Category Archives: Food and Dining

A Country House Christmas, Phyllis Elinor Sandeman (1952)

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Front cover to the current 2016 edition by National Trust Books

Phyllis Elinor Sandeman (1895-1986, and to give her full title The Hon. Phyllis Legh, Mrs Sandeman) was the youngest daughter of Thomas Wodehouse Legh, 2nd Baron Newton and Evelyn Caroline Bromley Davenport. The Leghs are one of a few larger families linked to estates in Lancashire and Cheshire, with Lyme Park being the family’s principal residence and one of the largest houses in Cheshire and also where the publication is set and now owned by The National Trust.

Oil painting on canvas, The Hon. Phyllis Elinor Legh, Mrs Henry Gerard Walter Sandeman (1895-1986), signed (?), 1912.A bust-length portrait of a young woman, body facing right, head turned to face spectator, with short brown curled hair and headband, mouth slightly open. Wearing a black shawl with grey lining over her shoulders, a cream dress with white sash and white lace around neck-line, adorned with jewelled pin.

Oil painting on canvas, The Hon. Phyllis Elinor Legh, Mrs Henry Gerard Walter Sandeman (1895-1986), signed (?), 1912. National Trust Collection

A Country House Christmas: Treasure on Earth has been published three times – 1952 (then titled Treasure on Earth), 1995 and 2016 and has a usual ‘tell it like it is’ feel but has something a little different about it compared to other recounts. I have always been choosy about the first hand accounts of country house living as they do seem rose tinted at best. Over the last few years I have collected a few publications written (or ghostwritten) by individuals who were once employed at a country house. Yet, these are not very coherent and there can be a feeling that they have been encouraged to put their thoughts to paper with too much haste before their experiences become long forgotten. Moreover, there’s always something missing of the mechanics and routine which as ordinary as they are, help bring the story to life.

In fairness, if I were to write an account of my life now or as a student 20 years ago I’d be deterred from including the mundane and keep the more interesting parts for a readership. Most of us would embellish it here and there! However, A Country House Christmas is considered and detailed and Sandeman is neither aloof nor detached in her telling of her youth at Lyme. There is a warmth to the narrative and true fondness as well as dislike for particular parts of the Christmas experience there which will connect to any reader.

Other references in the book are made to sisters Lettice (1885-1968) and Hilda (1892-1970), making them 11, 21 and 14 respectively at the time of the story. Many real names have been altered in the text and Lyme is referred to as Vyne or Vayne and her mother is known as Lady Vyne rather than Newton for example but as a rule it is easy to understand the settings and the players. Additionally, the descriptions of both the landscape and interiors are fantastic and for a regular country house visitor will be recognisable as typical of certain periods, styles and presentation.

General reference to the country house will continue to be Downton Abbey for some time, but here there are intriguing descriptions of the relationships between the family and servants, but also of the community and established hierarchies on both sides and recognition of long standing families who have served and supported the family and the estate. Thankfully too, there is little poignancy for a lost world or ‘other worldliness’. This is a firm recommendation at this time of year or at any other and because it’s Christmas Eve, here’s a small sample to enjoy!

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When everybody had assembled in the library and Truelove had announced dinner they would process into the dining-room, Sir Thomas taking Mrs. Waldegrave, and Lady Vyne bringing up the rear with the Canon. Probably Cousin Amy would be allotted to Mr. Hunt. The boys and girls would bunch in together at the last. Through the little tapestried anteroom they would pass into the big Georgian dining-room. The long table extending almost the entire length of the room would glitter and sparkle with the lights reflected in the silver and white of the cloth and from the walls the family portraits would smile benignly on the company. On one of the four gilt side-tables would stand the wonderful rosewater dish and ewer, silver and parcel-gilt with the Vayne arms embossed in coloured enamels – made in the reign of Bloody Mary….

They would begin with grace said by the Canon and then the meal would proceed eaten off silver plates, not so pleasant as the china service because scratchy under the knife and fork, but welcome because they were part of the Christmas ritual. The candle shades in the tall candelabras had little garlands of silver spangles and there would be crackers laid amongst the flower decorations.

