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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada

1720 - 1758



Winter, 1964

Report H A 10

Presently, the illustrations, and the Mine Gallery, Couvert Way, Counterscarp, Ditch, Escarp, Counterforts, Parapet, Rampart, Casemates, and General Historical Notes attachments are not included here.
For these, please consult the original report in the archives of the Fortress of Louisbourg

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Table des Matières


KING'S BASTION 1720-1758



Sixteen casemates were completed at the King's Bastion, six on each flank, one at each shoulder angle and two on the right face. [1] The main purpose of casemates was to provide a secure refuge from bombs. They were arched to this end and built as solidly as the engineers could devise. A measure of their success is the degree to which the ones at Louisbourg withstood the efforts of English sappers and the wear and tear of 200 years.

The casemates were an integral part of the rampart intended to strengthen it as well as to gain security from being placed within it. Any distinction made between them and the ramparts is artificial. One could be spoken of in terms of the other, as in the phrase "the casemates which form the terreplain of the left flank."[2]

The relationship between the casemates and the ramparts was observed in construction as well. Casemates could not be built or thought of independently of the line of fortification in which they were set. This principle of interrelationship was clearly stated by Franquet in answers to inquiries concerning the casemates, projected for the cavalier of the Princess Bastion:

... les souterrains projettés sous le cavalier ne pouvent avoir lieu qu'a mesure quton travaillera à l'elevation, tant de son revetment, que de sa gorge, et de la face du dit Bastion ... [3]

The arches of the casemates were built over wooden frames ("cintres"). The thick layer of masonry required a long time to dry, and this scaffolding was still in place in December of 1726. [4] It was probably removed before Verrier made his tour of inspection in 1727, as he claimed to have examined the underside of the arches. [5] Certainly, the form must have been removed from the casemate that was converted for use as a prison. [6]

Additional evidence for the use of these forms was contained, rather surprisingly, in a 1734 account of palisades used to enclose the chief engineer's house.[7] The stakes were out from the wood of the scaffolding that had supported the arches of the casemates.

Flat stone ("Pierre plat") was used in the construction of the arches rather than the ordinary quarry stone ("moellon") used in other walls of the fortifications. [8] Native stone was used, and was, at least in the case of the left flank, transported to Louisbourg from a distance of 20, to 25 "lieues". [9]

The procedure for laying the protective coating ("chape") over the stone work of the arches is set out in the original specifications for the King's Bastion. [10] The first application was a layer of very thick mortar mixed with small pebbles. This masonry was to be packed with a rammer during successive stages of its application, A month later, any cracks that might have appeared were to be roughcast with fine mortar before a second layer of coarse mortar was applied and worked as the first had been. When approximately the same time had elapsed again, the entire area of the arch was to be with fine mortar. Two weeks later, it was to be covered with 2 pieds of gravelly earth to be applied in layers of 6 pouces. Each of these layers was to be thoroughly packed. Finally, any further earth that might be put on top was to be beaten down in the same way.[11]

These specifications also called for earth to be packed against the masonry of the casemates in 6 pouce layers applied in proportion to the raising of the masonry. They were to slope towards the interior of the bastion and each layer was to be packed using rammers. The location of this earth is not clear, but the document seems to be referring either to the formation of the terreplain or to a packed earth floor within the casemates.

The formula given in the original specifications for the masonry of the casemates was one part of well slacked lime to two parts of sand. [12] However, when the two holes dug by prisoners in the separations walls were filled in 1744, equal proportions of lime and sand were used. [13]

Freestone platforms were laid on top of the final layer of earth. As a final precaution against leaking, repeated applications of cement were used on the joints of the paving stones. [14]

There is specific evidence that these stones were used on the flanks and that they were kept in repair. [15] The surface of the terreplain of the faces is less certain. But,, as the work of building freestone platforms went on past the date when the flanks were reported to be complete, [16] it seems that, at least in the early years, they were on the faces as well.

The dimensions of the masonry walls of the casemates have been set out in Section II.

The non-masonry features of the casemates present more of a problem and there appear to be definite gaps in our knowledge of them. It seems quite likely that just as provision was made to keep dry the powder stored in other damp magazines, [17] some such measures would have been taken in the casemates. Secondly, the journals and memoires of the siege do not mention any changes apart from-the wooden blindage fixed over the doors. However, as two babies were born there in 1745 [18] and as the casemates housed the wounded officers, some sort of temporary furnishings must have been introduced in 1745 and 1758.

