Every year, a group of people returns to a Sidcup pub for a reunion. However, as chief reporter LINDA PIPER discovers, their light-hearted gathering masks a sad chapter in the area's history ...

THEY called themselves the Homesy Boys and everyone else was known as Outsiders.

These youngsters were among the thousands of boys and girls who spent years in a children's home called The Hollies in Halfway Street, Sidcup.

This Saturday a book is being launched by former Homesy Boy Gerry Coll and historical researcher and author Jad Adams about the history of The Hollies.

The book charts The Hollies from its beginnings as a home and school for destitute children to its traumatic and violent closure in 1983.

Reading the book, entitled simply The Hollies, you cannot help but marvel at the resilience, fortitude and determination of the children who, through no fault of their own, ended up in the home.

Divided into two parts, the first explains how and why The Hollies, also known as The Sidcup Homes, came into being.

The second half contains moving stories from children who lived in the home, from the early 1900s right up to an account of its brutal closure.

With hindsight, it is amazing how a project set up with the best of motives made so many young lives unnecessarily harsh, lonely and, in some cases, unbearable.

When the home opened in 1902 under the Poor Law, its young residents were deserted or destitute children whose unfortunate parents were in the workhouse.

It was built on 62 acres of land and offered accommodation for more than 500 children and was designed to be self-sufficient.

The facility had its own school, laundry, infirmary, swimming baths and gym, stables and a farm.

Boys and girls were housed separately in houses named after trees and supervised by a live-in married couple.

The husband was expected to pass a trade onto the boys.

If the boys did not go into a trade, they were sent to training ships or to Canada, where they worked on farms.

Most of the girls were destined for domestic service. At 14 or 15 and with no family, the children had to be found residential work.

And at first they were kept completely separate from the community and from other brothers and sisters who were also living in the home.

The youngsters were provided with a "uniform" which would later distinguish them from local children once they were allowed out into the neighbourhood.

As time went on, the nature of the home, and the children it housed, changed.

In the 1970s, Lamorbey West Residents' Association campaigned to have the home closed, claiming its residents were responsible for large amounts of crime and bullying of local children.

Within a decade residents got their wish in the most shocking way.

A dispute between Southwark Council, which was then running the home, and staff who were members of the union Nalgo ended with the forcible removal of the children by police and the ransacking of the home.

The personal accounts of former residents of The Hollies are truly moving.

They tell of beatings, cruelty, deprivation, loneliness and the joy at the simplest of kindnesses and pleasures.

The Hollies reopened as a residential home but closed in 1989 and is now, ironically, an up- market housing estate.

l The new book will be launched by Bexley mayor Councillor John Shepheard at 2.30pm this Saturday at The Hollies' Residence Club, 34 Acacia Way, Sidcup. Mr Coll and other former residents will be there between 1pm and 4pm.

It costs £9.95, plus £1 postage and packing, and is available from a variety of outlets including the Bexley Local Studies Centre at the Central Library, Townley Road, Bexleyheath.