The village of Overstrand
was once known as the 'Millionaire's Village.' Back in the late 1800's
it was a magnet for the rich and famous of that time. Indeed, before the
First World War, several millionaires had houses within the area. Names
such as the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), the Duke of Marlborough,
Lord and Lady Battersea, Sir Edgar Speyer and even Winston Churchill's
father owned a house thereabouts. Many of these fine residences and
large manor houses, built by the rich and famous, have unfortunately
over the years either been demolished or been claimed by the ever
encroaching hungry North sea.
Driving round the coast to Sidestrand you will find the church of St.
Martins located on the A149 coastal road. Here amongst the overgrowth is
a granite, overgrown grave, containing a number of individuals.
This is the final resting place of a key figure of that era, who has
been immortalized both in film and memorabilia. Within one of these
graves lies the remains of Maria Louie Jermy, who in 1883 was a young
nineteen year old country lass, daughter to the local miller at
Back then her circle of acquaintances included the well known and the
famous of London society. This is her story as well as the story of the
birth of 'Poppy Land.'
In the 19th century the coming of the railways opened up areas of
England which had previously only been accessible by horse. These new
railways meant that the Victorians could now 'get away from the
hurly-burly stresses of London life.' So it was that travel writers
began to explore these previously hidden parts of England looking for
new and interesting places to write about for their hungry readers.
One such writer who wrote for the Daily Telegraph was Clement Scott
(1841-1904); a drama critic and travel writer. His previous travel
articles had included the 'fashionable watering holes' on the continent
but now he had turned his attention to this green and pleasant land.
The Great Eastern Railway Company had completed their line to the
northern coast of Norfolk terminating at the city of Norwich but in 1882
they extended this line all the way to the small sea fishing port of
Cromer. At that time Cromer was rarely frequented by holiday makers,
save for local Norfolk folk. So it was on a bright and sunny morning in
August 1883 Clement Scott found himself on the station platform at the
small seaside town of Cromer. It was a warm and balmy day so Scott
decided to leave his baggage at the station and to explore the vicinity
on foot. He started at the seafront of Cromer and found himself on the
cliff path. As he strolled along this path he left behind the noise of
the hustle and bustle of Cromer. Breathing in the bracing north sea air
he marveled at the wonderful peaceful scenery that was opening up before
He wrote "So great was the change from the bustle of fashion to
this unbroken quiet that I could scarcely believe that I was only parted
by a dip of coastline from music and laughter and seaside merriment;
from bands and bathing machines..." Further along on the horizon he
saw the ruins of an old church tower. Turning his steps in that
direction he came to the ruined tower of St. Michaels, all that remained
of the old church. The main body of the church had been dismantled brick
by brick in 1881 to save it from coastal erosion and the cold embrace of
the North Sea. However, the tower had been left by order of Trinity
House as it acted as a landmark for shipping. The graves and coffins had
also been left within the confines of the graveyard though the
gravestones had been moved. They now ring the wall of the new churchyard
edging the boundary wall.
Scott was completely entranced by the tranquility of the place and
wrote:- "It is difficult to convey an idea of the silence of the
fields through which I passed, or the beauty of the prospect that
surrounded me - a blue sky without a cloud across it; a sea sparkling
under a haze of heat; wild flowers in profusion around me; poppies
predominating everywhere ..."
Scott decided to explore further and wended his way across the field of
poppies towards the near-deserted village. Again he wrote:-
"Looking across the fields there was no sound but the regular click
of the reaping machine under which the golden grain was falling. It was
just the time of day when an English farm has such a sleepy look. No-one
seemed about anywhere as I surveyed the farm buildings, no voice broke
the silence ..."
He came upon an old four-sailed windmill and nearby a red-bricked
cottage. Entranced by the engaging picture the cottage and garden made,
Scott leaned on the white gate of the cottage and gazed in.
Louie Jermy aged 19
It was then that he spied Louie Jermy in her long country dress and
large shady bonnet trimmed with poppies. Totally captivated by the
charming scene Scott decided to enquire about the possibility of
lodgings. Louie Jermy did not hesitate. She and her father the miller
would be happy to accommodate the fine gentleman from London during his
stay. So it was that Clement Scott came to Mill Cottage.
Louie Jermy, the miller's daughter, was a shy girl, a country girl of
limited education but of keen intelligence. She was a plain but good
cook with a reputation for excellent housekeeping. Clement Scott settled
into the mill house and 'Poppy Land' was born.
