Theatre / Gaiety Theatre - Evans Concert Hall - People's Concert Hall - Star Music Hall - Prince of Wales Theatre - Little Theatre

 

The Lyceum Theatre, 66 Bridge Street, Newport

Formerly - The Victoria Theatre - Later - ABC Cinema / City Cinema

The Victoria Theatre, Newport after the fire of 1896 - Courtesy Ann Allen.

Above - The Victoria Theatre, Newport after the fire of 1896 - Courtesy Ann Allen whose Great Grandparents, Francis and Phoebe Matthews, owned and ran the Queen's Hotel opposite the Theatre. The Theatre was rebuilt internally after the fire and reopened as the Lyceum Theatre the following year, 1897.

Programme for 'The Hypocrites' Monday February 17th, 1908 at the Lyceum Theatre, NewportThe Lyceum Theatre on Bridge Street, Newport was built in 1896 and opened in October 1897. It was constructed from the remains of the former Victoria Hall, later the Victoria Theatre, which had opened some 20 years earlier in 1876. The Victoria Theatre was built for Henry Pearce Bolt, the Mayor of Newport, but was destroyed by a fire on the morning of Wednesday the 27th/28th of May 1896. The fire broke out at 1am after the audience had gone home after seeing a production of John Wainwright's Company in 'It's Never Too Late.' The Company lost their scenery and effects in the fire.

The Lyceum Theatre was built by Mr. Councillor Linton for the Manager, Clarence Sounes, and constructed at a cost of £20,000 within the exterior walls of the former Victoria Theatre. Linton would also go on to construct the Empire Theatre, Newport in 1899. The new Lyceum Theatre was designed by the well known Theatre architect W. G. R. Sprague, and opened on Monday the 4th of October 1897 with a production of 'The Geisha' with Alice Percival playing the leading part and also singing the National Anthem before the play began.

Right - A Programme for 'The Hypocrites' on Monday February 17th, 1908 at the Lyceum Theatre, Newport.

The Lyceum's auditorium was designed in the Renaissance style in cream and gold, with draperies of peacock blue, and consisted of stalls and pit, dress circle, balcony, gallery, and boxes, and could accommodate some 1,250 people.

The ERA printed a report on the new Theatre in their 9th of October 1897 edition saying: 'Twelve months ago last May the old Victoria Theatre was completely gutted by a fire which broke out late at night, only the exterior walls and massive columns being left standing. For a considerable time negotiations for the erection of a new building proceeded, but ultimately the site and ruins of the old building were acquired by Mr Clarence Sounes, lessee and manager of the Grand Theatre, Cardiff; Queen's Theatre, Birmingham; and Theatre Royal, Aldershot...

 

An Early Postcard view of the Lyceum Theatre and Queen's Hotel, Newport - Courtesy Ann Allen whose Great Grandparents, Francis and Phoebe Matthews, owned and ran the Queen's Hotel opposite the Theatre.

Above - An Early Postcard view of the Lyceum Theatre and Queen's Hotel, Newport - Courtesy Ann Allen whose Great Grandparents, Francis and Phoebe Matthews, owned and ran the Queen's Hotel opposite the Theatre.

...Mr Sounes determined from the outset that the new theatre should hold a place amongst the best in the kingdom, and he commissioned Mr W. R. Sprague, the well known theatrical architect, to prepare plans for a new building, Upon examination, it was found that the walls and columns of the old building had not been weakened by the fire, and that they might therefore be used in the construction of the new building. This the architect recommended should be done, so that the handsome exterior of the old Victoria Theatre might be preserved. When the plans came before the Works Committee of the Newport Corporation, they were submitted to the borough engineer, who, after a thorough inspection of them and the ruins, recommended their adoption, subject to certain modifications, the chief of which was the erection of a retaining wall inside the walls then standing, with cross-stays, to prevent any danger of the old walls giving away. The plans were amended to meet the requirements of the borough engineer in this and other respects, and, finally, the contract for the new building was given to Mr John Linton, of Newport. The contractor took the building in hand only five months ago, and has now practically completed it. After removing the old ruins he had to excavate and underpin the walls, erect the retaining walls of sufficient strength to meet the Corporation's requirements, and then proceed with the construction of the theatre proper. From the day the work was commenced it has been continued without interruption, without difficulty, and without any accident of any sort.

