The "Jermy Millions"

Most Jermy families seem to have a family tradition that they were in line to inherit the "Jermy Millions", but that vital documents proving their connection to the family were stolen by some corrupt lawyer.

In my own family there was a story that we owned a bloodied waistcoat in the late 1880's that presumably was supposed to belong to Isaac Preston-Jermy of Stanfield Hall, and thus entitled us to the estate. Needless to say, the waistcoat and the relevant documentation were supposedly misappropriated by a corrupt lawyer who subsequently disappeared. Quite a number of Jermy families seemed to believe that they were related in some way to Isaac Preston-Jermy of Stanfield Hall, without realizing that he was not a Jermy at all, but someone who had legally changed his name from Preston to Jermy in 1838.

How did all these stories begin, and did they have any basis in fact?

William Jermy of Bayfield

The ultimate source of the "Jermy Millions" and the cause of the problem was the poorly worded will of William Jermy of Bayfield.

William Jermy was born in 1713 to John Jermy of Bayfield and his second wife Mary Starkey. He was admitted to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in 1731 and matriculated in the same year. He was admitted to the Inner Temple on 24 Nov 1735, and was High Sheriff of Norfolk between 1747 - 1748. He married firstly the Honourable Elizabeth Richardson on 23 Aug 1735 at St Mary in the Marsh, Norwich. She was the sister and heiress of Baron Cramond in Scotland, and brought significant property and wealth with her, to augment William's own not inconsiderable wealth. The marriage was childless and ended in legal separation four years later. Elizabeth Jermy subsequently died on 1 Aug 1751.

William then supposedly married Frances Preston on 7 Oct 1751 at Beeston St Lawrence, Norfolk. She was the sister of lawyer Isaac Preston. William died three months after this marriage on 21 Jan 1752 at Craven Buildings, Craven Street, London, and was subsequently buried in St Michael, Aylsham. The male line of the old Jermy family of Norfolk became extinct with his death. According to his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine, he was possessed of £1 000 per annum and £10 000 in money.

His poorly worded will, dated 12 December 1751, left his Norfolk estate to his wife Frances for life, then to Jacob Preston her nephew, then to his male heir; failing which to Thomas Preston, a London merchant, her brother, then to his male heir; and in default of which to such male person of the name Jermy as shall be the nearest related to me in blood. There is some speculation that William's will was forged by Isaac Preston, the brother of his second wife Francis. The wording of William's will and the will of Isaac Preston are remarkably similar. There is also the strange occurrence of a codicil to William's will which is dated before the "final" will that was presented for probate.

Frances Preston, who had remarried, died in 1791, and since the other named heirs, Jacob Preston had died without issue in 1787 and Thomas Preston similarly in 1773, the estate passed contrary to the terms of the will - to Isaac Preston, half-brother of heir Jacob Preston. Isaac Preston, who was Recorder of King's Lynn, Norfolk, died unmarried in 1796 and the estate then passed to his younger brother, the Rev. George Preston, rector of Beeston St Lawrence, Norfolk, seat of the Preston family. The Rev. George died in 1837 and his son Isaac Preston, Recorder of Norwich, inherited, taking the precaution - unlike his uncle Isaac and his father, to comply with the terms of William's will by assuming the surname and arms of Jermy.

However, the frustrating of the terms of the will in 1791 by Isaac Preston was not without legal justification, for his father Isaac Preston senior of Beeston, elder brother of Frances Preston (widow of William Jermy) and trustee of the estate, with remarkable lawyer's foresight had sought out the two most likely claimants to the estate (both named in William's will) and bought them off 37 years earlier - in 1754, two years after William's death. Isaac Preston senior had first signed a bargain and sale with Francis Jermy of North Walsham, an elderly lawyer, making over his claim for a mere £20. But the most likely heir to the Jermy estate was another Norfolk man, John Jermy of Yarmouth, an illiterate labourer, descendant of the Gunton line. It was he whom Isaac Preston next sought. Armed with Francis Jermy's signed deed, he concluded a similar bargain and sale with John Jermy for the same paltry consideration of £20 - probably much less than a hundredth of the value of the Jermy estate, but a princely sum to a labourer.

This palpable fraud was undetected until it was too late, in terms of the Statute of Limitations, to do anything about it.

These actions by the Prestons were to lead, almost a century later, to the double murder at Stanfield Hall, and protracted legal wrangling over the Jermy estates.

Legal Wrangles

The court cases concerning the Jermy estates started shortly after the death of William Jermy in 1752. The first ones being the named beneficiaries of William's will attempting to obtain their bequests out of the grasp of the Preston family, who were now firmly in control of all the finances. Even the second husband of Frances Jermy, John Michell, had to resort to the courts to obtain the money due to his wife from William Jermy's will. Indeed, a pamphlet was published by John Michell in 1758 presenting the details of his disputes with the Preston family. Isaac Preston regarded this as libelous and published his own pamphlet by way of an answer.

It was only in 1819 that the first claim against the Prestons were made by someone purporting to be descended from the Jermy family. These increased around the late 1830's and culminated in the capture of Stanfield Hall by John Larner in 1838. The murder of Isaac Preston-Jermy and his son Isaac Jermy Jermy at Stanfield Hall on 28th November 1848 by James Blomfield Rush triggered a number of claims on the estates by Jermy descendants. All of these failed because of the Statute of Limitations. A more complete discussion of the various court cases is presented elsewhere.

Proof that there was someone contacting Jermy families in the 1890's, requesting documents proving a connection to the old Jermy family, and advising them of a possible claim against the Jermy estate has recently come to light.

During the 1920's there were a number of supposed claims to be made against the estate, but these seem to have got no further than the newspapers of the time. A number of these articles are given below:-

Riddle of the Jermy Millions
Claim to a £7,000,000 estate
Romantic claim to Millions
Woman's claim to £10,000,000
Aged woman's claim to Millions

The latter two newspaper articles are concerned with claims to the supposed estate of Sir John Jeremie, Governor of Sierra Leone in 1840 and slave abolitionist. This story and that of the Stanfield Hall estate seem to have become mixed up - at least in the minds of journalists of the popular press, as can be deduced from this Tit-Bits article of 1931.

The Jermy Pence

It is clear that there never were any "Jermy Millions" to be inherited by anyone, once the Preston family had gained control over the estates of William Jermy. Although he was undoubtedly well off, most of his estates were sold off by the Prestons in the 1760's to pay for the bequests in his will, to provide for their own family and to add to their own estates. All the old Jermy estates soon "disappeared" into the Preston estates, with the exception of Stanfield Hall, which passed down to Isaac Preston-Jermy, the Recorder of Norwich, who was murdered by James Blomfield Rush. This estate passed to his grand daughter Sophia Jermy and subsequently her husband, Reginald Gwyn, ultimately to be sold by the family in 1920.