First there would be soup of the clearest consistency imaginable, and then some kind of fish which melted in the mouth. Then an entrée, perhaps a vol-au-vont or small mutton cutlets, and then roast turkey or pheasant. Then a wonderful sweet into which Perez had put all his artistry: perhaps baskets of nougat with ribbons of spun sugar containing a creamy ice, and muscat grapes coated in sugar and crystallised quarters of orange and tiny pastry cakes.

The last course, the savoury, was never handed to the little girls. Without any instruction in the matter Truelove had made this decision, and nobody questioned it. On the other hand, he always allowed them a little champagne. Dessert was almost the nicest part of the meal, and the scent of tangerine oranges would all her life be associated in Phyillis’s mind with Christmas dinner at Vyne.

With dessert came the crackers, always a trial to Sir Thomas, for whom the sight of grown men and women in paper caps was anathema…

Tomorrow Phyllis would be moving in a maze of enchantment through the drama dance of Christmas, that drama in which the setting played so great a part. Waking in the twilight of the winter’s morning, waiting for the singing in the courtyard, the herald of the day’s delights. Breakfast and the exchange of small gifts. The visit to her parents’ rooms together with her brothers and sisters to give them their joint offerings. Then the drive down through the white park to the old church – the familiar Christmas service. Then out-of-doors for a little exercise, snow balling perhaps if there was enough snow, then in again to change for tea in the dining-room with lovely iced cakes and crackers. And then the joyous chattering throng climbing the stairs to the Long Gallery.

And there would stand the great shimmering blazing tree, the only light in the room except the fire, and beside it the bran tub, so full that some of the packages were not quite submerged, and beyond the radius of the tree’s light the great long room stretching away into the shadows.

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Merry Christmas!

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Further reading:

The identity of the governess uncovered, http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/local-news/mystery-governess-lyme-park-unmasked-8777863

National Trust dedication to Phyllis Legh, https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme-park-house-and-garden/features/it-wouldnt-be-christmas-at-lyme-without

Short biography of Phyllis Sandeman as painter, http://www.suffolkpainters.co.uk/index.cgi?choice=painter&pid=1673

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Isabella’s Maxims for Young Ladies

The following forms a large part of an article I contributed for Herstoria Magazine a couple of years ago whilst promoting aspects of my doctoral research. It concerns a publication written by Isabella Carlisle of Castle Howard toward the end of the eighteenth century and serves to highlight something of her personality and beliefs as a surprisingly pragmatic woman for her time. Since I visited Castle Howard recently, I thought it would be a different take on the site than just a regular day trip report.

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Portrait of Isabella, 4th Countess of Carlisle, by Thomas Gainsborough. Image from the Castle Howard Collection.

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As the second wife of Henry fourth Earl of Carlisle, Isabella had represented a new hope for the household at Castle Howard. His first wife Frances (née Spencer) had died in July 1742 shortly after all but one of his five children by this marriage had predeceased him. At the age of twenty-two, Isabella was half Henry’s age and her youth was to prove dynastically beneficial – she was to bear him four daughters and one son, Frederick, the future fifth Earl of Carlisle.

Yet, before the end of the century and in her late 60s, Isabella had experienced more than most in a life which included early widowhood, a broken marriage to the antiquarian William Musgrave, scandal and self-imposed exile to Europe. Thus she made the decision to publish her experiences s under the title of Thoughts in the Form of Maxims addressed to Young Ladies on their First Establishment in the World. In contrast to more conventional manuals which typically contained strict guidelines as to general behaviour expected of young women, Isabella’s Maxims guided her readers through unexpected and complex moments of life similar to the ones she had experienced herself.

Frontispiece for Maxims. Castle Howard Collection.

Frontispiece for Maxims. Castle Howard Collection.

Conduct books like Isabella’s had been round for centuries, but by  the late eighteenth century they had evolved into genteel instruction aimed at correcting ‘insufficient’ moral accomplishment in young people – especially women.

