The Hollies

The Beeches, one of the boys houses at the Hollies
The Beeches, one of the boys houses at the Hollies

The handsome three storey Edwardian building, pictured above, set in a secluded parkland enclave in Sidcup has been converted to flats. They are prestigious homes according to the estate agent’s blurb, but not so long ago this building was home to 50 boys, some of the 570 children from Greenwich and Deptford who lived at what was, at different times, the Greenwich & Deptford Children’s Home, Sidcup Children’s Homes, Sidcup Residential School and Lamorbey Children’s Home but was usually referred to as The Hollies – a name it was officially given in 1950.

It was also where my Dad and three of his younger brothers grew up in the 1930s.

Dad’s birth certificate says he was born in 1926 at 48 Vanbrugh Hill, which was the address for The Greenwich Union Infirmary. The infirmary was later renamed St Alfege’s Hospital, was then replaced by Greenwich District Hospital which was completely demolished to make way for the new Greenwich Square. The Greenwich Union Infirmary often wasn’t mentioned by name on birth certificates because it was originally part of the Greenwich and Deptford Union Workhouse, and there was a stigma attached to the workhouses, though it later became a more general hospital.

The Hollies
The Hollies Mansion House

It was the Board of Guardians of the Greenwich Poor Law Union who acquired the 1854 mansion house called The Hollies and its 69 acre estate and commissioned local architect Thomas Dinwiddy to design the children’s home. Dinwiddy was the architect for other south-east  London public buildings such as Laurie Grove Swimming Baths and the John Roan Girls School. The Guardians’ aim, according to Bexley’s Conservation Area Appraisal,  was to set up a “model home for orphans”, though it was also to be a home for the destitute children for whom the Guardians were responsible.  As well as four three-storey blocks for boys to live in and thirteen pairs of cottages for girls, the development was designed to be self-contained and included a laundry, gymnasium, swimming pool, bakery, boot makers and infirmary, plus a working farm and the nearby Burnt Oak Lane School. The original manor house was retained as an administration block and for staff accommodation. The home opened on 30th October 1902.

Dad lived in Blackheath until 1932 when the family became homeless. They stayed with friends or slept in church halls or lived a hop-picking life in Kent  until the brothers were taken into the Hollies in 1933.

The Hollies Children's Home
The Hollies Children’s Home

The accommodation houses and cottages at the Hollies were all named after trees, and the boys blocks were called Beeches, Firs, Limes and Oaks. Dad and his next younger brother were in Oaks and the two youngest in Firs. Each boys’ house was staffed by a house father and mother, usually a married couple, two nurses and kitchen staff. The house father and mother for Oaks were called  “Dog” and “Frog” Shenton, and the superintendent was a Mr Harper who had a goatee beard and never smiled.

Life at the Hollies seems to have been strict. The boys wore grey suits and boots, and had numbered lockers for their boots and numbered places for their tooth brushes in the washroom. They were expected to do household chores, and they also worked on the farm and in the gardens. However they did get pocket money: 1d a week up to age 10 rising to a shilling a week at age 14. They would save some of this to spend on their annual holiday, the house father recording any savings  in a book. Dad also recalled  dressing up for a Christmas party at nearby Avery Hill College and going to Blackfen School.

I recently got a copy of Jad Adams and Gerry Coll’s excellent history of the Hollies from Bexley Local Studies Centre. It provides a lot of detail about the regime at the Hollies. They were almost self-sufficient. Most clothes were made on-site; there was a tailor’s shop and needlework room, and they had a jersey-making machine and a stocking machine. Their farm provided much of the food, such as milk, eggs and vegetables. The book also includes personal accounts of life in the Hollies from former residents. More personal stories about life at the Hollies can be found on The Hollies Children’s Home Reunion Group web sites.

Although some of the personal stories about life at the Hollies are unhappy, Dad never had a bad word to say about the home and seemed to have had a positive, happy experience.

The water tower and swimming baths
The water tower and swimming baths

Dad left the Hollies in August 1943, aged 14, for a live-in job at the Bromley Court Hotel on 5s a week. The Battle of Britain was at its height, and he returned to the Hollies after the hotel was bombed. They found him another live-in job at Maples Furniture Store in Tottenham Court Road, and he also worked at the Naval and Military Club in Piccadilly. When he reached the age of 17 he volunteered for the army, 7 and 5,  and was trained in time to join the British Liberation Army in France and also served in Palestine, Hong-Kong, Germany  …  but that’s a different story. Overall, despite its difficult beginnings, Dad had a happy, good life.

