Streatham Common Boundary Ditch

LOCATION: London

WORDS: Ben Austwick 

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Streatham Common Boundary Ditch

 

Streatham1Rivers of the southern Thames basin, the Wandle and the Graveney

The Effra and the Ravensbourne, running through the Great North Wood

Between the hills of Streatham, Sydenham and Honor Oak

The divide between London and Surrey, a web of boundaries growing over centuries

County and town, parish and hundred

Forest cleared and land divided. Lords took it and serfs worked it

The common land that filled the valleys pushed up to the hills

 

Streatham2On Streatham Common, where serfs’ livestock graze

A ditch is dug and a hedge is planted, lined with young oak

Dividing the Brixton and Wallington hundreds, the parishes of Streatham and Croydon

To the north, the common rolls towards Brixton Hill

Where a stone is sunk to mark the meeting of three parishes

And a gallows is raised for rebels against this system of owners and borders

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Streatham5The Great North Wood, chopped and cleared and shrinking back to the hills

Becomes Forest Hill, Gipsy Hill, Norwood

Penge, the edge of the wilds. Anerley, the only house

Farms to hamlets, villages to suburbs. Hollows, hills and hermits living on in name

Ancient trees in forgotten places

The grounds of houses, the edge of the common

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Streatham3The oaks by the boundary ditch mature, tying one fragment of wood to another

Standing after these too are cleared. Animals in the hedge and trees

With lineage back to the Great North Wood

Live among empty Strongbow and Zywiec cans

Standing with mud in summer, running with water in winter

streatham8Down to the Effra in the valley, now culverted, covered and bound

 

Behind the ditch, high fences line back gardens

Where the common stands precarious against generations of theft

Shrinking over centuries, but older than all around it

 

With thanks to Karen D Tregaskin

BenABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ben Austwick is a writer, artist and housing officer living in London. He has previously written for Municipal Dreams, Quiet Earth, Ballardian.com and the Fortean Times, exhibited in London, Margate and Venarey-Les-Laumes, and worked with the film director Asheq Akhtar. He writes art criticism on his blog doilum.blogspot.co.uk.

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