A Programme for 'The Hypocrites' on Monday February 17th, 1908 at the Lyceum Theatre, Newport.A Programme for 'The Hypocrites' on Monday February 17th, 1908 at the Lyceum Theatre, Newport.The new theatre is a vast improvement upon the old one. The whole of the auditorium is constructed of iron and concrete, the only woodwork that could possibly burn being the doors, the fittings, and the seating, while the wood floors are laid upon solid coke breeze concrete.

Left and Right - A Programme for 'The Hypocrites' on Monday February 17th, 1908 at the Lyceum Theatre, Newport.

The stage has been so constructed that the chances of fire reaching the flies, scenery, &c., are very remote indeed, while, as an additional guard against the very improbable outbreak, a fireproof curtain, constructed of asbestos and iron, has been provided, which can be lowered in four seconds. In addition to this, the doors communicating with the auditorium and the stage are of solid iron, while the roof is of asphalt on concrete. The management has provided exceptionally ample means of egress. There are six exit doors from the stalls and pit alone, and special exits from the dress-circle, balcony, and gallery, while the stage itself has three separate exits. It is estimated that in case of a panic the building could be emptied in three or four minutes. The provision of fire hydrants has not been omitted, the building having been fitted throughout with this useful apparatus by Messrs Merryweather, of London.

The pit floor is some 2ft. below the level of the roadway, and the fall of the pit to the stage is about another 4ft., so that occupants of seats on the ground floor, on leaving the building, will ascend a few steps to the street, instead of descending a long flight as in the case of the old theatre. The arrangement of entrances, as in the case of everything else, differs from the old Victoria. The entrances to the stalls, dress-circle, and balcony saloon are from Station-street, and to the pit and gallery from Bridge-street. There are three separate entrances from Station-street, over the chief of which is to be placed a graceful portico of iron and glass. From the ground level a flight of broad steps leads to the entrance vestibule, from which is entered the grand crush-room, the ceiling of which is panelled out and the whole decorated in most elaborate style. The dress circle is reached by two corridors from a marble staircase leading from the centre of this room, whilst the entrance to the stalls is on the right-hand side, and that to the balcony on the left. The dress circle and balcony saloon open out on to a large balcony over the portico, to be used as a smoking lounge. In addition to this, there is an outside promenade for smokers on the balcony overlooking Station-street, a balcony which existed in the case of the former theatre, but was never used. The seating in the dress circle consists of tip-up chairs of mahogany and rich peacock blue cushions. At the back of the circle are six boxes with separate entrances from the promenade, at the rear of which is the refreshment bar. This bar is for the exclusive use of occupants of the boxes and circle, but the other parts of the house will have no cause for complaint, seeing that there is a separate bar on every floor for stalls, pit, and gallery. In addition to these, there are elaborately-fitted ladies' and gentlemen's lavatories on every floor. From the level of the circle, a stairway leads to the floor on which are Mr Sounes's private office and other rooms...

Programme for 'The Hypocrites' Monday February 17th, 1908 at the Lyceum Theatre, Newport

Above - A Programme for 'The Hypocrites' on Monday February 17th, 1908 at the Lyceum Theatre, Newport.

...In addition to the six boxes at the rear of the dress-circle, there are two larger ones on either side of the proscenium. The orchestra stalls will be fitted in the same style as the dress-circle, and will have separate entrance and exit from the pit. The latter is most comfortably and conveniently arranged, and pittites in particular will be glad to learn that one of the most striking features of the auditorium is that it is built mainly on the cantilever principle, there being only two small iron columns in the whole of the interior. The top balcony, commonly called the gallery, will be found most accommodating and comfortable, and from every part commands a view of the stage.

The decorations and fittings are on a handsome scale. The Renaissance style of decoration has been adopted throughout, the prevailing tints being cream and gold, while the large dome, which is 65ft. above the level of the pit, and has seven sunlight gas burners for emergency purposes, has been beautifully painted with Cupids representing the arts. The proscenium and balconies have also been finished with open scroll work and figures. All the draperies are of peacock blue, and the saloons and lounge are handsomely treated in a style similar to that of the crush-room, with rich ornamental and decorated ceilings, and the wails panelled out with silk tapestries and mirrors.