During the days Scott roamed the Norfolk lanes drinking in the aura of
peace and serenity of the area. His writing in the Newspaper painted a
haven of peace and tranquility far from the madding crowd where people
could enjoy the simpler things in life; all within walking distance of
the sea and the healthy sea air. His newspaper articles were read by
millions of readers all of whom wanted to experience this 'idyl' for
Even the old church tower went down in history in verse and also in
song. The tower held a particular fascination for Clement and he
immortalized the place in a poem entitled ' 'The Garden of Sleep'. In
later years, until his death in 1904, he would visit the place every New
Year's Eve spending the last moment of the old year within the church
tower's shadow. The church tower and the remaining tombstones were
eventually claimed by the sea after a violent storm in February
Clement Scott's enthusiastic description of the Mill House, surrounded
by poppy fields, resulted in London's literary and artistic society
descending upon the place and the Mill House became a fashionable place
to stay. Louie Jermy, dubbed 'The Maid of the Mill', became known for
her 'blackberry puddings.'
Famous and titled people began to buy land nearby and build large,
magnificent seaside homes. The railway companies also cashed in on the
area's increasing popularity by issuing posters of idyllic cottages in
the Norfolk countryside and posters with 'Welcome to Poppyland' were
printed off in ever increasing numbers. There was a flood of guide books
and articles printed. Poppyland china was even produced by local firms
and there was a Poppyland perfume marketed which was sold all over the
world between 1890 and 1930. The Mill house became known as Poppyland
The writer of 'Mustard and Cress' which appeared in a Sunday periodical,
George R. Sims, was also a visitor to the Mill House and he referred to
the Mill House and its occupants on many occasions in his writings. This
resulted in Louie herself becoming something of a celebrity. She was
taken to London and wined and dined by the celebrities who frequented
her cottage by the sea. She was even given elocution lessons, though she
never lost her Norfolk burr.
The concert organizer and composer, Isidore de Lara (1858-1935), put
music to Scotts' poem the 'Garden of Sleep' which he retitled 'The hush
of the Corn'. It became a great success and was sung all over the world
resulting in even more tourists including those from overseas flocking
Clement Scott came to regret his publicity of the area and the loss of
his 'country paradise'. His rural haven had now turned into, as he
termed it, 'Bungalowland'.
Louie Jermy who had returned from the bright lights of London to her
beloved Mill Cottage took to serving cream teas to day-trippers in her
cottage garden. She would follow the lives of her famous guests by
reading newspapers and carefully cutting out press cuttings which she
pasted into large scrap books.
Coach tours were arranged using the new petrol-driven buses which had
just begun to appear in Edwardian England. Even the train to Cromer was
named the "Poppy Line", a name it bears to this day.
Businessmen were quick to jump on the band wagon and hotels and boarding
houses were built all over that part of Norfolk. As Joe Public descended
upon the area in ever increasing numbers, so the notables moved out and
stopped coming to the now 'over popular' area.
Only the advent of the Great War put an end to 'Poppy Land' popularity
when the whole of the East Coast was taken over by the military. Then
officers were billeted in the Mill House and became the recipients of
Louie's blackberry pudding and kind hospitality. After the war the
character of the guests at the Mill House began to change. New visitors
arrived, survivors of the Great War, who were looking for fun and
late-night parties. Louie found it hard to keep these new guests in
Alfred Jermy, her father the miller, died in 1916 and Louie was given
notice to quit the cottage by the landlord. Few people owned the
freehold of their homes in those days. Louie, now aged fifty-five, had
never married. She had been born in the mill cottage and had seen first
her mother and then her father die within its walls. As the auctioneers
moved in the loss of her beloved home and her treasured possessions
caused Louie's whole world to come crashing down.
She purchased as many of the possessions as she could afford and moved
out of the Mill House into a small terrace house in nearby Tower Lane.
Such was her grief that Marie Louie began to lose touch with reality and
became something of a recluse.
She was seen around the streets pushing an old pram, in which were
contained those possessions she had been able to save from the
auctioneer's hammer. To supplement her meagre existence she would sell
blackberries from door to door. Gone were the days when she made her
famous blackberry pudding for the leading-lights of stage and shows.
She passed away quietly in September 1934 at the age of 70. Four local
fishermen from the village carried her coffin and laid it in the church
of St. Martin at Sidestrand.
For Clement Scott a 'water trough' was erected by friends some five
years after his death. This stands on the main Cromer to Overstrand
road; all that remains of the author of 'Poppy Land'.
Pictures kindly supplied by the Jermy family. Top Pictures Louie Jermy
aged 19 - Sidestrand Mill - Miller Jermy - Old Mill House Sidestrand.
Bottom Pictures Louie Jermy 1890s - Louie Jermy in later years - Louie
Jermy last home.