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