|Tongwynlais, Cardiff, Wales|
The main entrance to Castell Coch
|Built||Original castle 11th–13th centuries
|Built by||John Crichton-Stuart
|In use||Open to public|
|Materials||Red sandstone rubble, grey limestone and Pennant sandstone|
|Events||Native Welsh rebellion of 1314|
Castell Coch (Welsh pronunciation: [ˈkastɛɬ kɔx]; Welsh for Red Castle) is a 19th-century Gothic Revival castle built above the village of Tongwynlais in Wales. The first castle on the site was built by the Normans after 1081, to control the newly conquered town of Cardiff and the route along the Taff Gorge, but it was abandoned shortly afterwards. The castle's earth motte was reused by Gilbert de Clare as the basis for a new stone fortification, which he built between 1267 and 1277 to control his freshly annexed Welsh lands. This castle was probably destroyed in the native Welsh rebellion of 1314 and remained in ruins until the 19th century, by which time the property was owned by the Marquesses of Bute.
John Crichton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute, inherited the castle in 1848. Bute was incredibly wealthy, with an interest in architecture and antiquarian studies and employed the architect William Burges to renovate the castle to form a summer house, using the medieval remains as a basis for the design. Burges rebuilt the outside of the castle between 1875 and 1879, before turning to the interior; he died in 1881 and the work was not finished by Burges's remaining team until 1891. Bute reintroduced commercial viticulture into Britain just below the castle and wine production continued until the First World War. Bute made little use of his new retreat and in 1950 his grandson, the 5th Marquess of Bute, placed it into the care of the state. It is now controlled by the Welsh heritage agency Cadw.
Castell Coch's external features and the lavish, High Victorian interiors, make the castle one of the finest works of its period. The exterior, which was based on 19th century studies by the antiquarian George Clark, is relatively authentic in style, although its three stone towers were adapted by Burges to present a dramatic silhouette, closer in design to European castles such as Chillon than native British fortifications. The interiors were elaborately decorated, with specially designed furniture and fittings; the designs include extensive use of symbolism drawing on classical and legendary themes. The architectural historian Mordaunt Crook argues that the project represents "the learned dream world of a great patron and his favourite architect", while the historian David McLees considers the castle to be "one of the greatest Victorian triumphs of architectural composition".
The surrounding beech woods contain rare plant species and unusual geological features, which are protected under UK law, as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The castle vineyard was uprooted between 1914 and 1918 and is now a golf course.
- 1 History
- 2 Architecture and landscape
- 3 See also
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 External links
The first castle on the site was probably built after 1081, during the Norman invasion of Wales. It formed one of a string of eight fortifications, intended to defend the newly conquered town of Cardiff and controlled the route along the Taff Gorge running up into the nearby hills. It took the form of a raised, earth-work motte, approximately 35 metres (115 ft) across at the base, 25 metres (82 ft) in diameter on the top, protected by the surrounding steep slopes. The 16th-century historian Rice Merrick, claimed that the castle was built by the Welsh lord Ifor ap Meurig but there are no records of this phase of the castle's history and modern historians doubt this account. The first castle was probably abandoned after 1093, when the Norman lordship of Glamorgan was created, changing the line of the frontier.
In 1267, Gilbert de Clare, who held the Lordship of Glamorgan, seized the lands around the town of Senghenydd in the north of Glamorgan, from their native Welsh ruler. Caerphilly Castle was built to control the new territory and Castell Coch—strategically located between Cardiff and Caerphilly—was reoccupied. The new castle was built in stone around the motte, comprising a shell-wall, a projecting circular tower, a gatehouse and a square hall above an undercroft. The north-west section of the walls was protected by a talus and the sides of the motte were scarped to increase their angle, all producing a small but powerful fortification. Further work followed between 1268 and 1277, adding two large towers, a turning-bridge for the gatehouse and further protection to the north-west walls.
On Gilbert's death, the castle passed to his widow, Joan and around this time it was referred to as Castrum Rubeum, Latin for "the Red Castle", probably named after the colour of the sandstone defences. Gilbert's son, another Gilbert, inherited the property in 1307. He died at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, triggering an uprising of the native Welsh in the region. Castell Coch was probably destroyed by the rebels in July 1314; it was not rebuilt and the site was abandoned.