The information we have concerning the contents of the masonry shells deals only with the casemates destined for use as prisons. Most of this information is contained in two documents, a 1727 account of work done on the barracks [19] and Boucher's report of 1750 detailing repair and maintenance work on the King's buildings. [20] It is because some of the casemates were serving as prisons that they found their way into these reports.

The measurements given in the 1727 account are confusing and it is difficult to picture the structure of which they were the components. Some things however, can be established with a fair degree of certainty. The floor ("plancher") seems to have been supported on timber. This timber was probably pine and was 8 pouces by 9 in dimension. Pine planks two pouces thick were placed on an area 12 pieds by 3 pieds, possibly the floor spoken of above. Purlins, with a total length of 20 toises and dimensions of 4 pouces by 4 pouces, were used in the provisional roof frame ("comble").

This frame was covered, also provisionally, with un-planed planks 3/4 of a pouce thick. The area covered by these planks was 2 toises by 2 toises. A later account included only this provisional covering for which a larger area, 7 toises long and an average of 5 toises wide, was set forth. [21]

The best interpretation we have been able to put on these figures is to suggest a correspondence between this larger provisional covering and the roof frame mentioned above.

Boucher's 1750 account was even less specific. He reported that provisional work had been carried out in two casemates to shelter the prisoners from the continual dripping of the arches. For this purpose, he used 45 cubed pieds, 4 pouces of wooden rafters ("chevrons"). In addition, one square toise and three feet of new wood in the form of "madriers" (a heavy type of planking, usually "sapin"), was put in as part of the floor of a casemate.

The 1750 account included some features of the casemates not mentioned elsewhere. Boucher recorded specifications for seven provisional camp beds to be used in the casemates. Some of the wood used in these camp beds was that saved from the old floors (presumably "sapin") taken up in the barracks. These floors provided 70 square feet of wood for the 14 supports ("Chevalets"). Seven square toises of heavy planking ("madriers") torn from the barracks also went into the building of six of these beds. New planks, to the amount of 2 square toises, 6 pouces were used for a seventh bed erected at the back of one casemate.

Two doors were replaced as a part of the general repairs carried out under Boucher's direction. Once more, the wood used was "madriers" salvaged from the old floors of the barracks. The use of this wood was at variance with the original specifications which recommended oak doors for the casemates, [24] but it was probably representative of what was used before. When the difficulties of obtaining oak at Louisbourg were realized, far less was used than originally intended.

There was also a reference made to casemate doors in 1744. At the time that the separation walls were repaired, four doors were masked with Boston planks. [25]

Apart from accounts concerning the use of casemates for prisons, the only mention made of the doors was when they were screened as a siege precaution. The linking of the doors with these two situations, the detention of prisoners and the protection of the inmates from gun and mortar fire, could mean that they did not exist on all the casemates. However, there is no direct evidence either way.

Masons worked on repairing the "soupireaux" (air vents) as well as on the doors in 1750. Boucher gave no hint as to the exact location of these vents, [26] nor did he mention the use of any material but masonry. This omission suggests that they were simply small openings.

In the section of the report dealing with ironware, some items were ear-marked for use in the casemates. Boucher listed: 6 pairs of hinges with their hinge pins ("six paires de pentures avee leur gonds aux pomelles" , a type that would swing to serve as a pivot for the door); six locks ("six serrures a bosses", a type of lock which projected from the door); 6 bolts with their rings ("six verrouils avee leurs anneaux"); and "clouds a pattes" (used for attaching the hinges ?).



The original specifications for the King's Bastion stated that work was to begin first on the right flank casemates. Those on the left flank were not to be built until after the barracks were ready for use. [1]

St. Ovide and de Mezy informed the Council that work on the barracks had been interrupted during the summer in favour of the right flank escarp and a number of casemates. [2] In his personal letter, St. Ovide specified the foundation of the flank, the casemate walls and a "retour de souterrain" along the adjoining face (the right face casemates). [3]

These casemates appear on a number of plans showing the work at this stage of its development, plans which also show the original policy of proceeding first with the right side of the Bastion put into practice. An undated "Plan de Louisbourg avec les Ouvrages Faite et les Projets" has the casemate area of the right face and flank in the dark colour used to designate work that had been carried out. [4] Two plans, one of which is dated 1720, clearly outlines fifteen casemates in the same area. (Please see tracing at end of Section I.) [5] A third plan of this year sets out in profiles the amount of work actually done to the foundations of the casemates. [6]

None of these plans indicates any masonry work on the left flank which had still to be completely excavated.