Although gas burners have been provided throughout the building, the theatre will be lighted by electricity. The chandeliers are of handsome design, and add to the attractive appearance of the interior. The building will be heated on the hot-water system. In the daytime ample light is supplied through large lanterns over the gallery and stage, and by means of lead light windows over the doors and in the walls, of decorative design. The old flight of iron steps, which formerly led to the stage, has been abolished, and in its place is a stone stairway, which will be used only as an exit from the dress-circle and balcony when necessary. The actors will reach the stage by means of a covered way running alongside, and on a level with, the pit floor.

The stage itself is of great size, and will give ample room for extensive scenery and effects. It is no less than 72ft. in height. There are ten dressing-rooms for the use of the performers. Under the stage is the band-room, with accommodation for the players' instruments. The orchestra will be seated in a gap of considerable width between the footlights and the orchestra stalls, and will be on a level much lower than that on which the occupants of the stalls will be seated. The entire accommodation of the building is for about 1,250 people, and the total cost is somewhere about £20,000. The excellent design of Mr Sprague and the admirable work of Mr Linton have been well backed up by Messrs A. R. Dean and Co.'s furnishing and upholstery.'

The above (edited) text in quotes was first published in the ERA, 9th of October 1897 .

 

A postcard showing the Queen's Hotel and the Lyceum Theatre, Newport The Queens Hotel, Newport today

Above Left - A postcard showing the Queen's Hotel and part of the Lyceum Theatre, Newport - And Right - A Google StreetView Image of the same view today - Click to Interact.

The Lyceum Theatre was demolished in 1967 to make way for the building of a new Cinema by ABC which cost £250,000 to build and opened on the 28th of November 1968 with a showing of 'Half a Sixpence' starring Tommy Steele. The Cinema seated 1,320 people in a stadium style auditorium and was at the time the largest Cinema in Wales.

The Cinema was tripled in the 1970s and later taken over by an independent and reamed the City Cinema, which itself closed on the 3rd of April 2008.

Right - A Video celebrating the ABC Cinema, by Newport students.

The Cinema was then converted into an hotel and the site's long entertainment history, stretching way back to 1876, was finally at an end.

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The Empire Palace of Varieties, Charles Street, and Talbot Lane, Newport

Formerly - The Gaiety Theatre / The New Theatre

The Empire Theatre on Charles Street and Talbot Lane, Newport, was built for Oswald Stoll by the contractors Jno. Linton of Newport, who also constructed the Lyceum Theatre two years earlier. The Empire was designed by the renowned Theatre architect Frank Matcham with a capacity of some 2,500 people and was managed by J. T. Tetlow on its opening on the 3rd of July 1899. The Theatre was actually a rebuild of the former New Theatre on the same site, also managed by Tetlow in its later years. There is more on the New Theatre below.

The ERA reported on the opening of the Empire in their 8th of July 1899 saying: 'The long-looked-for reopening of this palatial palace of varieties came off amid much enthusiasm on Monday evening, and, judging by the interest taken in the affair, the new Empire bids fair to even outstrip the popularity of the old house, which was in many ways a most inconvenient structure.

The new one is in all respects one of the finest places of amusement to be seen in the provinces. The site of the former building has, of course, been utilised, but it has been greatly extended by the acquisition of six shops in Charles-street, so that the new hall extends from the Talbot Hotel to Tallbot-lane. It has a frontage of 120ft. to Charles-street, with a return frontage of 80ft. to Talbot-lane. The façade is of St. Julian bricks with Bath stone dressings. It is ornamented with busts and designs representing Comedy and Drama, and niches with handsome vases, the central portion running up to a height of 70f t. For illuminating at night there are four arc electric lamps in front. Over the main entrance is an iron and stained glass shelter of pretty design, which lends attractiveness to the front by the large number of electric lamps fitted thereto.