Castell Coch remained derelict; the antiquarian John Leland, visiting around 1536, described it as "al yn ruine no bigge thing but high." The artist and illustrator Julius Caesar Ibbetson painted the castle in 1792, depicting substantial remains and a prominent tower, with a lime kiln in operation alongside the fortification. A similar view was sketched in the early 19th century, with more trees having grown up around the ruins; a few years later, the ruins were recommended as a site for picnics, the surrounding land described as being covered in wild garlic.
The ruins were acquired by the Marquesses of Bute in 1760, when John Stuart, the 1st Marquess, married Lady Charlotte Windsor, adding her estates in South Wales to his inheritance. John's grandson, John Crichton-Stuart, developed the Cardiff Docks in the first half of the 19th century; although the docks were not especially profitable, they opened opportunities for the expansion of the coal industry in the South Wales valleys, making the Bute family extremely wealthy. The 2nd Marquess carried out exploration for iron ore at Castell Coch in 1827 and considered establishing an ironworks there.
The 3rd Marquess of Bute, another John Crichton-Stuart, inherited the castle and the family estates as a child in 1848. On his majority, Bute's landed estates and industrial inheritance made him one of the wealthiest men in the world. He had a wide range of interests including archaeology, theology, linguistics and history. Interest in medieval architecture increased in Britain during the 19th century and in 1850 the antiquarian George Clark had surveyed Castell Coch and published his findings, the first major scholarly work about the castle. The ruins were covered in rubble, ivy, brushwood and weeds; the keep had been largely destroyed and the gatehouse was so covered up with debris, that Clark failed to discover it. Nonetheless, Clark considered the external walls to be "tolerably perfect" and advised that the castle be conserved, complete with the ivy-covered stonework.
In 1871, Bute asked his chief Cardiff engineer, John McConnochie, to excavate and clear the castle ruins.[a] The report on the investigations was produced by William Burges, an architect with an interest in medieval architecture. Burges had met Bute in 1865 and the Marquess subsequently employed him to redevelop much of Cardiff Castle in the late 1860s, the two men becoming close collaborators. Burges's report, which drew extensively on Clark's earlier work, laid out two options, either conserving the ruins or rebuilding the castle to create a house for occasional occupation in the summer. On receipt of the report, Bute commissioned Burges to rebuild Castle Coch in a Gothic Revival style.
The reconstruction of Castell Coch was delayed until 1875, partly because of the pressure of similar work at Cardiff Castle but also because of an unfounded concern on behalf of the Marquess's trustees, that he was facing bankruptcy. The Kitchen Tower, Hall Block and shell wall were rebuilt first, followed by the Well Tower and the Gatehouse, with the Keep Tower finished last. Burges's drawings for the proposed rebuilding survive at the Bute seat of Mount Stuart. The drawings were supplemented by a large number of wooden and plaster models, from smaller pieces to full-size models of items of furniture.[b]
The bulk of the external work was complete by the end of 1879, with the result closely resembling Burges's plans, with the exception of an additional watch tower, intended to resemble a minaret and defensive, timber hoardings, both of which were removed from the project. Clark continued to advise Burges on historical aspects of the work during the project and the architect tested the details of proposed features, such as the drawbridge and portcullis against surviving designs at other British castles.
Burges's team of craftsmen at Castell Coch, included many who had worked with him at Cardiff Castle and elsewhere. John Chapple, his office manager, designed most of the furnishings and furniture for Castell Coch and completed the building after Burges's death. William Frame acted as clerk of works. Horatio Lonsdale was Burges's chief artist, painting extensive murals at the castle. His main sculptor was Thomas Nicholls, with Ceccardo Fucigna, another long-time collaborator, also working on the project.
Stimulated by antiquarian writings about British viticulture, Bute decided to reintroduce commercial grape vines into Britain in 1873. He sent his gardener Andrew Pettigrew to France for training and planted a 1.2 hectares (3 acres) vineyard just beneath the castle in 1875. Punch magazine claimed that any wine produced, would be so unpleasant that "it would take four men to drink it—two to hold the victim and one to pour the wine down his throat". The first harvests were poor and the initial harvest in 1877 only produced 240 bottles. By 1887, the output was 3,000 bottles of sweet white wine of reasonable quality. Bute persevered, commercial success followed and 40 hogsheads of wine, including a red varietal, were being produced annually by 1894 to positive reviews.
