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
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 him.
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 themselves.
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 1916.
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 cottage.
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 to 'Poppyland'.
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,
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 order.
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
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
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.