Researching this story highlighted to me how lucky my generation have been compared to our parents’. Our lives haven’t been threatened and turned upside down by a world war, living in what Steven Pinker calls “the long peace”,  and we’ve benefited from the NHS, decent council housing and improvements in education that have allowed many of us to be the first generation of our families to go to university. It seems we’re now losing many of these benefits and also the social mobility that accompanied them.

The Hollies closed as a children’s home in the 1980s and most of the buildings have now been converted to housing, though the swimming pool and gym are now the Hollies Countryside Club. The estate has been designated a conservation area, described as “a good and well preserved example of a late Victorian workhouse environment”, with seven of the former children’s home buildings in the London Borough of Bexley’s local list of buildings of architectural or historic interest.

One of the cottages
One of the cottages

53 Replies to “The Hollies”

  1. My mother worked there in the late 50’s until she married my father. Her wedding photographs show all the children from her house came to the wedding of Miss Roberts. I think her house was the oaks, sadly she recently passed away so I can’t ask her.

    1. Did miss roberts marry a guy called winterbottam if so I knew your mum she was lovely she worked with a miss Clark although she was a lot older than your mum only I was there till 1961 my name was Patricia shaw I was there for 3 years

        1. I was in Oaks with my brother David Venn from 59 to 64.
          Remember house parents were Dad & Mum Jones who were pals of the Evans who were in next house. Limes I think.
          Only people I remember from Oaks were Freddy & Billy Carter, Ronnie Childs (he still lives in Sidcup). Also remember a coloured care staff member called Hettie I think.

  2. I was in the Hollies from 1950 till 1962. Part of my story is in the book by Jad Adams and Jerry Cole. My time there was 80% good. We had a life that any OUTSIDERS envied. A Fantastic Christmas time. i.e. Christmas party in the Gym , at the House you were in and also at Avery Hill College. Visits to Billy Smarts Circus. Taxi rides to the seaside. 2 weeks Holidays to the coast. Day trips to Box Hill Ect. One of the highlights was having visits from people like COCO the clown. Mr Pastry (Richard Hearn) one person who I wont mentioned, who I believe had no contact with children in the Hollies. Film shows once a week, sports day once a year. So many more I could mentioned.

  3. I was there from 1952 until 1960 along with my two brothers Stephen and Michael and my younger sister Patricia.we were in Myrtle cottage .and the hose mother was Miss Davis.my memories are all very happy . We were allowed to have our friends from outside the home to tea .went to the pictures.had fantastic Christmases and holidays in Margate.

    1. Hi. My name is Les Welling and I was in The Hollies from 1954-1961, with a short time in between at another home in Charlton. I have written a book called “Who Care About The Deptford Boy?”. This is available ok Amazon Kindle.

    2. My sister brother and I were in Hazel Cottage late 50’s early 60’s. We have wonderful memories of our stay. A place where children were safe.

    3. Hello I remember you and your sister and brothers.I was in the same cottage with my sister Sandra Quinlan.Very fond memories.Was there from 1956 until 1963.

  4. I stayed there in 1974 -1977 and can say my experience was awful , hated every moment , sexual abuse was rife , I think it was a very different place in the 1930s when life was more structured so the home worked well and gave kids guidance and usually had jobs to go on to when leaving the home , by the 1970s it became a dumping ground , unable to control the kids and no hope

      1. Hi Penny

        I was a very good friend of Christopher Taylor while in the Hollies in the 60’s and 70’s they came from the bermondsey area would these be them ?

    1. Hi Karen
      I lived in the hollies around the same time as you..
      Iam trying to reach out to people of that time that had awful experiences because of the abuse there.
      My intent is to band together and find accountability for what took place back then.
      If you or anyone else would like to communicate for this common goal please get in touch.

  5. I would like to find out more about my mother Irene May Anderson who was born in 1923 and to the best of my knowledge she was sent to the Hollies children’s home approx 1928 with her sister Ivy Anderson.

    1. Hi Anne
      you can apply for your Mums records from the London Archives we obtained my husbands records from there he was in Lamoreby/Hollies from 1936 to about 1946 they were very helpful i rang them initially with his details but you should also be able to e mail them.
      goodluck.

      1. Hi Joyce,
        What did you ask for from LMA? I have been trying to get info from them for ages and have sent them absolute scads if proof of who I am and my mother’s death.

        I would like to know what I’m doing wrong!

        Jen

  6. I was in the hollies from 1962 – 1975 with my two brothers stephen and paul, we were in quite a few houses, japonica, Ash, Beeches and oak. Had many a good time there.

  7. I was a hollies child in the last year of the 50s and early 60s I was there with my brothers. One older and three younger. I would like to be able to get some records of my time there. And to find out some other information. If anyone can help with that I would be very grateful.

  8. I believe my mother in law was there in the 60s. Her name then was Lorraine Price and she had come over with a couple of siblings and their parents from India. Does anyone remember them please?