Burges died in 1881, from a chill caught during a site visit to the castle. The commission was taken over by his brother-in-law, the architect Richard Pullan, who delegated most of the work to Frame, who directed the work on the interior until its completion in 1891. Bute and his wife Gwendolen were consulted over the details of the interior decoration in the castle; replica family portraits, based on those at Cardiff, were commissioned to hang on the walls. Clark approved of the result, commenting in 1884 that the restoration was in "excellent taste". An oratory, originally built on the roof of the Well Tower, was removed before 1891 but in other respects the completed castle was left unaltered.
The castle was not greatly used: the Marquess rarely visited after its completion and the family appeared to use it as a form of sanatorium. The historian Peter Floud argued that one of the limitations on the use of the restored property, was the lack of accommodation: although it had grand rooms able to host large gatherings, it had only three bedrooms and was too far from Cardiff for visitors to travel to casually.[c] The restored castle initially received little interest from the architectural community, possibly because the total rebuilding of the castle ran counter to the increasingly popular late-Victorian philosophy of conserving older buildings and monuments.
Bute died in 1900 and the Marchioness was given a life interest in Castell Coch; during her mourning period, the Marchioness and her daughter, Lady Margaret Crichton-Stuart, occupied the castle and made occasional visits afterwards. John, the 4th Marquess, inherited the castle in 1932 but made little use of it. The family estates and investments surrounding the castle began to shrink rapidly. The coal trade declined after 1918 and industry suffered during the depression of the 1920s. Production in the castle vineyards ceased in the First World War due to the sugar shortages and in 1920, the vineyards were uprooted. John disposed of many of the remaining Bute assets in South Wales, including the coal mines and docks, with the remainder of the family interests being finally sold off or nationalised in 1938.
The 5th Marquess of Bute, another John, inherited Castell Coch in 1947 and in 1950, placed the castle in the care of the Ministry of Works. The Marquess also disposed of Cardiff Castle, giving it to the city; he removed the family portraits from the castle before doing so and the paintings in Castell Coch were removed by the ministry and sent to Cardiff. The National Museum of Wales provided alternatives for Castell Coch from their collection. Academic interest in the property grew, with publications in the 1950s and 1960s exploring its artistic and architectural value. The property is now administered by Cadw, an agency of the Welsh Government and is open to the public, receiving 69,466 visitors in 2011. The castle has also been used as a location for filming.
The interior decoration remains in good condition, although the exposed building suffers from penetrating damp and some restoration work has been required over the years. The stone tiles on the roof were replaced by slate in 1972, Lord Bute's cast-iron bed was restored, extensive work was carried out on the Keep in 2007 and conservation work was commissioned in 2011, to address problems in the Lady Bute bedroom, where damp had begun to damage the original finishings of the room. Two stained-glass panels from the demolished castle chapel, lost since 1901 were rediscovered at an auction in 2010 and purchased by Cadw for £125,000 the following year.
Architecture and landscape
The architecture of Castell Coch is in a High Victorian Gothic Revival style, influenced by other 19th-century French medieval restorations. Its design takes the surviving elements of the medieval castle and combines them with the 19th-century additions, to produce a highly distinctive building which historian David McLees described as "one of the greatest Victorian triumphs of architectural composition." The building reflects the close partnership between Bute and Burges, the architectural historian Mordaunt Crook arguing that it sums "to perfection the learned dream world of a great patron and his favourite architect, recreating from a heap of rubble a fairy-tale castle which seems almost to have materialised from the margins of a medieval manuscript." Widely praised by critics, for its combination of Gothic and fantastic features—the historian Charles Kightly considers it "the crowning glory of the Gothic Revival" in Britain—it is protected under UK law as a Grade I listed building, due to its exceptional architectural and historical interest.
