A Walk around the historic St Mary’s Church

St Mary's Church - Cannon Street

St Mary’s Church – Cannon Street

During the summer months, members of St. Mary’s Church, Cannon Street, are available most mornings to show people round the ancient building. It is a living place of worship yet the historic artifacts are laid out in such a way that some commercial edifices could learn a lesson or two. The history of the Church is subject of a separate story; suffice to say it is Church of England and was built on the floor of a Roman building during Saxon times. The stone arch, supporting the east wall of the tower is typically Saxon and was probably a semi-circle but the weight of the tower has flattened it. This can be best seen from the nave. The tower is of Norman origin and built over a period of time, the lower two stages, circa 1100 AD or earlier, and three upper stages, circa 1150 AD.

In 1843 St Mary’s was virtually gutted and rebuilt such that the ancient memorials to locals that line the walls at the east end, bare no relation to when and where in the church they were originally erected and likewise with the carved paving slabs on the floor. Following World War II (1939-1945) what was left of the stained glass windows were reinstalled and since then the blank ones have slowly been replaced with newly dedicated stained glass. It is these, the adjacent memorials and the ancient family memorials that give a fascinating insight into the town’s history and make  a visit to the church, for other than spiritual needs, well worthwhile.

Plaque dedicated by the Netherlands Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen following World War II

Plaque dedicated by the Netherlands Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen following World War II

Leaving the family memorials to stories relating to the individuals and going round the Church clockwise, the first memorial on the north wall is a plaque dedicated to the Netherlands Troops. This was presented by the Dutch Protestant Churches in appreciation of hospitality given to Dutch sailors by the town, between 1940 and 1947, and was dedicated on 7 May 1950. It poignantly states, ‘I was a stranger and ye took me in.’

Next, is a window dedicated to all those who served in the Air Sea Rescue and Marine Craft sections of the Royal Air Force during World War II. It was dedicated on 10 July 1980, by the then Lord Warden, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The window was designed by John Lawson and depicts an Air Sea Rescue craft going to the aid of a pilot in a rubber dinghy within sight of the German occupied cliffs of Cap Gris Nez, France. The wing tip of a Spitfire is just visible. Overhead is an R.A.F amphibian aircraft and the sky is criss-crossed with vapour trails. The crest of the Royal Air Force surmounts the scene.

Air Sea Rescue and Marine Craft sections of the Royal Air Force window

Air Sea Rescue and Marine Craft sections of the Royal Air Force window

On the wall is a notice taken from the foreword of the Air-Sea Rescue and Marine Craft book and tells us that, ‘by the time World War II was approaching its climax nearly one thousand Royal Air Force marine craft were deployed to some three hundred Units and Sections throughout the various theatres of war.’ In addition, there is the role of the four thousand RAF Sailors who commanded, crewed, and operated these crafts who were, in essence, supporting allied aircraft and the aircrews who flew them. Later they became the Marine Branch of the Royal Air Force.

Opposite is a set of memorabilia relating to Air-Sea Rescue, including a case inside which is a book listing the awards made to Air-Sea Rescue and Marine Craft personnel. The case was donated by Mrs S Banks in memory of her husband Stan Banks, BEM, awarded for bravery at Dieppe. The Dieppe Raid was carried out on the 19 August 1942 and was the biggest combined operation on the Continent following the evacuation of Dunkirk. A large force of some 6,000 infantrymen, mainly Canadians, was escorted by Allied air force contingents, Royal Navy minesweepers and destroyers and, approximately 250 ships. One of these was the Invicta – launched in 1939 and immediately conscripted. The raid was not a success. The Canadian casualties, who made up four-fifths of the attacking force, were 170 dead, 633 wounded and 2,547 missing.

Air Sea Rescue Dieppe Raid presented to MV Robrina 14.08.1942

Air Sea Rescue Dieppe Raid presented to MV Robrina 14.08.1942

There is plaque dedicated to MY Robrina, a Royal Air Force High Speed Rescue Launch 186 based at R.A.F 27 Air-Sea Rescue Marine Craft Unit, Dover. Taking part in the Dieppe Raid, her duties were to patrol the English Channel close to the Dieppe Coast for the Allied Aircraft and supporting the Commando Landings. HSL 186 was the only rescue launch to return to her base at Dover after this Raid. Two of her crew were wounded.