Isabella begins her Maxims with some practical advice a woman should,

Make choice of such amusements as will attach him to your company; study such occupations as will render you of consequence to him, such as the management of his fortune, and the conduct of his house, yet, without assuming a superiority unbecoming your sex.

Isabella also commented on female networks which required alliances and sometimes provoked discord,

Female friendships are but too frequently bars to domestic peace; they are more formed by the communication of mutual errors, than the desire of amending them…Endeavour to obtain a clear insight into the character of those persons of your sex, before you engage in unlimited confidence.

She concludes Maxims with poignant thoughts on old age and mortality. ‘Let each year which shall steal a charm or grace, the companions of youth, add a virtue in return.’ In conduct books aimed at the female sex, home and domesticity were presented invariably as a vital backdrop to female existence. For an elite woman such as Isabella Carlisle, this was expressed through the roles of household manager and supportive wife and companion to a husband. Although Maxims has many other themes – including manners, conversation, religion, philanthropy and letter writing – it is household management that Isabella uses as the focus and very personal heart of her book.

Here we are able to visualise the domestic set-up of Castle Howard with greater imagination. Isabella compared the mechanisms of running a household to that of a watch or timepiece, ‘Conceal from the indifferent spectator, the secret springs, which move, regulate and perfect the arrangement of your household.’ Such an analogy was also a reflection of the architectural surroundings and the ways in which the household interacted with the fabric of the building. The ideal household manager was well educated and able to discriminate between frivolity and responsibility, indiscretion and prudence; she was also humble and restrained and never tempted to ‘boast’ of her accomplishments. A guest should remain ignorant of the hustle and bustle of the home as the ideal household mistress always ensured tranquility and good order.

The management of the household was a skill as well as an accomplishment made up of academic exercise and diplomacy to be performed within compartments of the home. Isabella defined these activities through household accounting, servant organisation, medicinal and culinary practice and some degree of hosting and entertainment. The secret springs were the order, memoranda, documents, lists and even people who represented the working pieces. Of servants she noted, ‘Be extremely cautious in the choice of those who are to be your attendants…’ and emphasised the propensity of servants for false flattery and manipulative talk. Servants could, if left unrestrained by their mistress, become ‘licentious’ and have little regard for their own responsibilities in the household. Isabella also warned against prejudice, ‘Do not suffer your partiality to one domestic…Rule as much as you are able with an even hand, and steer between pride and familiarity’. Servants in particular were to be offered ‘tender care’ in sickness and it would have been extremely remiss of any mistress if she did not allow them to perform their religious duties even if their ‘persuasion’ was different from her own.

Isabella made herself supervisor of the household accounts at Castle Howard. It was one thing to direct the morals and daily responsibilities of her servants, but having knowledge of housekeeping totals and incomings and outgoings enabled her to plan, coordinate and direct the household as a whole. ‘Observe the utmost regularity in the keeping of your household accounts; it is tranquillity to you, justice to your dependents’ noted Isabella. The family fortune depended upon minute observation and, since women were rarely taught accounting, the chatelaine had to be prepared to inspect the work of others in charge of such matters. Isabella’s own abstract and summary of accounts was therefore intended as a measure of security against the main household account books – ‘inspections, diligently and judiciously made, will maintain probity among your agents’ – so that any discrepancies could be acted upon straight away.

From matters of accounting Isabella moved swiftly onto the subject of hospitality. As a society hostess, and elite woman could delegate responsibility to an upper liveried servant, offer guests fine wines with meats provided by the estate – and draw attention proudly to her offspring as they mingled with distant relatives, family acquaintances or close political allies. Despite her own elite social status, in Maxims Isabella was careful to consider cost and warned against irresponsible display which evoked extravagance and frivolity rather than cleanliness and order, ‘Neatness and elegance should be joined to each other; ostentation and profusion are in general equally united, and equally to be avoided.’