The castle comprises three circular towers—the Keep, the Kitchen Tower and the Well Tower—along with the Hall Block, the Gatehouse and a shell wall, the buildings almost entirely encasing the original motte in stone. The older parts of the castle are constructed from crudely laid red sandstone rubble and grey limestone, the 19th-century additions in more precisely cut red Pennant sandstone. A ditch is cut out of the rock in front of the Gatehouse, leading to an eastern approach road. The castle is surrounded by woodland and the 19th-century vineyards below it have been converted into a golf-course. There are now no remains of an "outer court" recorded by George Clark in 1850 and it is suspected that Clark misidentified the traces of the earlier lime kiln operations around the site.
The Gatehouse is reached across a wooden bridge, which incorporates a drawbridge. The bridge was intended by Burges to copy those of medieval castles, which he believed would have been designed to have been easily set on fire in the event of an attack. The Gatehouse was fitted with a wooden, defensive bretache above the entrance, a portcullis and a glazed statue of the Madonna and Child sculpted by Ceccardo Fucigna.
The Keep is 12 metres (39 ft) in diameter with a square, spurred base; in the 13th century there would have been an adjacent turret on the south-west side, containing latrines but few traces of this remain. There is no evidence that the tower that Burges termed a keep would have fulfilled this function in the medieval period and he appears to have chosen the name because of his initial decision to locate the bedrooms of Lord and Lady Bute in the rebuilt tower. The Kitchen Tower is also 12 metres (39 ft) across and rests on a square, spurred base. It was two-storeys high and contained the medieval kitchen but was raised in height by Burgess and given a conical roof and chimneys. The walls of these two towers are around 3.0 metres (10 ft) thick at the base, thinning to 0.61 metres (2 ft) at the top. The Well Tower is slightly narrower than the Keep or Kitchen Tower, being 11.5 metres (38 ft) in diameter, with a well in its lowest chamber, which is sunk into the ground. It lacks the spurs of the other two towers and has a flat, rather than curved back, facing onto the courtyard, not dissimilar to some of the towers built at contemporary Caerphilly.
The towers contribute to what the architectural writer Charles Handley-Read considers the castle's "sculptural and dramatic exterior". The three towers are almost the same diameter but have different heights and varying conical roof designs, topped with copper-gilt weather vanes, which combine to produce a romantic appearance. Matthew Williams says that the overall effect brings "a Wagnerian flavor to the Taff Valley."
The design of the towers was influenced by the work of the contemporary French architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, including his restorations of Carcassone and the European châteaux of Aigle and Chillon. Although the outside of Castell Coch is relatively true to 13th-century medieval design—albeit heavily influenced by the Gothic Revival movement—the inclusion of the conical roofs, which more closely resemble those of fortifications in France or Switzerland than Britain, are historically inaccurate. Burges chose the roofs in order to produce a specific architectural effect, which he argued was "more picturesque" and gave additional room for the accommodation in the castle. He sought to defend their use with references to a body of doubtful historical evidence, admitting that they were "utterly conjectural" but arguing that:
As nearly every Castle in the country has been ruined for more than two centuries...it is not surprising that no examples are to be found. But we may form a very fair idea of the case if we consult contemporary [manuscripts] and if we do we find nearly an equal number of towers with flat roofs as those with pointed roofs. The case appears to me to be thus: if a tower presented a good situation for military engines, it had a flat top; if the contrary, it had a high roof to guarantee the defenders from the rain and the lighter sorts of missiles.
The three towers lead into the small courtyard that sits across the top of the motte, with an oval shape, approximately 19.5 metres (64 ft) across lengthways. Cantilevered galleries and wall-walks run around the inside of the courtyard; the woodwork is neat and orderly and was critiqued by the historian Peter Floud as "perhaps too much like the backcloth for an historical pageant". Burges reconstructed the shell wall that runs along the north-west side of the courtyard 0.99 metres (3 ft 3 in) thick, complete with arrow holes and a battlement.
The Keep, the Well Tower and the Kitchen Tower incorporate a series of apartments, of which the main sequence, the Castellan's Rooms, lies within the Keep. The Hall, the Drawing Room, Lord Bute's Bedroom and Lady Bute's bedroom comprise a suite of rooms that exemplify the High Victorian Gothic style in 19th century Britain. Unlike the exterior of the castle, which deliberately imitated the architecture of the 13th century, the interior was purely High Victorian in style. On Burges's decoration of Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch, Handley-Read wrote: "I have yet to see any High Victorian interiors from the hand, very largely, of one designer, to equal either in homogeneity or completeness, in quality of execution or originality of conception the best of the interiors of the Welsh castles. For sheer power of intoxication, Burges stand[s] unrivalled."