Above hang the colours of 22 Squadron RAF. These were laid up and presented to the Squadron at RAF St Maguan on 20 October 1960 by Air Marshal Sir Ralph Sorley, and were replaced by new colours presented by Air Chief Marshal Sir David Evans on 12 March 1978 at RAF Finningley. The Flight at Manston, one of the five detached flights around the country, provided the colour party for the laying up ceremony. The Crest and Battle Honours of the Squadron are contained in a case, together with a beautifully hand-written explanation that tells us the Squadron was formed at Gosport on 1 September 1915 during World War I (1914-1918). It then details the history up until 1981.

Beneath the window is a Lectern that was presented on behalf of Henry Strong Boyton (1831-1915), 33 years a member of the St. Mary’s choir and 31 years a sides man. Henry was involved in banking and, for many years, secretary of the Dover and East Kent Building Society founded in 1855.

St Mary's Church plan c1960 - Showing the four different periods of building. David Iron Collection

St Mary’s Church plan c1960 – Showing the four different periods of building. David Iron Collection

The next window is dedicated to the Trinity House Pilots. The origin of pilots helping ships to traverse vagaries of the Channel and its ports is lost in the mists of time. However, in 1515, Henry VIII (1509-1547) formalised the profession and created the Fellowship of the Cinque Ports Pilots or Lodesmen (meaning one who leads the way). In 1854, they became part of Trinity House but kept a separate identity. The Pilotage Act of 1987 transferred the service to competent Harbour Authorities and in October 1988, this took effect.

Throughout both World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945), Dover Pilots conducted vessels as far west as the Bristol Channel and north as the Scarpa Flow. In the run up to the D-Day landings (6 June 1944), they were involved in moving parts of Mulberry harbours and as an appreciation for all their work, the plaque bearing the Trinity House Coat of Arms, was presented. This hangs in front of the gallery at the west end of the Church. An oak tablet, adjacent to the window almost opposite in the south aisle was presented in 1949.

Near to the window is a Stuart brass and in old English it tells us that the bodies of William Jones, gentleman of Dover and his wife Katherine were buried nearby. They were happily married for 49 years and had one son and nine daughters. Katherine died on 21 December 1632 aged 72 and William on 1 June 1638 aged 75.

Above are the three Patron’s Standards – the Lord Warden, the Lord Lieutenant of Kent and the Archbishop of Canterbury. From 1536 until 1871, the parishioners retained and exercised the right of electing their minister. Reverend Puckle was chosen that way in 1842 after elections that were fiercely fought, bitter and voting lasting two days. Canon Puckle wanted to ensure that never happened again and at a meeting presided over by Dr Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury, in October 1871 it was resolved to hand over the right to select their minister to a Trust. It was suggested by Steriker Finnis that the Trust should be made up both the ecclesial and the laity and that it should be the office not the persons chosen. He went on to suggest that the Trust be made up of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and the Lord Lieutenant of Kent. The motion was carried, the incumbents agreed and formal approval was given. This agreement still stands.

However, questions have been raised as to why the Lord Lieutenant of Kent was included as a patron. Military in origin and dating from Tudor times, the office of Lord Lieutenant is responsible for maintaining order in the County, and all military measures necessary for local defence. Dover, up until recent times, was a military town and the first Lord Lieutenant of Kent was  Thomas Cheyney (c1485-1558 – executed). At the time of his appointment in 1551 he was the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (1536-1558). It has also been suggested that a number of Dover notables connected with St Mary’s Church have also been appointed as Deputy Lieutenants of Kent.

St Mary's Church - Free Pew

St Mary’s Church – Free Pew

Among the nearby pews are some proclaiming to be ‘Free‘. On 30 December 1841, St Mary’s vicar ceased to be paid by a stipend from the rates paid by households to the council. As the town’s population was expanding fast, it was decided to introduce Pew Rents so the affluent members of the town could be assured of a pew when they went to church. Free pews were available for everyone else. The reaction in the town was not quite what was expected and many of the congregation left St Mary’s for St James’ old Church as pews there were free! By 1938, it was reported that the St Mary’s Church had 1,650 sittings of which 1,200 were free.