Although she was thought an embarrassment in later life because of her rising debts and supposed dalliances with foreign noblemen, Isabella still retained something of her former disciplined and inventive self. In a letter to a friend she expressed her delight at having found a French cook who proved ‘so excellent an œconomist’ (thrifty) that it was more convenient to stay abroad than to return home.

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Isabella is still very much a major presence at Castle Howard, and her impact as enthusiastic household manager lives on. In 2003 her portrait by Thomas Gainsborough was used as branding in the Castle Howard gift shop for a range of kitchen linens including tea towels and aprons. Samples of her recipes were also included in cookery books and manuals published especially for sale at the house. In the context of her own life experiences, Isabella’s publication may appear as some cautionary piece containing carefully constructed sayings and precepts dedicated to the avoidance of life’s obstacles. On the other hand, Isabella appeared to admire life and its complexities. That her household expertise is still remembered as a key aspect of her character is definitely something which Isabella would welcome.

Links

Copy of the publication available to download through The Internet Archive https://archive.org/details/thoughtsinformm00howagoog

Maids and Mistresses exhibition (2003) across several Yorkshire country houses including Castle Howard and Isabella Carlise http://www.ychp.org.uk/exhibitions-maids-and-mistresses

18th-century conduct books http://umich.edu/~ece/student_projects/emotions/conduct_books.html

 

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Celebrating the Jubilee … in 1809!

Verses for the Jubilee in 1809 (Berkshire Record Office)

To mark 60 years of the Queen’s reign, 2012 is the year of the Diamond Jubilee! There will be hundreds of thousands of parties and festivals, picnics, music and feasting across Britain and the Commonwealth (Nations and Realms). The Central Weekend is this coming weekend; the 2nd – 5th June, and I’m sure to be seeking out plenty of alcoholic beverages, cakes and roast dinners!

Although the notion of a Jubilee originates from the Bible (Isaiah and Leviticus), the first British monarch to celebrate their jubilee in a way we would recognise today was undoubtedly George III in 1809, marking the beginning of 50 years as reigning monarch – his Golden Jubilee. An Account of the Celebration of the Jubilee, on 25th October, 1809… Collected and Published by a Lady (1809), was a publication which brought together most of the recorded celebrations around Britain at the time. Many of these took place on privately owned land and country estates. As the 2012 celebrations  are set to be a concoction of hearty drinking, big parties, fireworks, charity events and the traditional lighting of the beacons, those in 1809 were not so dissimilar …

Harewood House, Yorkshire, by J. M. W. Turner, 1798 (Tate Galleries).

Harewood House, Yorkshire. Flags were hoisted on the Church and at the Great Lodge at the entrance of the Park; and the day was ushered in with the ringing of the bells. The tenantry of Lord Harewood, about 500 in number, assembled at the Church, and after divine service, marched in procession, attended by a band of music, to the hospitable mansion of his Lordship, and sung ‘God Save the King’ on the lawn. As many as conveniently could dine in the house, remained; a such as could not, went to the Inns at Harewood, which were thrown open for the day, to all the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. At two o’ clock dinner was announced, when Lord Harewood took the head of the table in the great room, which formed three sides of a square, and at which sat 190 guests. Different tenants presided at the other tables. During the whole of dinner a full band of music played select airs. The toasts were appropriate for the occasion. At eight o’ clock there was a large bonfire, and a beautiful display of fireworks. At nine, two rooms were thrown open for dancing, which was continued with great spirit till one. Supper was then served up in the gallery: the decoration of the rooms and the tables did infinite credit to the manager (transparencies, one of them an excellent likeness of the King) and devices of flowers in different compartments, had a most beautiful effect. At three, dancing was resumed, and continued with great spirit till six, and about eight, all guests had taken their departure, deeply impressed with the splendid hospitality, the amiable condescension, and the disinterested patriotism, of the noble house of Harewood.