The main vestibule has a handsome mosaic floor and walls, and the mahogany entrance doors have cut-glass panels. The grand staircase - a very wide one - gives easy access to the grand circle. In the foyer is a fine glass screen, and a striking architectural feature is the shape of a column supporting two arches. Immediately to the right is the grand circle waiting-room, 22ft. by 15ft., which is fitted with velvet lounges. Another short flight of stairs leads to a landing in which are more lounges. The crush-room has a beautiful fibrous plaster ceiling, and is covered with a Wilton carpet. The circle itself has a fine broad sweep, and it might here be remarked that the hall, being built on the cantilever principle - there being only two columns (in the pit) in the whole house - a full and uninterrupted view of the stage is obtained from all parts. In the circle, which is carpeted in the finest Brussels, there are six rows of tip-up chairs, upholstered in terra-cotta velvet. The boxes are six in number, and over each is an electric lamp, and the fronts are richly draped. Brackets of electric lamps hang here and there along the front, the walls are of peacock green, and the circle has entrances and exits distinct from other parts of the house. The entrance to the stalls is over the main approach. It has a waiting-room fitted with lounges, and richly carpeted, and, like the grand circle, has separate exits. The seating consists of tip-up chairs upholstered in velvet. The pit has a fine rake. The orchestra is divided from the stalls by a mahogany railing of pretty design, having brass mountings and being prettily draped. Divided from the stalls by a stout barrier is the pit, to which access is gained through a separate door. It likewise possesses a waiting-room and three separate exits. The pit seats are also upholstered, and at the back is a commodious lounge. The entrance to the balcony and gallery is separate from those leading to other parts. The balcony has six rows of upholstered seats, and the floor is carpeted. Behind this is the gallery, which is as comfortable as one would desire.

The stage has an opening of 29ft., height of 29ft, and depth of 35ft., the height to grid being ,50ft., and any scene can he lifted bodily to the top and not rolled. Above the flies, at a height of another 20ft., is a glass dome on the roof. A fine asbestos fireproof curtain comes down flush with the proscenium uprights, and it has the advantage of a water-sprinkler at the top. All electric and gas lights have been protected so as to make an accident well-nigh impossible. Seven new sets of scenery have been specially painted by Messrs Fox and Barry, and the front of the fire-proof curtain is embellished with a fine representation of the rising sun. The heavy tableau curtains are of terra-cotta embroidered velvet, with hangings to match.

In the roof, immediately over the stalls, is a glass dome which gives ample light in the day time, and attached to this is a sliding roof to give additional ventilation at night. Another dome (a third in the building) surmounts the gallery. The ceiling surrounding the central dome is also dome-shaped, and is very handsomely decorated in gold of Oriental design with Oriental symbols of Music and the Arts. The cornices are in the same style, and the side walls are in harmony with the whole. On either side of the proscenium is a panel upon which are painted artistic figures. Hydrants are provided in every part with complete appliances and automatic couplings. The electroliers are of handsome design, and in all parts of the hall the fittings are not only arranged with taste, but in such a way as to give added beauty to the decorations. The seating accommodation is for 2,500.

The contractor is Mr Jno. Linton, Newport, and the architect Mr Frank Matcham. The Empire Palace Company, with their enterprising and energetic managing director, Mr 0. Stoll, deserve hearty congratulations on having provided such a handsome building for Newport. The house will be managed by Mr J. T. Tetlow, who was in charge of the old building. The orchestra of fourteen will be conducted by the former leader, Mr J. H. Cartinel.'

The above (edited) text in quotes was first published in the ERA on the 8th of July 1899.

The Empire Theatre was destroyed by fire in 1942 and subsequently demolished.

Arthur Lloyd is known to have performed at the Empire, Newport on March the 10th 1900.

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The New Theatre, Charles Street and Talbot Lane, Newport

Formerly - The Gaiety Theatre - Later - The Empire Theatre

A sketch of the New Theatre, Newport - From the Newport Western Mail, 20th of February 1888

Above - A sketch of the New Theatre, Newport - From the Newport Western Mail, 20th of February 1888

The New Theatre, on Charles Street and Talbot Lane, Newport was built by the contractor W. Blackburn of Newport for David Humphreys, who had previously been running the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1881. The Theatre was designed by the architect W. Gardner and opened on Monday the 27th of February 1888 with a production of the play 'Follies of the Day'. The Theatre's exterior was designed in the Renaissance style and the building was constructed on the site of the former Gaiety Theatre.