No work was done on the casemates during the 1721 season. [7]

Much of the construction work undertaken in 1722 was concentrated on the left flank casemates. Foundations were laid for all six casemates and for the gorge of the casemates (the line joining the two extremities of a fortification on the interior side). [8]

Verville reported that by the end of July, two of the large casemates (probably located on the right flank) had been vaulted. [9]

In 1724 the arches of the casemates on the right flank were completed. [10] The King's Memoire for this year approved the resolution to give the barracks preference over all other areas, including the casemates, in 1725.

Although there is no direct mention of the date of completion, casemates R7, 8 and 9 on the right face must have been completed before work at the Bastion was halted in 1725. On the 1725 plan, [12] they were shown in the same way as the casemates on the right flank which were complete up to the level of the platform. In 1726 St. Ovide reported that measures had been taken to prevent these arches falling, and in 1727,
they were included in the provisional "toise" drawn up by Verrier.

No work was done on the casemates during 1725 and Verrier wrote that he did not intend to include the bastion in his estimates for 1726 as he lacked the men to work on it. [15] His plan of the Bastion for this year confirmed information given in his letter, showing that the platforms had yet to be paved and cemented and that work remained to be done to complete six right face casemates. (R 10 - 15)

In 1731, Verrier listed the completed works, among them the flanks and the interior revetment of the left face ("le grand mur qui restoit a faire pour la revettement du terreplain du rempart de la face gauche de ce Bastion du costé, de la place d'armes"). [16]

The interior revetment of the right face mast have been completed about 1731 or 1732, after the temporary powder magazine on this face was pulled down to make way for it. [17]

The work of paving the platforms above the casemates with freestone and cementing the joints between the stones was begun in 1731 and completed in 1733. [18]

The exact date of the decision not to complete the casemates m the right face is not known. but it was some time between 1727 and 1731.

These casemates were not included in the original specifications [19] nor in the contract made with Isabeau in 1719. [20] In 1720 St. Ovide and de Mezy based their objection to the right face casemates on the fact that they were not included in the specifications de Verville was following. [21] The only response to this information volunteered by the council was a reminder that if the officials of Louisbourg would co-operate more with one another, the King would not have to give such precise orders.[22]

The plans drawn in the early part of the 1720's bore witness to the intention of the engineers to include these casemates in the ramparts of the right face. When construction at the King's Bastion was temporarily halted in 1725, Verrier included the remaining portions of casemates 10 - 15 with the other work that had still to be done to finish the Bastion. The provisional "toise" of 1727 again referred to these casemates in terms that suggested that they were to be completed.

By the time the 1731 account was drawn up, they were being spoken of as casemates which "were to have been built" in the right face. Also. at some time around 1732. the temporary powder magazine built over the foundations of casemates 11 and 12 (see next) was demolished and the interior revetment was erected to its full height with no provision for these casemates.

In the early years of the town there was no permanent powder magazine. The structure shown covering the area of casemates 10 and 11 on the 1725 plan of the work at the Bastion is almost certainly the one described in the King's memoire of 1724:

à L'egard de la Poudriere le Sr. de Verville a rendu compte qu'il y a deux petits souterrains couverts de planches et de Bardeaux ou sont actuellement les poudres qui pouvent en contenir trente milliers ... [1]

The plan agrees with this description in showing a shingled roof. If this is the storehouse referred to by de Mezy in his letter of November 22, 1724, it must have been in use for several months before that date:

La poudre qui est dans un magasin couvrir en bardeau seroit a refaire des cette année si je n'avait prit la precaution de la faire remplacer par la nouvelle (ven (ue) ?) [2]

As the building was situated in the middle of the rampart, it is clear that it was never intended to be more than a temporary expedient. It appears to have been demolished in 1731 or 1732. De Mezy referred to it in February 1732 as having been destroyed to make way for the elevation of the interior revetment. [3] The other limit is set by a report written by St. Ovide and de Mezy which indicated that it was still in use in December of 1730:

Jusqu'a presént il n'y a qu'une poudriere, celle de casernes qui est couvert en bardeaux et qui ne peut contenir que 200 barils de poudre, ce qui est dangereux à cause de la proximité de cazernes. [4]

The fear of fire and the fear that the powder would spoil, both of which come out in the reports on this storehouse, indicate that it was not an entirely happy expedient and not sufficiently solid to provide safe storage for explosive materials.