Shirburn Castle,Watlington, Oxfordshire (Country Life, c.1900)

Sherborne Castle [now spelt Shirburn], Oxfordshire. The Jubilee was celebrated with great splendor at Sherbourne Castle, the Seat of the Earl of Macclesfield. In the morning all the poor of that parish, and of Stoke and Clare, together with all the workmen employed by his Lordship, received 2lb of beef for every person in their family; and after divine service, a proportionate quantity of small beer. In the evening there was a numerous assemblage of all the neighbouring families for a ball, when the front of the castle was illuminated with G. R. Fifty Years, in large letters of lamps. At one o’clock the company sat down to a magnificent supper; after which the dance was resumed, and kept up till a late hour in the morning.

Tottenham House, Wiltshire (engraving after J. P. Neale) 1829.

Tottenham Park, Wiltshire. The Earl of Aylesbury displayed the purest feelings of genuine loyalty, by his liberal donations to his Majesty’s least opulent subjects through his Lordship’s extensive manors. Upwards of 5300 people were sharers in his munificence. The numerous peasantry in his more immediate neighbourhood were feasted on the lawn, with a plentiful supply of roast beef, plum-pudding, and strong beer. The Marlborough Troop of Wiltshire Yeomanry Cavalry, commanded by Lord Bruce fired a feu de joie on the occasion, and were afterwards regaled with a sumptuous dinner, and enjoyed themselves with their Noble Commander to a late hour.

Plas Newydd, Isle of Anglesey (copyright TADDFAS)

PlasNewydd, Isle of Angelsey, Wales. The Jubilee was celebrated at PlasNewydd, the Seat of the Earl and Countess of Uxbridge, by a distribution of beef, cheese, oatmeal, and strong beer to the poor families, consisting of upwards of 700 individuals, of the parishes of Llandaniel, Llanfair, and Llandisilio. A plentiful dinner was likewise given at the mansion, to his Lordship’s workmen, labourers, and their families. In the evening, there was a magnificent display of fireworks, and it may be added that the well-known loyalty and attachment of the noble owners of the place to his Majesty, was most gratefully seconded on this happy occasion by their numerous dependants.

Henblas, Isle of Angelsey, Wales. The Jubilee was celebrated with utmost loyalty and hilarity, at the hospitable mansion of Hugh Evans, Esq. A sumptuous dinner was given to a numerous circle of his friends; after which, appropriate toasts were drank, each breathing the purest attachment to their Sovereign and Country. At the same time, his neighbouring tenantry, labourers, and their families, to the number of about 150, were regaled with beef, plum-pudding, and unlimited libations of cwrw da [good beer]. The whole was conducted with the utmost good humour, highly creditable to the worthy donor, who is always forward to evince his unshaken adherence to the best of Kings.

Links:

Jane Austen devotee with a great piece on George III’s Golden Jubilee here. This has extra links and references for those of you interested reading more http://austenonly.com/2012/05/30/george-iiis-golden-jubilee/

Queen Elizabeth II – Jubilees http://www.royal.gov.uk/HMTheQueen/TheQueenandspecialanniversaries/Overview.aspx

Understanding accession and coronation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronation_of_the_British_monarch and http://www.2012queensdiamondjubilee.com/coronation

What is a Jubilee? 2002 … http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/apr/26/jubilee.monarchy

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Some Georgian Christmas Fare!

A cheap and cheery seasonal one this time! After spending a few years pouring over eighteenth-century household account books, it seems fitting that a little attention should be paid towards Christmas at the country house. And food is certainly a great tonic for the soul in these dreary winter months of the northern hemisphere! I’ve picked out two books; one which was first published in the first half of the eighteenth century and one from the start of the nineteenth century. Their respective authors had slightly different backgrounds but connections to the country house are strong. The first, John Simpson was eager to promote himself as ‘the Present Cook to the Most Noble the Marquis of Buckingham’ in his 1806 edition of A Complete System of Cookery, presumably in that role at Stowe House. The second, Richard Bradley was a botanist who had a vast knowledge of hot-houses, gardening and husbandry, but also spent some time working at Cannons, Middlesex for James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos.

All original spelling has been retained.