  9. I was not a Hollies kid, but I went to Hurstmere Secondary High School we had a few of the Hollies boys attend . They always had second hand uniforms and steel studded boots. Learn’t to swim in the swimming pool and remember dating a girl Moria Beck from the Hollies. This was back in the late fifties early sixties, a very different time.

  10. I was in hollies with my sister carol.3 brothers.app 1965 onwards.we started off in palm cottage.then oaks limes + ash.? I think.I went burnt oak lane school.passed my 11+.went to crown woods.riefield rd.its gone now.as all teachers.some class mates.carol went blackfen girls..over coming weeks/ months 2 of my brother’s harry+john carter.had vanished. I didn’t know or was told till much later.eventually we AlL split up.only to re unite yes later.as our parents never came to see us.maybe once. Dennis f carter. DOB 16/03/54.

    1. My Husband was in the Hollies in Beeches . Starting in 1949 at the age of 3 until he reached 14. His stories of Florrie Smith- The Supervisor, and Stanley Adams and his Wife are definitely Less Complementary than the comments I have read here. When he Left the Hollies, he chose to go to Agricultural College. Completing his Learning Year there… He then went on to work on farms for some time. He migrated to Australia in 1969 and came to WA. Worked in the Mines for ten years until he met me in 1980. We have now been married for Forty years- in January 2021. I did a lot of research, and wrote long hand letters in order to find his 4 sisters and three brothers, from whom he was separated when entering the Hollies. It is a Long Story, and I am looking to research more.

      1. I was in Beeches with my two Sisters Debbie and Vicki we was there from 1960-62. I remember Mr & Mrs Adams but not fondly. I remember we had to call them Mum and Dad, which we didn’t like doing. I remember a lady who helped/worked there she drove a moped/scooter her name was Sue. There was a young Girl called Kathy Doherty who lived in Beeches she had her own room I remember her liking and playing Billy Fury and Adam Faith records – she was in the home because her Mum and Dad were killed in the Hither Green train crash.

        1. Just to say I had a letter arrived today from anonymous person Firstly it’s very creepy not to sign your name but more disturbing is where did you get my address from!!? You replied to my post above

          “Dear Laraine I have seen your post about a Kathy Doherty who was in The Hollies in 1960 because her parents were killed in the Hither Green train crash. This disaster happened in 1967. Possibly you mean the Lewisham train crash which occurred in 1957. Best Wishes”

          Firstly thank you for correcting me. But please have the decency to give your name? And where did you get my address from?? I will not be posting on this site again. This is very strange, quite disturbing really.

  11. Hi. Where would I go to find a record of when I was in the Hollies? I was sent there with my older brother while my dad did a stint in prison. I can’t remember what years it was in or how long we were there for, but it must have been around 1960. It was not a nice time for me at all.

  12. Hi. I am trying to find out any information on an Gerald Albert Robinson who was at Lamorbey from 1940-50. He then went to King George house, Stockwell Road which I believe was a house for young boys/men who had no home after leaving Lamorbey.

  13. I was in The Hollies from late 1969 Till around late 1970, would love to get in touch with either Michael Robinson or Susan Roberts Ivelaw Dejonge too who attended Crownwoods School. Any info greatly appreciated.

  14. I was at the Hollies in the sixties, maybe 65-66?
    I am not sure but think I was at a house called Elm? A lot of the kids like me had been abused. There was a boy called mickey and this huge kid that looked in his twenties,both genders lived together.
    I remember beeches and japonica, ash house, went to burnt ash lane school where the headmaster took a liking to me.
    Back then my name was Kym Sierp,I remember we had to eat stuffed heart on a Sunday, yuk but afternoons we had sandwiches,I remember this well as we never had three meals at home.
    From there we moved to a kids home at Dymchurch

  15. Hello,
    I was in and out of Lamorbey, which I believe was the ‘cover-all’ name for The Hollies at that time. on this occasion … Wednesday, 28th of January, 1942. I’m 84 and was just under 5 years old then, but still remember being withdrawn from one foster-parent and driven to Lamorbey to await a ‘new’ foster parent). It was all a bit of a rush, I was picked up at the school gates by my Children’s Officer after 4 neighbours had complained that I was being regularly beaten by the foster-parents. It was all a bit of a rush and a blur until, eventually I was placed with yet another … and incredibly kind pair of foster parents.
    Eric.

  16. Was there a house parent name of Mr Hart working at the Hollies?
    Was there a house cottage named Laurel?
    I was placed in this home as a child coming from a large family (ADAMS) but there appears to be no record.
    Sisters Kathleen, Maureen, Irene and myself Sheila.