Repairs made in the casemates fell into different categories ranging from simple maintenance work, such as touching up the masonry around the doors, to the shoring up of a vault that threatened to collapse.

The single aspect of the casemates that received most frequent comment was that they leaked. This problem may have influenced the decision to build freestone platforms and cement the joints. If so, that was the last attempt made to prevent water seeping, down through the arches after every rain or snow storm. Subsequently, officials accepted, or came to accept, the leaking as inevitable. Efforts to protect prisoners from the continuous dripping of the water were restricted to lining the masonry with wood.

There were reports of trouble in the area of the casemates soon after they were built. As early as 1725, St-Ovide wrote that the re-entrant angle of the left flank might collapse and carry the casemate with it. [1] His next report in 1726 indicated structural difficulties within the casemates themselves. He maintained that the two casemates adjoining the shoulder angle on the right face (probably R-7 and 8) would have fallen if earth had not been brought to shore one up and if the other had not been braced against the escarp wall. [2] In the same year, St-Ovide joined with de Mezy in supporting Ganet's claim that work on the casemates and the walls of the Bastion had been badly executed and that Ganet should not be held responsible for it. [3]

On the other hand, when Verrier made his official report the following year, he painted a less gloomy picture. He did cover himself by saying that, should any internal flaws in the arches come to light, they would be repaired at the expense of the contractor. Butp the substance of his report was that the casemates were basically sound. He had gone up under the arches and found some flaking but no major cracks or flaws. [4]

Verrier's judgment that the casemates were structurally safe seems to have been borne out. Stones that had fallen from the facing had to be replaced but there is no further mention of the danger of collapse until 1750. In that year, Boucher used the earth cleared from the ditch in front of the barracks to fill one casemate on the right flank and to fill another partially. Thirty-one cubed toises 4 pieds and 10 pouces of earth were used in all. [5] As this flank suffered most in the 1745 siege, it seems safe to assume that this action was inspired by fear for the solidity of the casemate in question,

The casemates were probably roughcast at least twice. It is likely that they were included when the Bastion was roughcast in 1738. [6] The 1749 estimates for repairs include provision for using a thick, pebbly roughcast ("creppisage à pierre apparantes") on the entire surface of the casemates, set at 104 square toises. [7] The work of this estimate was done during 1751. [8]

The damp climate took its toll of stones from the walls of the casemates, as well as from other more exposed areas. John Eliot, a British prisoner held in Louisbourg, described a casemate being used as a powder magazine:

...the one I saw was very wett, and some of the stones, of the top of the arch, dropt oat, because of the badness of the mortar, and the water that drains thro the earth that is above ... [9]

As a rule, the work of replacing these stones mast have been buried in the accounts for general upkeep. It is mentioned once again in the 1749 estimates. [10] At that time, a considerable portion of the interior wall of the casemates had fallen away and other places showed signs of damage, a result, the French said, of the climate and the failure of the English to maintain the walls. The area of masonry needing repair was estimated at 10 cubed toises and 2 pieds.

The freestone platforms also needed maintenance. When the English handed back the Fortress in 1749, they reported that they had taken up the platform of the left flank, made up the deficiency of stone, and laid it in terrace to protect the casemates underneath. [11] The French, however, were not satisfied with the condition of the platform. Boucher included the replacing of an area on the two flanks 51 pieds by 12 pieds in his estimates. [12]


There were two distinct schools of thought as to the value of the casemates. They might be seen as of vital importance or as comparatively useless and of prohibitive cost. The position taken depended largely on the point of view of the commentator, on whether he saw them as a refuge during siege or from the standpoint of day to day use,

The casemates had various peace time functions, but they had no place in the daily life of the town that might not have been filled by another structures probably at less expense to the King.

