Monday 17 July 2017

In Lucem: A Mystery

Strolling in one of my local parks the other day - a park I've known for nearly 60 years, and of which I thought I knew every inch - I was astonished to happen on something entirely new to me. It wasn't exactly hidden away either, but in the lawn by the boating lake, near the grand herbaceous border and just yards from the lakeside path - how on earth had I missed it for so long? This was a park I played in as a boy, it's adjacent to the grammar school I attended for seven years, I've walked there more times than I could possibly compute - and yet I'd somehow missed this.
  What was it? Good question. It was - and is - a small engraved stone tablet overlooking a miniature pool of water, the lowest point of a shallow V-shaped dip in the ground, into which a narrow brick path leads and from the other side of which it emerges. The whole thing is barely ten yards wide/long.
  It is, I have discovered, a remnant of the fernery that was part of the once famous garden that was incorporated into the park when the council bought the land. Why and how this curious feature survived I have no idea - can it really have been there all through my long years of walking in this park and failing to notice it?
  And what about the motto engraved on the stone? In lucem lucrum, ludum. I can see that it's something to do with light, profit and game/play - but what does it mean? And what can it possibly have to do with the cultivation of ferns? Any ideas?


  1. Once it was discovered that dried fern leaves made excellent stuffing material for palliasses for use in the Crimean campaign many Victorian industrialists enriched themselves in the fern industry which, therefore, thrived between 1852 and 1857? This was before fern blight, accidentally imported on a clipper that stopped over in Madagascar, decimated the populations of Polypodiopsida? Prior to this many such enterprising entrepreneurs regaled their properties with the dictum "In lucem, lucrum, ludum" by way of expressing their gratitude for the wealth and opportunities for leisure that ferns had afforded their families and themselves? What you have discovered is simply a remnant and a vestige of this noble undertaking that once provided employment for many small rural communities? Just a long shot.

  2. Fantastic - thanks Choderlos. Sounds eminently plausible!

  3. I have now discovered that Alfred Smee, creator of the famous garden, built his fernery in 1868. The inscription on the stone was meant to express the particular combination of recreation, study and produce the fernery – and indeed the whole garden – represented.

  4. Have you seen Smee's book with a picture of the stone?