The Banqueting Hall
The Banqueting Hall is 6.1 by 9.1 metres (20 by 30 ft) across with a 11 metres (35 ft) high ceiling and occupies the whole of the first floor of the Hall Block. Burges persuaded Bute and the antiquarian George Clark, that the medieval hall would have stood on the first floor. His original plan saw access via one of two, equally circuitous, routes, through the Well Tower or around the entire internal gallery, to enter the hall through a passage next to the Drawing Room. Neither approach was acceptable to Bute and at a late stage, around 1878 and 1879, the present entrance was created, by expanding a window at the head of the internal gallery.
The hall is relatively austere; the architect John Newman critiques its decoration as "dilute" and "unfocussed", Crook as "anaemic". It features stencilled ceilings and murals which resemble medieval manuscripts. The murals were designed by Horatio Lonsdale and executed by Campbell, Smith & Company. The furniture is by John Chapple, made in Lord Bute's workshops at Cardiff. The tapered chimney of the room, modelled on 15th-century French equivalents, contains a statue, carved by Thomas Nicholls. Although the architectural historian Mark Girouard argues that the statue depicts the Hebrew King David, most historians believe that it shows Lucius of Britain, according to legend the founder of the diocese of Llandaff in nearby Cardiff.
The Drawing Room
The octagonal Drawing Room occupies the first and second floors of the Keep. The ceiling is supported by vaulted stone ribs modelled on Viollet-Le-Duc's work at Château de Coucy and the lower and upper halves of the room are divided by a viewing gallery. The original plans for the space involved two chambers, one on each floor and the new design was only adopted in 1879, Burges noting at the time that he intended to "indulge in a little more ornament" than elsewhere in the castle.
The room is elaborately and sensitively decorated, focusing on what Newman describes as the "intertwined themes [of] the fecundity of nature and the fragility of life". A fireplace by Thomas Nicholls features the Three Fates, a trio of Greek goddesses who are depicted spinning, measuring and cutting the thread of life. The ceiling's vaulting is carved with butterflies, reaching up to a golden sunburst at the apex of the room, while plumed birds fly up into a starry sky in the intervening panels. Around the base of the room, 58 wooden panels each depict a unique plant, surmounted by a mural showing the animals from Aesop's Fables. Carved birds, lizards and other wildlife decorate the doorways.
The historian Terry Measham considers that the Drawing Room and Lady Bute's bedroom, "so powerful in their effect, are the two most important interiors in the castle", while the architectural writer Andrew Lilwall-Smith considers that the Drawing Room is "Burges's pièce de résistance", encapsulating his "romantic vision of the Middle Ages". The decoration of the Drawing Room ceiling, which was carried out while Burges was alive, is different in tone from the treatment of the Drawing Room murals and the decoration of Lady Bute's bedroom, both completed after Burges's death, under the direction of William Frame and Horatio Lonsdale respectively. Burges's original work is distinctively and forcefully High Gothic in style, while the later work is more influenced by the softer colours and character of the Aesthetic movement, which had grown in popularity by the 1880s.
Lord Bute's bedroom
In comparison to the other rooms, Lord Bute's bedroom, sited above the Winch Room, is relatively small and simple. The original plan saw Bute's personal accommodation situated in the Keep but the expansion of the Drawing Room to a double-height room in 1879 required a late change of plan. The bedroom contains an ornately carved fireplace. Doors lead off the room, to an internal balcony overlooking the courtyard and to the bretache over the gate arch. The furniture is mainly by Chapple and post-dates Burges, although the washstand and dressing table are pared-down versions of two pieces—the Narcissus Washstand and the Crocker Dressing Table—that Burges made for his own home, the Tower House.
The Marquess's bedroom is less richly designed than many in the castle, making extensive use of stencilled, geometrical patterns on the walls. Crook suggests this provides some "spartan" relief before the culmination of the castle in the Lady Bute's Bedroom but Floud considered the result to be "thin" and drab in comparison to the more richly decorated chambers. The bedroom, like others in the castle, would have been slightly impractical for regular use in the 19th century, as it lacked wardrobes and other storage.