Lady Chapel Window

Lady Chapel Window

The Lady Chapel was dedicated to the late Reverend Thomas S Frampton (died 1923) on 6 January 1928 by his wife. The window dates from 1958 and depicts on the left, King Alfred the Great, patron saint of learning. On the right, Hubert de Burgh, Constable of Dover Castle and benefactor of the Maison Dieu and the scene underneath are of monks tending the sick in the Maison Dieu. Beneath, King Alfred’s window is a scene from Dover’s first school. This was founded in 1616, when the Corporation voted £8 a year to pay St Mary’s vicar, Robert Udney, to provide free education for six poor children. The school was held in the Court Hall that once stood in Market Square, but ceased four years later when Rev. Udney moved to a new living at Hawkinge.

A recent addition to the Lady Chapel is a sculpture by Ashford artist Michael Rust who was commissioned by the Rev Dr. Michael Hinton to create a ‘joyful Mary’. Donated to the church in memory of his wife Jean, the 90cm high sculpture on a custom-made oak stand, was carved from a single block of East Kent lime wood. The carving depicts a young Jewish peasant girl ‘materially poor, but rich in spirit’, lifting the baby Jesus high, with mother and child smiling joyfully at each other.

The Great East window and represents God's providence sparing Dover more suffering during World War II

The Great East window and represents God’s providence sparing Dover more suffering during World War II

The great East window was unveiled in February 1955 by the Archbishop of Canterbury and was ‘inspired by Canon Arthur Stanley Cooper’. He was the Honorary Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, Rural Dean of Dover and Vicar of St. Mary’s 1943-1958. It represents God’s providence sparing Dover more suffering during World War II when the town earned accolade ‘Hell Fire Corner.’

The window portrays the Ascended Christ surrounded by Saints connected with the town:
Top left Virgin Mary, patron Saint of the Church.
Top right St John the Baptist.
Left, beneath the Virgin are St Richard of Chichester and St Edmund.
Right, beneath St John, St Peter and St James
Left window St Martin, Right St Nicholas
Above St Martin are the Arms of the County of Kent and of Dover. Above St Nicholas the Arms of the Cinque Ports and Dover Harbour Board, beneath, the Arms of the Trinity House Cinque Ports Pilots.
These are set over pictures of the town’s ancient buildings – the Maison Dieu, Castle, St Mary’s Church, Old St James’ Church and the White Cliffs of Dover.

The Processional Cross

The Processional Cross

In a holder attached to the first pew is a ‘Processional Cross’ made by craftsmen of Dover Harbour Board. It is of teak that came from the tugs, Lady Brassey built in 1912 and Lady Duncannon built in 1914. It was dedicated on 29 May 1949 but it was another ten years before the tugs were replaced during which time, as before, they were on continual duty. During a morning service in September 2001, a man in his 50s deliberately smashed the Cross and then ran away.

The Seafarers’ Window is on the south side of the Chancel, with laid up colours on either side. During World War II, many naval personnel worshipped in St Mary’s and when peace came, the Royal Navy made a gift of money. This, together with finance from the War Damage Commission, bought the window that was installed in 1958.

The British Railways ferry Invicta is shown with the Blue Ensign – the personal flag of Captain H. Len Payne, master and Commodore of the Southern Railway Fleet. The Red Ensign belonged to the tug Lady Brassey, which played a significant and heroic role during World War II. Badges of different seafaring organisations, including the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and the Royal Dutch Navy are portrayed. The inscription reads: ‘They that go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters; these men see the works of the Lord; and his wonders in the deep.’

Boer War Memorial

Boer War Memorial

On the south wall of the Chancel is a memorial to the men of the Borough who gave their lives in the South African War (Boer Wars 1899–1902), listing their names. Following the wars Bill Traynor, who had been awarded the Victoria Cross, came to Dover and held the post of Barrack Warden. Remaining in the town for the rest of his life (died 1954) he did everything to ensure that his fallen comrades in the Boer Wars were remembered. The tablet is of alabaster bearing the town’s Coat of Arms and was unveiled by Frederick Lord Roberts of Kandahar on 19 April 1912.