The spirit of economy that pervaded official thinking during many of the years when the fortifications were being built probably played the largest part in the decision not to build casemates outside the King's Bastion. Franquet states specifically that it was only lack of sufficient funds that had prevented the construction of a casemate in the Island Battery before 1753. [1] The attitude of St. Ovide and de Mezy in the period from 1720-1725 reflected this same consideration and they criticized the casemates on the grounds that the cost of transporting the flatstone for them was exorbitant. [2] However, they went even beyond this objection and questioned the utility of building casemates at all:

La plus fort de la dépense est tombé sur les gros souterraine qui forment le terreplain du flanc grande du Bastion; cet ouvrage inulite coûté des sommes immenses en transport de pierres plattes prises à 20 ou 25 lieues. [3]

On the other hands, the casemates came into their own in times of siege. At this point, complaints about expense, poor quality and leaking stopped. Military men, responsible for the conduct of a sieges lamented at these moments that there were not more casemates:

....a Powder Magazine with casemates Bomb proof, for the troops off Duty to rest in when besieged, [is] much wanted .... [Warren and Pepperrell, 1745.] [4]
- 13 -

.... and casemates [should be] made in all the Bastions [Knowles 1746] [5]

... il est triste que dans cette ville il n'y ait aucune souterrain pour placer l'hopital et les soldats qui ne sont point de service ... [De la Houilliere, 6 July 1758]

... il n'y a point un endroit ici on l'on puisse mettre les mallades et les blessès a couvert que dans des cazemates que l'on a affectes a Mrs. les officers blessés. Les autres sont a l'hospital de la Charité et Repandus dans les maisons particulier et au Risque d'y estre brules, et assommes par les bombs. [Franquet, 24 July, 1758]

The conclusion that emerges from this dichotomy is that the casemates were essentially a military rather than a civilian feature of the town.

The lesson of the first siege did not go unheeded and the balance swung in favour of the casemates in the first half of the 1750's. Both at the French Court and in Louisbourg plans were made for additional casemates. War almost certainly came before any of these plans were realized, [8] but casemates were projected and approved for the following works: the curtain between the King's and Dauphin Bastions, [9] the "traverse en capitale" proposed for the demi-lune on the same front, [10] the cavalier of the Princess Demi-Bastion [12] and the Island Battery. [12] The correspondence concerning these casemates makes it abundantly clear that Franquet and his superiors in France felt the need of more bomb proof shelters within the town.

The peace time use of the casemates was flexible and there is no indication that they were all devoted to any one purpose at a particular time. The leaking of the arches meant, as Prevost pointed out, that they could only be used when precautions were taken. They were as a result sometimes left empty. In 1753, the year he made his occupation report, six were vacant and in bad repair: one on the right flank, four on the left and the left shoulder casemate.[1] Two years before Franquet had gone even further and declared the casemates on the left flank unserviceable because of the water seeping through the vaults. [2] However, Prevost's report shows that they were not, in fact, totally abandoned.

This flexibility resulted in the casemates being put to some rather unconventional uses. In 1753 a soldier was living in the right shoulder casemate, apparently alone. [3] In 1746, Governor Knowles, storming over the depravity of the New Englanders, secured 64,000 gallons of confiscated rum in the casemates. [4]

Apart from these incidental uses, the peace-time occupation of the casemates falls into three main categories. They were used principally as prisons, as powder magazines and as latrines.

The casemates cannot have been used at all before 1726, at which time St-Ovide reported that the scaffolding still in places underneath the arches prevented the casemates from being put to any use. [5] A year later Verrier wrote that he had had a large casemate made into a prison, which had been protected by a wooden covering and which could serve permanently. [6] This action was approved by the Minister. [7]

The prisons within the casemates were frequently spoken of as dungeons and they must have earned the name well. In 1736 Sabatier reported that the almost continuous dripping of the arches had proved fatal to more than one prisoner. [8] By 1738 Verrier considered them impracticable because the people confined there fell ill and had to be taken to the hospital. [9] Howeverg, they were still in use in 1744 when prisoners dug two holes in the separation walls. [10]

The use of the casemates as prisons continued after the French re-occupied Louisbourg. In his 1750 account Boucher mentioned that the seven provisional camp beds were for casemates being used to confine deserters. [11]

None of the above accounts specified the number of casemates devoted to this purpose, but in 1753 Prevost listed five. [12] Four were on the right flank and one on the left.