Lady Bute's bedroom
Lady Bute's bedroom comprises the upper two floors of the Keep, with a coffered, double-dome ceiling that rises up into the tower's conical roof. The room was completed long after Burges's death; the design had been planned by Burges in a detailed model, which survives but the plans for the decoration had not been finished before his death.[b] His team attempted to fulfil his vision for the room—"would Mr Burges have done it?" William Frame asked Nicholls in a letter of 1887—but the interior decoration was the work of Lonsdale between 1887 and 1888, with extensive inputs from Bute and his wife.
The room is circular, with the window embrasures forming an sequence of arches around the outside. The room is richly decorated around the theme of love, with carved monkeys, nesting birds and pomegranates, taken from 15th-century manuscripts, symbolising the concept. Lord Bute thought the monkeys inappropriately "lascivious". Above the fireplace is a winged statue of Psyche, the Greek goddess of the soul, depicted yielding a heart-shaped shield, which displays the arms of the Bute family. The washbasin, designed by John Chapple, has cisterns for hot and cold water, covered with crenellated towers. The Marchioness's bed is the most notable piece of furniture in the room, modelled on a medieval original drawn by Viollet-le-Duc.
The bedroom has a Moorish style, popular in mid-Victorian interior design, and echoes earlier work by Burges in the Arab Room at Cardiff Castle and in the chancel at St Mary's in Studley Royal. Lilwall-Smith likens the chamber, with its "Moorish-looking dome, maroon-and-gold painted furniture and large, low bed decorated with glass crystal orbs", to a scene out of the Arabian Knights. The eclectic nature of this Moorish theme was criticised by Peter Floud, who contrasted it unfavourably with the more consistent style applied by Burges to the Arab Room, suggesting that it gave the bedroom an overly theatrical, even pantomime-like, character. The historian Matthew Williams wrote that Lonsdale's efforts lack the imagination and flair that Burges himself might have brought to the room.
The Windlass Room or Winch Room, is in the Gatehouse, linked from the Drawing Room. The room contains a working mechanism for operating the drawbridge and the portcullis below. The equipment was originally intended to be placed on the second floor, which Burges considered to be the most historically authentic place. When he later moved Lord Bute's bedroom into this space the equipment was moved down onto the first floor and simplified in design. The Windlass Room is also fitted with a fireplace and murder holes, which Burges thought would have enabled medieval inhabitants to pour boiling water and oil on attackers.
The oratory that was originally fitted to the roof of the Well Tower and removed before 1891, was decorated with 20 stained glass windows. Ten of these windows are displayed at Cardiff Castle, while the other ten are displayed on site, the final two missing windows having been returned to the castle in 2011. Other rooms in the castle include Lady Margaret Bute's bedroom, the Servants' Hall and the kitchen.
Interior design detail
Murals in the Drawing Room depicting Aesop's Fables...
...and the Three Fates.
...the coffered ceiling...
Site of Special Scientific Interest
The woods surrounding the castle are one of the most westerly natural examples of a type of beech woodland known as the Taff Gorge complex. With beech trees, the woods contain dog's mercury, ransoms and sanicles, bird's-nest orchid, greater butterfly-orchid and yellow bird's nest plants. The area has unusual rock outcrops, which show the point where Devonian Old Red Sandstone and Carboniferous Limestone beds meet. As a result of these species and geology, the area is protected as the Castell Coch Woodlands and Road Section Site of Special Scientific Interest.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Castell Coch, Cardiff.|
- Grade I listed buildings in Cardiff
- Castle Drogo, an Edwardian imitation castle in England
- Guédelon Castle, a project to build an authentic recreation of a 13th-century castle
- John McConnochie is also called James McConnochie in some sources.
- The model of Lady Bute's bedroom was photographed for an article by W. Howell in 1951 but then vanished, presumed destroyed. It was rediscovered at the Bute property of Dumfries House, Ayrshire, in 2002. The other models were stored at Cardiff Castle, in the Model Room of the Black Tower but were probably destroyed in the late 1940s.
- For comparison, on the other side of the Severn Estuary, Dunster Castle, a motte and shell-keep medieval castle, was being remodelled by the architect Anthony Salvin at around this time, specifically to enable the property to meet late 19th-century standards of facilities and accommodation.
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