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Volunteer Spotlight: The Old Miller of Sidestrand and Poppyland

Author: Pru Barrett

Pru, one of our volunteers, often comes across records of interesting and oft-times eccentric people during her research…

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Whilst recording the many histories of millers in our collections, I came across a very flowery yet fascinating epitaph for a man named Alfred Jermy, also known as “The Old Miller of Sidestrand and Poppyland”, reproduced in the Great Eastern Railway Magazine.

Reading through the article, it’s quite hard to pick out the bare facts from amongst the extremely sentimental prose, typical of that era. The article, titled Poppyland, was written by Mr Clement Scott (who for some reason includes a portrait of himself in the article!) – an influential journalist for the Daily Telegraph who once went to visit Sidestrand, and ended up going back there every year for over 27 years, charmed by the genial character of the miller and his daughter, Louie.

Born c.1835 at Swanton Abbott, Alfred Jermy came to Sidestrand in Norfolk aged 25  in around 1860. It sounds like he was quite a character; Mr Scott reminisces that “An old portrait shows a sturdy figure, firm, determined mouth and straight unflinching look.”  ​​Alfred had many hobbies but his garden was his chief concern: “no roses were more plentiful or sweeter than those which grew in his front garden”.  When he grew old and walking became impossible, he invented a cycle for himself in which to get around the garden. There are several photos to hand of the miller working in his garden, for example him “gathering a nosegay”, as in the article below left.   

Other occupations included clock mending, carpet making, picture framing and brush making, as well as making his own clothes, nails, and boot brushes.  He spent hours reading, his pet parrot “Pretty Poll” climbing over him as he read.  His favourite books were his Bible, an English Dictionary published in 1733, and a History of the County of Norfolk, which he studied to such an extent that he became an authority on local history. 

Alfred Jermy worked the mill single-handed for getting on for forty years. He was a hard worker and trade was brisk, but in 1896 a great storm wrecked two of the sails.  Mr Jermy, getting on in years, could not afford to replace them and after another storm 5 years later he had to change his methods and merely bought and sold and stored his goods in the mill. In time he became known as “The Old Miller of Sidestrand”.  Only 9 years before his death aged 81, did he actually give up regular work. 

When Alfred died in 1916, his daughter Louie was devastated – but she found comfort in her vast collection of newspaper cuttings, letters and photographs from the many artists, men of letters and actors who had visited them in Sidestrand, all with memories of her father.

The last words have to go to Mr Clement Scott – “There is a new grave in the little churchyard of Sidestrand.  The wreaths on it are but recently withered and their messages may still be read.  A pattern is completed right up to the last length of thread. “The Old Miller of Sidestrand” has finished his work and leaves a vacant place which none can fill”.

If you’d like to find out more about the Jermys and Poppyland, we suggest the book “The Maid of the Mill: Louie Jermy of Poppyland and her times, 1864-1934″, available to read here at the Archive, or on Amazon.You can also view a drawing of Jermy’s mill by the artist Karl Wood, here on our catalogue.