St Mary's Church Organ

St Mary’s Church Organ

St Mary’s Church organ was bought in 1742 with money partly raised by subscription and the remainder provided by the Cinque Ports Pilots. Its installation spurred an interest in the performance of music and choral works, in the town, that is still very much alive today. The organ was completely rebuilt and modernised in 1969-1970 using the Toke bequest. In 1484, Thomas Toke, Mayor of Dover in 1472, bequeathed land at Dugate, at the foot of Whinless Downs, towards the repairs of the Church.

Moving to the south aisle, above are the laid-up colours of the Royal Air Force Association, the Royal British Legion (two colours) and the Royal Naval Association. Beneath is the Red Ensign of the ‘Fleet of Little Ships’ that served in the evacuation of Dunkirk (26 May – 4 June 1940). It was this flag that was paraded through Paris when General Charles De Gaulle, the French wartime leader, took the salute in the city soon after liberation.

Cinque Ports Pilots memorial. The book rest below comes from the old St James' Church

Cinque Ports Pilots memorial. The book rest below comes from the old St James’ Church

The oak tablet on the wall was presented on Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost, 50 days after Easter Sunday) in 1949 by Senior Cinque Ports Pilot, Captain D Magub, and dedicated by the Bishop of Dover. It commemorates ten Cinque Port Pilots who gave their lives during both World Wars, they were (World War I): R H Kitson, A G Knox, W Fletcher, J Ferguson T Blaxland. (World War II): E M Smith, F O Ensor, D MacDonald, W H Hopkins, W E Peverley.

Below is a book-rest inscribed, ‘To the Glory of God and in gratitude for the use of the St. James’ Old Church from some of the Officers of the Royal Navy who worshipped there during the year 1918.’ The piece was rescued from the war damaged church – now called the Tidy Ruin – following World War II. It was restored and re-lacquered. On the book rest is the St. Mary’s Church Book of Remembrance that was dedicated on 9 September 1956 and reprinted in 1993. Some references muddle this book with the Dover Patrol Golden Book – the Book of Remembrance that can be seen at the Church of St. Margaret of Antioch, St. Margaret’s at Cliffe.

Above is the first of two almost plain windows. High up is a painted glass commemorating the St. John’s Ambulance centenary 1887-1987. Founded in 1877, the St John Ambulance Association provided instruction on first aid and ambulance support to the public at home and at work. The following year their first textbook was published and groups of First Aiders, holding the Associations certificate, began to group together as Ambulance Corps. This, in 1887 became the St John Ambulance Brigade, which opened a centre in Dover about 1898.

Herald of Free Enterprise memorial window

Herald of Free Enterprise memorial window

The centre window of the south aisle is dedicated to the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster that happened on 6 March 1987. The Church was the venue for the Memorial Service and the Window was erected as a memorial. Every year, on the anniversary, the Church is opened to allow friends and relatives of the 193 people who lost their lives, to pay their respects. The left part of the Window depicts Christ calming the storm of the Sea of Galilee, the right those who helped in the rescue and a family mourning their lost loved ones.

In 2008, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Disaster the Board of Dover Counselling Centre presented a Memorial book. The book contains the names of the 193 people who died, a copy of the Order of Service for the 20th anniversary, and a poem by former Dover police officer Michael Kearney. Mr Kearney was involved in the aftermath of the Zeebrugge tragedy and as a result became involved in Cruise Bereavement Care. The book also contains reports from local papers, as well as contributions from people who responded to an invitation to express their thoughts about the disaster.

Herald Tragedy Memorial Book

Herald Tragedy Memorial Book

Above the Herald of Free Enterprise Zeebrugge Disaster window hangs the flag of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

The second almost plain window has one painted glass. This is dedicated to the British Red Cross that was formed in 1870 and granted its first Royal Charter in 1908. By that time there was an active branch in Dover. Following World War II, the local Society re-formed and in 1951 opened a headquarters in Pencester Road. However, developers wanted the property and presented them with a fait accompli. They were offered the first house in the Paddock, off Maison Dieu Road but the basement was prone to flooding. In 1981, the National Society made £25,000 available, the problems were dealt with and the building was refurbished. Lady Astor of Hever, president of the Red Cross, reopened the building but sadly, the decision was taken by headquarters to close the Dover branch.