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Stowe House (from Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, 1829)

From A Complete System of Cookery, from a Plan Entirely New, Consisting of Every Thing that is Requisite for Cooks to Know in the Kitchen Business. John Simpson (1806)

 

Later edition title-page from John Simpson's A Complete System of Cookery (1816)

Bills of Fare for Christmas feasting 1805, 25th December.

First Course

Rice Soup, Turkey & Truffles, Beef Collops, Semels Souffle & Poivrade Sauce, A Foul a la Daube and Mushrooms, Sweetbreads and Asparagus Peas, A Leg of Lamb and Haricot Beans, Chickens a la Reine, Haunch of Venison, Soup Vermicelli

Bacon Chine The Chine should be sprinkled with Salt, four days before roasted; – if large, it will take three hours roasting. – Send Apple sauce up in boat.

Chickens and Celery, Neat’s Tongue, Grenadines and Endives, Rabbits a la Portugueze and Sorrel Sauce

Appendix – Petit Pate of Oysters, Souties of Mutton and Cucumbers, Giblet Soup, Roast Beef

Second Course

Partridges, Savoy Cake, Carmel Basket, Jerusalem Artichokes, Cauliflowers &c., Mince Pies, Cheesecakes, French Beans, Spinage &c., A Pheasant, Snipes, Asparagus, Red Cabbage, Apricot Torte, Mushrooms, Ragoo Mele, Chantilla Cake, Carmel Cake, Meringues, Guinea Fowl

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Cannons, Middlesex (from Vitruvius Britannicus, 1739)

From the Country Housewife and Lady’s Director In the Management of a House, and the Delights and Profits of a Farm. Richard Bradley (6th edition, 1762)

To make minc’d Pyes, or Christmas-Pyes. 

Take an Ox-heart, and parboil it, or a Neat’s Tongue boil’d without drying or salting, or the Inside of a Surloin of Beef, chop this small and put to each Pound two Pounds of Beef-Suet, cleaned of the skins and blood, and chop that as small as the former; then pare, and take the Cores out of eight large Apples and chop them small, grate then a Two-penny loaf; and then add two or three Nutmegs grated, half an Ounce of fresh Cloves, as much mace, a little Pepper and Salt, and Pound and half of Sugar; then grate in some Lemon and Orange-Peel, and squeeze the Juice of six Oranges and two Lemons, with half a Pint of Sack, and pour this into the Mixture. Take care to put in two Pounds of Currans to every Pound of Meat, and mix it well; then try a little of it over the Fire, in a Sauce-pan, and as it tastes, so add what you think proper to it: put this in an earthen-glaz’d Pan, and press it down, and you may keep it till Candlemas, if you make it at Christmas

Memorandum, When you put this into your Pyes, press it down, and it will be like a Paste. When you take these Pyes out of the Oven, put in a Glass of Brandy, or a Glass of Sack or White Wine, into them, and stir it in them. 

Three centuries of mince pies (Ivan Day blog historicfood.com)

Plum-Pottage, or Christmas-Pottage, from the same.

Take a Leg of Beef, boil it till it is tender in a sufficient quantity of Water, add two Quarts of red Wine, and two Quarts of old strong Beer; put to these some Cloves, Mace and Nutmegs, enough to season it, and boil some Apples, pared and freed of the Cores into it, and boil them tender, and break them, and to every Quart of Liquor, put half a Pound of Currans, pick’d clean, and rubbed with a coarse Cloth, without washing. Then add a Pound of Raisins of the Sun, to a Gallon of Liquor, and half a Pound of Prunes. Take out the Beef, and the Broth or Pottage will be fit for use.

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Some gloriously heavy food in there, but it’s difficult to care too much about that at Christmas! If only I had the time and the energy … Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

Links:

Food historian, Ivan Day’s website http://www.historicfood.com/portal.htm and blog http://foodhistorjottings.blogspot.com/

Kansas State Libraries rare books – cookery http://www.lib.k-state.edu/depts/spec/rarebooks/cookery/raffald1769.html

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, English Taste: The Art of Dining in the Eighteenth Century http://www.mfah.org/exhibitions/english-taste-dining-eighteenth-century/

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