The Newport Western Mail reported on the imminent opening of the New Theatre in their 20th of February 1888 edition saying: 'There is now rapidly approaching completion and the opening will take piece on February 27, a new theatre for the playgoers of Newport. The new structure has been built for Mr. D. E. Humphreys on the site of the old Gaiety Theatre in Charles-street and, when finished, will have a very imposing facade in the Renaissance style of architecture. The principal entrance, 22ft. in width, is situate in the centre of the block of buildings, facing the street. It has two fine door-ways opening into lofty and spacious vestibules that afford entrance for the audience to the stalls, pit, balcony, and gallery. There is a separate exit to the pit and an extra entrance to the gallery by means of two flights of stone steps, starting in the adjoining lane at a distance of 35ft. from the building. The stage entrance adjoins the Talbot Hotel, together with a passage 5ft. wide communicating with the stage and dressing-rooms. The entrances to the auditorium are exceptionally wide and spacious, giving 42ft. lineal of door opening. Adjoining the vestibules are the lobbies, forming entrances to the pit and stalls, and containing the stairs to the balcony and gallery, which are constructed with solid stone steps, 4ft. 10in. wide, in easy flights. It is hardly possible with such wide and well-balanced stairs and passages that the audience can ever be stopped for any length of time when leaving the house. There are, of course, the usual crush room, retiring-rooms, and lobby for balcony, office and ticket-box.

The theatre comprises four rows of stalls and a spacious pit on the street level; three rows of seats in the balcony, and ten rows in the gallery. The lines of these are arranged to give a clear and distinct view of the stage. A wide passage is constructed round the auditorium on each tier, giving access to both sides of the seats. The proscenium wail is built of masonry to the height of 3ft. 6in. above the stage roof. The opening is finished with pilasters and caps in two tiers, surmounted by a cornice and an enriched sofit in fibrous plaster, which is coated with asbestos fire-proof paint, and decorated in blue, white, and gold, on a pink ground. The fibrous plaster is virtually fire-proof, and is specified by the Metropolitan Board of Works as the covering for all iron and wood work in the public buildings under their control. It has also received the approval of the best architects of the day.

The ceiling over the stalls is domed in the centre, and finished with cornices and cartonpierre enrichments. A large gas sunlight is fixed under the crown of the dome for occasional use. Arrangements are made on a large scale for ventilation„ and places for retiring are provided for each tier. The stage has a more than usual width, and the cellar beneath is very lofty. The dressing-rooms are fitted up in the latest style and built entirely outside of the main walls of the theatre, adjoining the passage from the stage entrance. Wrought iron fire-proof doors are fixed in the openings from the auditorium to the stage and from the stage to the entrance passage.

The general tone of decoration is pink, white, blue, and gold. Rich colour will be derived from the curtain and coverings of the seats, which will be of crimson plush. A complete system of fire hydrants, supplied with water from the main, is fitted on the stage, and there is ample precaution its the other parts of the house. The electric light will be used for lighting the theatre throughout. Magnificent forest scenes and Landscapes are being painted for the opening by Mr. Wyatt, scenic artist of the Grand Theatre, Birmingham, who is generally admired for the truth and beauty of his colouring and that gradation of tone which so closely resembles Nature. The contract for building has been carried out by Mr. W. Blackburn, of Newport, from designs and under the supervision of Mr. W. Gardner, architect.'

The above text in quotes was first published in the Newport Western Mail, 20th of February 1888.

The New Theatre was rebuilt in 1899 and reopened as the Empire Palace of Varieties in July that year.