The west window is the only one that contains stained glass from before World War II. It is dedicated to Captain George Steuard born in Dover on 1 May 1808, died 9 July 1896, and presented by Alice Beeston, his niece. George lived at Waverley Lodge, Blackheath having and spent a good deal of his life in Colonial Columbo, Sri Lanka.

Commemoration of refurbishment of the Church 1843-1845

Commemoration of refurbishment of the Church 1843-1845

Above the south door is a plaque dedicated to the refurbishment of the Church between 1843-1845 and states: ‘To the Glory of God and the better maintaining His Holy worship, this parish church, in which was formerly provision for 1000 but now for 1750 worshippers, that for 1300 being free and unappropriated for ever; the Norman part of the nave being preserved, the aisle and the chancel enlarged; and rebuilt from the foundation in the years of our Lord God MDCCCXLIII – XLIV.’

 Medieval Font, found and repaired on base made from a pillar saved from what was left of the ancient St Peter's Church, Market Square

Medieval Font, found and repaired on base made from a pillar saved from what was left of the ancient St Peter’s Church, Market Square

Nearby is an unusual Font with an even more unusual history. Baptism is the service at which people are made members of the Christian Church and in the early days, when most people were baptised as adults, fonts were set into the ground. Like a small swimming pool, the candidate stood while the water was poured over the head. When the baptism of children and babies became the norm, fonts were made of raised bowls and such was St Mary’s Font. It was said to be made of Purbeck marble but in the autumn of 1642, at the beginning of the Civil Wars, the Church was stormed and the Font disappeared. Following the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, a new font was bought and by the time the Church was restored in 1843 consideration was being given to having it replaced.

During the intense refurbishment the ancient Font, split in two pieces and incorporated into the walls, was found. This was repaired and returned to its original purpose. In 1908, while excavations were being undertaken on the north side of Market Square, a small pillar from the long gone St Peter’s Church was found and the capital of the Font now rests on this pillar.

At the west end of the Nave, above the Saxon arch, is a large mural of the Epiphany. The artist was John George Smith and was commissioned in commemoration of the fifty years of Canon Puckle’s Ministry from Rogation Sunday (5th Sunday after Easter) 1838 to Advent (begins with first Sunday nearest to 30 November – St Andrew’s Day – and lasts four weeks), 1888.

Arms of William and Mary 1688

Arms of William and Mary 1688

Below, is the bell ringer’s gallery on which there are three Arms. The left is dedicated to the Trinity House Pilots and was presented on 23 May 1948 – see above. The one on the right is dedicated to Dover Harbour Board and in the centre is a Royal Coat of Arms. This replaced one ordered to be erected in 1660 by Charles II. On 5 November 1688, William of Orange made landfall in Torbay and the Glorious Revolution (1688) saw him, together with his wife Mary, crowned. The town’s folk, having been subject to religious persecution, rejoiced and William Stokes, a local politician who had done much to help the persecuted, was elected Mayor. He immediately had the Arms of William III and Mary II erected. Of note, instead of the usual motto of ‘Dieu Et Mon Droit’, it carries William’s personal motto, ‘Jay meintendray’ meaning ‘I will maintain the right.’

Centre Aisle looking towards the great east Window

Centre Aisle looking towards the great east Window

The list of Vicars of St Mary’s, from 1150 to the present time, is displayed on the south wall of the tower. Initially the Church came under the auspices of St Martin le Grand and from 1230 to 1534 – the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Masters of the Maison Dieu. Following the Dissolution Henry VIII, having closed the Church, imposed a fine on the bell ringers of St Mary’s Church for failing to acknowledge his arrival in the town. However, after the locals petitioned, the King allowed St Mary’s to be reopened as a parish church. The caveat was that they chose their own curate and paid him. As noted above, this ceased following election of Canon Puckle in 1841 and in October 1871, the patronage was vested in the three Patrons. As the town’s Church, from 1585, when William Willis was elected Mayor it was used for both local and parliamentary elections until 1836. During those occasions, the corporation seats were ranged around the Chancel with the mayor’s seat occupying the place usually filled by the altar.

