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Sidestrand lies on the North Norfolk coast between Overstrand and Mundesley.

When Clement Scott first visited the area in 1883 he was unable to find accommodation in Cromer and subsequently walked out to Sidestrand where he discovered lodgings at the Mill House - then owned by Mr Jermy the miller. (The house lies on the left hand side of the road and is now hidden by a fence and hedge. According to the road sign, it is also lies in Overstrand rather than Sidestrand.)

Old photograph of the The Mill House

The Mill House, Sidestrand

The Mill House today

On the Norfolk coast, Scott discovered the unspoiled idyll he was searching for and on his return to London he began to write articles for The Daily Telegraph celebrating the beauty of the area. This stimulated interest in North Norfolk or 'Poppy Land' - as he dubbed it - and many other Victorians took advantage of the new rail link to Cromer and started to visit. Scott was also attracted to Sidestrand because of the beauty of Louie Jermy - the daughter of the mill owner. Their relationship was unrequited but obviously played a vital part in his interest in the area. John Madden's 1985 film 'Poppyland' dealt poignantly with this relationship. Louie Jermy is buried in St. Michael's churchyard at Sidestrand.

The term 'Poppyland' first appeared in Scott's poem The Garden of Sleep which was set in the village churchyard which sat perilously close to the cliff edge. The church tower finally toppled into the sea in 1916. (The present church was rebuilt in 1881 using flint from the original and a new octagonal tower was constructed.)

The Garden of Sleep

On the grass of the cliff, at the edge of the steep,
God planted a garden - a garden of sleep!
'Neath the blue of sky, in the green of the corn,
It is there that the regal red poppies are born!
Brief days of desire, and long dreams of delight,
They are mine when Poppy-Land cometh in sight.
In music of distance, with eyes that are wet,
It is there I remember, and there I forget!
O! heart of my heart! where the poppies are born,
I am waiting for thee, in the hush of the corn.
     Sleep!     Sleep!
                   From the Cliff to the Deep!
                                 Sleep, my Poppy-Land,

In my garden of sleep, where red poppies are spread,
I wait for the living, alone with the dead!
For a tower in ruins stands guard o'er the deep,
At whose feet are green graves of dear women asleep!
Did they love as I love, when they lived by the sea?
Did they wait as I wait, for the days that may be?
Was it hope or fulfilling that entered each breast,
Ere death gave release, and the poppies gave rest?
O! life of my life! on the cliffs by the sea,
By the graves in the grass, I am waiting for thee!
     Sleep!     Sleep!
                   In the Dews of the Deep!
                                Sleep, my Poppy-Land,

Later in 1883 the poet A.C. Swinburne - together with his companion Theodore Watts-Dunton - came to stay at the Mill House and he produced a number of poems about the location which later appeared in A Midsummer Holiday (1884). Swinburne, who was suffering from alcoholism, used to bathe in the sea off Sidestrand. Here is Swinburne's description of the Mill House garden in his typically mellifluous style:
The Mill Garden

Stately stand the sunflowers, glowing down the garden-side,
Ranged in royal rank arow along the warm grey wall,
Whence their deep disks burn at rich midnoon afire with pride,
Even as though their beams indeed were sunbeams, and the tall
Sceptral stems bore stars whose reign endures, not flowers that fall. Lowlier laughs and basks the kindlier flower of homelier fame,
Held by love the sweeter that it blooms in Shakespeare’s name,
Fragrant yet as though his hand had touched and made it thrill,
Like the whole world’s heart, with warm new life and gladdening flame.
Fair befall the fair green close that lies below the mill!

See complete poem

AC Swinburne portrait


Clement Scott

Clement Scott

Ironically, Scott soon came to realise that his promotion of  'Poppy Land' was endangering the very quality which attracted him to the region in the first place. In fact, he feared that it would soon turn into 'Bungalow Land'.

Craske's Tower - which is mentioned in Scott's poem The Garden of Sleep - also inspired a poem by R. H. Mottram entitled The Deserted Church Tower on Sidestrand Cliff. The poem is written from the church's point of view. Here is part of the second verse:

My bell is gone, my porch is down;
Through my void windows now is blown
By every wind the day may send
The breath no preacher now will spend.
The young and old are here in rows,
Where, flowery tall, the sweet hay grows;
They neither fidget now nor snore,
The young men eye young maids no more;

Read complete poem

More Sidestrand photographs




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