Jill Miller's unique place in Norwich’s history

Jill Miller as Lord Mayor of Norwich on May 19, 1987

Jill Miller as Lord Mayor of Norwich on May 19, 1987 - Credit: Archant

She is the only person to have served the City of Norwich as Deputy Lord Mayor, Lord Mayor and Sheriff (twice). Derek James looks at the life and times of Jill Miller

Ask Jill what makes Norwich such a special place and she tells you it is the people – those who spend so much of their time helping others.

And they go about it in a quiet way. The Norfolk way. Not seeking attention or any publicity. Just getting on with it.

More than ever in these terrible times.

Now aged 80, she can look back on a unique civic life serving the city and its people. What does she remember most? “The volunteers. I have met some really wonderful people – and you never forget them.”

Last year Jill finally closed the hairdressing business she ran at her home in the city where she has lived all her married life. Many thousands of women, and the occasionally chap, had their hair trimmed and styled at Gillian’s in Heigham Street.

In the early days many of her customers came from Harmers clothing works, the Swan Laundry and shoe factories.

Jill with Lord Mayor David Fullman when she was Sheriff in 1989.

Jill with Lord Mayor David Fullman when she was Sheriff in 1989 - Credit: Archant

When she was appointed Lord Mayor in 1986 we paid her a visit and reported:

Some people come in and say  “Good morning Ma’am” and curtsey or bow, just for a laugh.
Other people say: “I suppose this will cost me double now,” but it’s all done in fun and with great respect.

We asked customer Margaret Pitcher what she thought of having her curlers fitted by the holder of one of the most ancient roles in the country?
“It’s more like an honour really. It makes you feel right proud to think that the Lord Mayor is doing your hair for you.”

If anyone deserved these civic honours then she did…
Her parents were Herbert and Kate Steward (nee Doughty) who lived in St Philips Road in the city. They married in 1938

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Jill was born in 1940. Herbert was fighting with the army when he was captured by the Germans and held in a PoW camp. When he finally made it home he was described as looking like a bag of bones.

He later returned to his trade as a brewer with Youngs, Crawshay & Youngs in Norwich.

Meanwhile young Jill went to Avenue Road School and then the much-loved Model School. Always a hard-worker, by the age of 14 she was sweeping the floor and making the tea at Mrs Gramdon’s hairdressing saloon for a couple of shillings.

She met and fell in love with a young bus conductor by the name of Brian Miller and they were married in April of 1960 and moved into a house in Heigham  Street – where Jill still lives to this day.

Hairdresser Jill Miller - named to be the next Lord Mayor of Norwich cutting her husband Brians hair

Hairdresser Jill Miller cutting her husband Brian's hair in March 1986 - Credit: Archant

It was the relationship between the hairdresser and the customer that Jill loved so she did some training, got qualifications and transformed her back bedroom into a hairdressing salon  with Glenda Neale.

One of her customers was Joyce Morgan, a Labour councillor for the Bowthorpe division, They became friends and discovered they had a lot in common.
“In the early 1970s I got involved with a campaign to save a local play area which children loved.  One of the was her daughter Kim,
It wasn’t right to close it. She was asked to be spokesman for the local residents – and it ended in victory with the area getting a new playground and Scout hut.

Then there was the fund-raising to try and get a swimming pool at Nelson Street School…and so on.
By the end of the 1970s Joyce persuaded Jill to stand as a Labour Party candidate in the Heigham Ward. She was elected on the same night as Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister.

Jill joined a formidable group of Labour women at City Hall…Patricia Hollis, Valerie Guttsman, Brenda Ferris and Barbara Stevenson.
They were highly respected and hard-working councillors and Jill jumped at the opportunity of being the chairman of the new Welfare Sub-Committee…one of her great achievements was to launch a scheme for push-button alarm systems to be installed in homes for elderly people.

Authorities across the country followed what was happening in Norwich and today these life-saving alarms are more important than ever.

In 1983, Jill was made Deputy Lord Mayor, serving alongside Lord Mayor Ken Stevenson. Then in 1986/7  she became Lord Mayor raising money for the recently established Norwich Alzheimer’s Disease Society.

She attended more than 800 engagements during her hectic year and won the hearts of the people… from the homeless to members of the Royal Family.
Jill was then invited to hold the ancient office of Sheriff of Norwich in 1989 and then again three years later. An extraordinary achievement.

Today Jill, who lost husband Brian last year, is surrounded by her close-knit family – daughter Kim, son-in-law Nick, grandchildren Charlotte and James and great grandchild Alyssa – and friends.

“What a life!” said Jill. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I would think I would represent my city in this way,” .

She was indeed, as we said 35 years ago, The People’s Lord Mayor.
 For more on Jill and all the other women who have represented Norwich the book The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich 1923-2017 by Phyllida Scrivens is highly recommended. For signed copies contact her at Phyllida.scrivens@icloud.com or click on Amazon or Pen and Sword websites.

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