Common Ground

Stag in Richmond Park

COMMON GROUND

by Alan Franks

When you see the spinneys and the rides
And deer descended from King Charles’ own,
And London’s towers so near such countryside,
You might detect some bounty from the throne.
 
You’d not be wholly wrong; Charles loved the chase,
Hence the presence of this timeless herd.
He also promised access to the place,
And though he lost his head he kept his word.

Charles loved the chase, Hence the presence of this timeless herd.
Yet this is England, whose contested ground
Inflates men’s heads with rage until they burst.
In scraps between the common and the crowned
We tend to owe the second less than the first.
 
In seventeen fifty-eight it happened here.
John Lewis was a brewer from Petersham,
Defying King George’s daughter Amelia
Who closed the gates to all except her chums.
 
Lewis – unheard of – took the Crown to court
And based his case on existing rights of way.
Since the justice harboured similar thoughts,
Lewis it was who carried the public day. 
‘And based his case on existing rights of way.’ The extraordinary beauty of the willows at Beverley Brook, at the start of the Tamsin Trail near Roehampton Gate.
For all we know, he visits Henry’s mound,
Or Pembroke Lodge’s terrace, for a tea,
Reflecting on the claims of common ground
And staring fondly at infinity.
 
Let’s praise this warden of our free estate,
Who lost his wealth but saved this jewel for you.
Let’s hope that Peter, manning the final gate,
Recognised the brewer and let him through.
Landscape in Richmond Park near Roehmampton Gate
‘Yet this is England, whose contested ground Inflates men’s heads with rage until they burst.’

(Common Ground was runner-up in Poems in the Park competition, 2011. Judges: Dame Jacqueline Wilson and Sir Trevor McDonald.)

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