Service as powder magazines was an obvious use for the casemates. In 1724, the Minister wrote, perhaps with too little regard for the dampness of new masonry at Ile Royale, that there were casemates that could be used to store powder until a permanent magazine was built at the Queen's Bastion.[13] On these grounds, he dismissed the suggestion that this powder magazine be built immediately, saying that there would be time enough when the work was more advanced.

While it is most unlikely that, during the 1720's, powder was stored anywhere in the casemates other than in the temporary magazine built on the right face, the need for extra space for this purpose was never entirely met by the powder magazines constructed in other parts of the town. In 1745 John Eliot reported that he had seen several casemated powder magazines under the ramparts. [14] Powder was not being stored in the casemates in 1753 when Prevost reported on their contents, [15] but part of the extra supply sent to the colony when war became imminent mast have been put there. One of the preparations made at the beginning of the siege was the removal of powder stored in one or more casemates on the right flank . [16] Although this information does not eliminate the possibility that powder was kept in other casemates during the siege, it suggests that it was not.

Evidence for the building of latrines in the casemates is sketchy. A plan of 1724, [17] shows latrines in the back of casemate 9 with drains leading out through the escarp. The only other report of this use being made of the casemates was in Prevost's 1753 account in which he mentioned one in each flank.

Living conditions in the casemates during the sieges must have been incredibly bad, and it is easy to believe the English report that a number of people died as a result of being confined there in 1745. [1] Nonetheless, they were the only completely reliable shelter from enemy fire. As such, they were restricted for the use of the privileged classes. The names of a few of those who occupied them in 1745 were listed: M.M. Bigot, Provost, Rodrigue, Delort, Mmes. Ste. Marie and La Borde. [2] The common soldiers did not find their way into the casemates until after the capitulation. Having given in their arms, they were sent to sleep there on the night of July 27th. [3]

The record for the 1758 siege gives a more complete picture, but again there is no reference as to how life was carried on within the casemates.

A breakdown of occupation for the second siege was given in rather general terms by Desgouttes:

il n'y a des casemattes dans cette place qu'une pour Mde. La gouvernante, une pour l'intendant une pour les blessés et quelqu'unes pour les femmes de pays .... [4]

De la Houilliere estimated that about twenty wounded officers could be accommodated. [5] The two reports taken together suggest that approximately twenty wounded man were confined in a single casemate.

Desgouttes' journal agreed with the 1745 record in assigning a casemate to the intendant. It is possible that he used it for official as well as private purposes and directed the business of the colony from it. It can also be established from the 1758 Journals and Memoires that the two casemates used by the Governor and the intendant were on the Left Flank. [6]

Before the 1758 siege began in earnest, a group of inhabitants screened the doors of the casemates with wooden blindage on June 10th.[7] On June 13th, an ice house and the lime kilns at the Maurepas Gate were similarly screened and powder was taken from the Right Flank to be stored there. [8]

On July 17th the bombs deranged the masking of the left flank casemates, including those assigned to Drucour and Prevost. [9] They did no further damage and no one was injured.

The fear of fire catching at the wooden gun platform built over the right flank almost became a reality in the early morning of July 22nd. A bomb set fire to the barracks between 7 and 8 a.m. The governor's wing and the casemates were saved, but not before the casemates had been completely evacuated. One journal seemingly was written by an officer involved in the direction of this operation. [10] He told of being forced to move disabled officers in the midst of a confusion made worse by the cries of the injured, without knowing a secure place to send them. Once the fire was extinguished the wounded must have been returned to the casemates, to remain there until they were taken to the home of de Lopinot after the capitulation. [11]


Three plans throwing new light on the casemates have just arrived from Paris.

The legend of this plan describes the use of five of the casemates.

R 6         prison
R 7, 8    latrines
R 9        Powder Magazine
L 7        Prison

This plan also shows the interior revetment of the right flank in a cross section of the Bastion and barracks. Six doorways are depicted on terreplein level. There is one opening between the barracks and the entrance to R.l, and then two between each subsequent doorway,

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