    1. Yes, there was a cottage called Laurel. According to Jad Adams and Gerry Coll’s history of the Hollies as well as the four boys’ houses there were thirteen (?) twinned cottahes for girls, named: Maple, Lilac, Laurel, Laburnum, Hazel, Hawthorn, Elm, Elders, Chestnut, Cedar, Almond, Acacia, Mulberry, Myrtle, Olive, Palm, Pine, Poplar, Rowan and Sycamore. Also Willow and Walnut cottages each accommodated 12 boys as infants.

    2. Hi Sheila
      there has been three books written about the Hollies /Lamoreby Childrens home my husbands story is in Jerry Coles Book (Lee Lawrence) sadly he passed away in 2006 Paul Krawcynsky wrote a book about his time in the sixties and also ran the reunion group for years and another book Who cared about the Deptford Boy by Les Welling

  17. I went to Horn Park Primary school. I remember going to the Hollies for swimming lessons in the early 60’s.

  18. Absolutely fascinating reading this, I used to go to the Hollies for Swimming when I was at Deansfield school from late 60’s to early 70’s. Anyone else remember? I found an old certificate recently swimming 50 Yards from 1971. I always wondered what really went on there.

  19. can anyone tell me what happened to Sandra Taylor and Helen Bennett both we’re from south east London
    The house parents I answered to was mr & Mrs jones there were a few people I remember quite well like pat shepherd she was 16 when I left also dorita Sanpedro believe she was of Spanish origin
    anyone feel like sending any information I would appreciate

    1. Hi Patricia
      I’m guessing you were in Oaks as that is where the the Jones houseparents were. The Jones left in 63 I think. Oaks was run without houseparents until early 64 when new houseparents came.
      Remember some names from Oaks such as Freddy & Bill Carter, Ronnie Childs and coloured care worker called Hettie I thonk.
      I was in Oaks from 59 to 64.
      Ring any bells.

  20. My mother went to The Hollies in the mid 1920’s. Her name was Norah Green. The House mother’s name was Miss Flo Arthur. When Mother left she continued to live with Miss Arthur who she looked upon as her “mother”–in fact I was brought up believing she, Miss Arthur, was in fact my grandmother and Miss Arthur’s family was my family. My mother had a friend, Kitty Neale, who lived in the “house” next door and they were friends until they died.

    I would love to know when my mother left The Hollies (I imagine it was when she was around 15) and what sort of position was found for her. I can’t seem to find her anywhere between that age and 21 when she was working in a book shop. I’m afraid that in spite of all the documentation I have sent LMA they don’t seem particularly easy for Canadians to work with.

    Any memories or advice would be most welcome!

    Jen

    1. Hi Jen, I don’t know when your Mum left the Hollies but when she was 19 I see her listed as a Daily Domestic Help living with Florence A Arthur who’s occupation is listed as Foster Mother Children’s Home (retired), living in Herne Bay

  21. I worked at jollies in 66-67 in what was known as the nursery and was patch house just inside the entrance on burnt oak lane.there were 2 groups of children from toddlers to about 4/5yrs old mixed sexes and a small nursery for about 5 babies one of whom I fell in love with and have all my free time to.I have fond memories of my little group of children.they were very well treated and cared for in my time..didn’t take many photos in those days but still have one of the baby boy I fell in love with.he was later adopted by a lovely couple and I used to visit him in with Kent until I returned home when my mother became ill.I’m 70 now but still think of my little darlings

  22. For those trying to get personal records of their time in care and particularly their time at The Hollies.
    The Hollies was run by the old London County Council up until 1965 when it was taken over by Southwark Council.
    My experience in obtaining my records was as follows:
    I applied to the London Metropolitan Archives who provided me with limited records. These basically consisted of index cards with codes in respect of age, sex, religion, etc. When I asked them why the records were limited in information I was informed that all detailed social records were passed to the appropriate council social department. In my case that was Lewisham Council. I applied through a subject access request to Lewisham who advised that records may have been destroyed after 48 years since leaving care. Luckily they still had them and I got a copy (over 600 pages).
    Would suggest that those wanting detailed care records do as I did and apply to council who took over care after 1965 even though you may have left Hollies prior to this year.
    Hope this helps.

  23. I was in the Hollies from 1965 till 1972 i started of in Larch and then transferred to Rowan to be with my 2 brothers and sister..fond memories of my time there still close to our house mother Sylvia Whitmore who the became Hewinson after marrying Ray our poor superintendent..still call Sylvia mum to this day

  24. I should like to thank responders to my comment dated 27th October 2020. What is more important to me, is for me to seek as to whether a Mr Thomas Hart worked at this home. Late 1950s early 1960s.
    Regards
    SHEILA PACKHAM nee ADAMS

Leave a Reply to Laura Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.