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Evans Concert Hall of Varieties, Newport

Evans Concert Hall of Varieties was a Music Hall in business in Newport in the 1870s and run by Edward Evans. The Hall was destroyed by fire on the 11th of January 1876 but was rebuilt in the space of three months and then reopened on the 17th of April the same year. The ERA reported on the opening in their 23rd of April edition saying: 'On Monday last this new Concert hall was opened to the public, and an audience assembled that packed the building from floor to ceiling. When a few months ago the Hall which formerly occupied this site was gutted by a devastating fire, the Proprietor determined that the new Hall should be a building worthy the pretensions of a place of public amusement, and right well has he carried out such determination. The Hall as it now stands is indeed a perfect little palace. The whole of the ground floor is filled with chairs, and is adapted to accomodate about 400 persons. On the next storey are the balconies and promenades, designed in horse-shoe shape, and fitted up with everything calculated to add to the ease and enjoyment of its patrons. Above this again is the large gallery, specially adapted for the "gods," and built to seat between 500 and 600. The sitting room afforded in the whole building is thus for about 1,400 persons.

The Hall is capitally lighted, the fittings are in blue and gold, and the tout ensemble is pleasing in the extreme. The painting and decorations (under the personal supervision of Mr W. H. Brown, of Hull) are of an elaborate nature, and reflect great credit upon his skill and judgment. The stage arrangements are very complete, and leave nothing to be desired. The Hall has been built by Mr Thomas, a Newport tradesman, and the cost has exceeded £2,000. On the occasion of our visit we found the stage in the possession of Mr Will. Vale, a capital comic, and, judging from the plaudits bestowed upon him, he has succeeded in gauging the tastes of his audience. Miss Annie Adelaide has made a palpable hit here. Possessing a handsome countenance, a rich and musical voice, and a charming degree of chic, it is no wonder she has achieved such a sterling success. Her songs were all received with hearty and ringing cheers. The daring feats of Messrs Colmar and De Vere (a pair of rapidly rising athletes) also received warm marks of appreciation. The Sisters Leglere were veer successful in their ducts and sketches, and proved themselves thorough adepts in their Terpsichorean exercises. Mr Thomas Hartley (Negro comedian) made himself amusing in the extreme, and what he lacked in vocal abilities he made up for in the free use he made of his legs and feet. Mr Roselle wielded his "baton of office" with his usual judgment, and the whole entertainment went off as "merry as a marriage-bell,"

The above text in quotes was first published in the ERA on the 23rd of April 1876.

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The People's Concert Hall, Newport

The People's Concert Hall was a Music Hall in business in the 1870s and its proprietors were B. and A. King.

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Star Music Hall, Cross Street, Newport

The Star Music Hall was situated on Cross Street, Newport and opened in late 1880. Its proprietor was H Tunstall and the Manager was Arthur Leslie. The ERA reported on the Star Music Hall's opening in their 7th of November 1880 edition saying: 'This building has recently been opened by Mr. Tunstall, and so far has received a tolerable amount of patronage. The week's company contains the names of Will Langley, Arthur Leslio, Algie and Mento, Miss Ophelia Powell, amd Miss Marie Tabra, and they have become exceedingly popular.'

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The Prince of Wales Theatre, Newport

The Prince of Wales Theatre was run by Edward Evans in the late 1870s, Evans had previously been running his own music hall in Newport; Evans Concert Hall. It seems the Prince of Wales Theatre was sometimes run as a drama house and sometimes a Music Hall. Drama however doesn't appear to have done very well there, a report in the ERA of the 11th of May 1879 states: 'After a brief space of two weeks' successful variety business the boards here are again occupied by the representatives of the Drama, and the receipts have sunk to zero.'

The Prince of Wales Theatre was later run by David Humphreys who spent a 'large sum of money' on improving and renovating the Theatre in June 1881. When Humphreys applied for the transfer of the licence from Edward Evans there was a lot of local opposition from the religious fraternity and such like but the licence was nonetheless granted. The Theatre reopened under Humphreys management on Monday the 6th of June 1881 with the National Grand Opera Company's production of Donizetti's opera 'Lucrezia Borgia' and Dibdin's operetta 'The Waterman.' Both of which were well received.

David Humphreys would go on to run the New Theatre, Newport in 1888.

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The Little Theatre, Newport

The Little Theatre, Newport was built in 1937 and demolished 1966.

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Archive newspaper reports on this page were kindly collated and sent in for inclusion by B. F.

 

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