 St Mary's Church Bell Ringers. Dover Mercury 2011

St Mary’s Church Bell Ringers. Dover Mercury 2011

Mention has already been made of the Bell ringers’ gallery in the Norman Bell tower. In 1496, churchwardens bought ‘clappers, ropes and other things for the two bells in the tower.’ By 1538 there were five bells and with the demise of St pater’s Church that stood near the Market Square, in Elizabethan times (1558-1603), the bells were given to St Mary’s. Seven bells made by Samuel Knight of Holborn replaced them in 1724. The eighth bell was cast a year later. Seven of the eight bells used today date from that time and shutters today, as then, regulate the volume. The bells were not rung from 1844 to 1898 and then it was found that the treble bell was cracked. Following recasting, by John Warner of London, all the bells were hung in an iron frame.

In 1910, to celebrate the coronation of George V the full peal of 5040 changes were rung. An appeal was launched in 1946 for the repair of the bells but was almost immediately withdrawn as George Clark of G.A. Nurseries in memory of his wife gave the whole amount. Another appeal was made in 1998, as the timbers supporting the iron frame were moving when the bells were swung. These and other problems were dealt with in 2002 when steel foundation girders were built into the tower walls. The existing gallery was modified providing new accommodation for the ringers on the floor below the old ringing chamber. On 14 December that year, 5008 changes of the Plain Bob Major, was rung by all the ringers who had taken part in the restoration. Besides Sunday mornings, on the third Wednesday of the month a quarter peal is rung with at least 1250 changes and lasts for about 45 minutes.

Right of the entrance to St Mary's Church gravestone of Lt. James Hart age 23years killed at the Battle of Waterloo. St Mary's Church. LS 2011

Right of the entrance to St Mary’s Church gravestone of Lt. James Hart age 23years killed at the Battle of Waterloo. St Mary’s Church. LS 2011 graveyard. LS 2011

The Church tower sundial was erected in 1656 during the time of the Civil Wars, while St Mary’s was still regarded as belonging to the Corporation. The Minister was obliged to be present, before any meetings, to perform prayers and to ensure that he and the Councillors were on time the sundial, we see today, was erected. A clock was given Peter Monins in 1736 but was said to be ten minutes slower than the sundial so was replaced by the one we see today. This was paid for by public subscription and erected on 13 September 1866.

The striking War Memorial in the churchyard, to the left of the main entrance, was unveiled on 24 November 1921 by Lieutenant Colonel Davidson, and dedicated by the Bishop of Dover. There are a number of tombstones and memorials in the churchyard. To left of the entrance of St. Mary’s is a memorial dedicated to the Bass family, the founding fathers of the solicitors Stilwell and Harby. One tombstone that particularly catches my eye is to the right of the Church entrance and dedicated to male members of the Hart family. The second inscription reads: ‘Lieut James Hart 33rd Regiment who was killed at the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815) aged 23 years.’

Dover Society Plaque to Thomas Pattenden diarist 1748-1819 on the side of the Parish Hall

Dover Society Plaque to Thomas Pattenden diarist 1748-1819 on the side of the Parish Hall

St Mary’s Churchyard was closed in 1873 and the Mowll family donated about three acres of land at the foothills of the Western Heights. There Cowgate cemetery opened and was used mainly between 1837-1870. The cemetery on Copt Hill, Charlton, has superseded this. The Archbishop of Canterbury F Donald Coggan opened St Mary’s Parish Centre on 21 December 1975. The contractor was the local building firm, Richard J Barwick. Prior to the opening, there was a service to mark the 900th anniversary of the dedication of the church. In 2008, it was refurbished out of a legacy left Jack Hewitt (1912-2004). On the wall outside is a Dover Society plaque to Thomas Pattenden (1748-1819) who for many years observed the day-to-day life of the town in a series of diaries.

  • Published:
  • Dover Mercury: 19 & 26 April, 03 May and 7 June 2012

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About Lorraine

I am a local historian, whose love of Dover has lead to decades of research into some of the lesser known tales that this famous and beautiful town has to tell.
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