Friday, August 17, 2007


The Daily Telegraph drama critic Clement Scott started visiting the Norfolk coast in the 1880s. There, as Richard Mabey relates it in Flora Britannica, he 'had fallen in love not just with the local miller's daughter, Louise Jermy, but with the sight of waves of scarlet blossoms in fields and lonely churchyards, sweeping down to the very edge of the cliffs, and set against the sparkle of the North Sea in high summer. He began to write ecstatic columns about Poppy-land in August 1883, and started a fad that brought thousands of visitors to the little railway villages on what the Great Eastern Railway rapidly renamed 'The Poppy Line'.' The inevitable denouement of this story was Scott's own dissatisfaction with the result of his writing - the pristine landscape spoiled by tourism. And then of course fashions changed, the poppy took on a different meaning, and 'Poppyland' got forgotten to the extent that someone could say here last year that "nobody knows whether poppy fields can still be found in 'Poppyland'".

There is an interesting piece on 'The Poppyland Poets' here, including a description of Swinburne's interest in the area: 'Swinburne revealed that he disliked "esplanady" places like Cromer, preferring those isolated, unspoilt areas of the coast. His appreciation of the peace and beauty of Poppyland is evident in the following extract from the poem The Haven...

... East and North a waste of waters, south and west
Lonelier lands than dreams in sleep would feign to be,
When the soul goes forth on travel, and is prest
Round and compassed in with clouds that flash and flee.
Dells without a streamlet, downs without a tree,
Cirques of hollow cliff that crumble, give their guest
Little hope, till hard at hand he pause, to see
Where the small town smiles, a warm still sea-side nest,
On a country road...'

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