The Harlow Family Group Children’s Homes

Address: 158 Collins Meadow, 60 Hare Street Springs, 13 and 342 Northbrooks and 56 Ryecroft
Open: 1960-1981
KEY: A = 2 Collins Meadow (staff residence), B = 158 Collins Meadow, C = 60 Hare Street Springs, D = 13 Northbrooks, E = 342 Northbrooks, F = 56 Ryecroft
Five Islington children’s homes in Harlow: The background: 1960-1981

Harlow is 20 miles north of London and was built after WW2 as a New Town to take the population overspill from London. As a predominately white UK population the Islington children placed on the Hare Street council estates experienced racist attacks in the local communities as well as at school.

“At that time there were a few small residential facilities in Harlow. Part of what was known as ‘family homes’ designed to bring children out of the Borough into the fresh air and small facilities. There were about 8 children/ young people resident at any one time and often 2 or 3 children from the same family…There was a second residential family home in Ryecroft (a street name) which was more dedicated to children with special needs.”

Former residential worker in Ryecroft, 1977-79

“These were bigger houses built in the streets – I visited them all. One of the women managers lacked warmth”

Former social worker

In 1972, as soon as an ISN survivor left care, her social worker arranged for her to work in one of the Harlow homes as a residential care worker where she worked for many years. She was critical of the manager’s ability to run the home.

The development of family group homes was consistent with a policy of reducing large scale institutional care especially the village homes such as Hutton Poplars and Beecholme. Although they preceded the Home Office policy of Community Homes they were consistent with it. In 1970, this policy was developed by the Home Office and promoted the ideal of small group homes within the locality (Home Office Advisory Council on Child Care (1970) Care and treatment on a planned environment. A report on the community homes project. HMSO). It is relevant to note that Peter Righton, member of the Paedophile Information Exchange, was advisor to this report. (See ISN Report #10, Pro-Paedophile Activism in 1970s and 1980s Islington: PIE Central and Peter Righton)

The Harlow homes closed when Islington policy moved more towards foster care and to the development of a reduced number of smaller children’s homes situated within the Borough. It seemed that  one and possibly two of the Harlow homes closed with the Superintendents fostering the remaining children.

A policy shift to fostering (Islington Plan Fact Pack 1975)

“One of the major reasons for children being taken into care is through the short term illness of a parent or guardian. The admission of a child into care in these and other circumstances could be avoided by a more extensive system of fostering. The newly appointed adoption and fostering officer is looking into ways including short term fostering of expanding and increasing the number of fostering homes so that in this way a significant impact may be made upon the number of children who have to be taken into and kept in residential care.”

Council minutes, 15.11.1977

“We will continue to develop our fostering services and by 1980 it is likely that we will have the same proportion of children fostered as in LBI homes”

Council Minutes 29.6.82 include an announcement from Chair Carol O’Brien to set up groups chaired by a Councillor to plan the restructuring of certain children’s homes. This included the Harlow homes.

The numbers of children fostered increased from 202 in 1974 to 318 in 1983.


The National Archives at Kew have records of Inspections as follows:

  • 2 Collins Meadow 1960-70 (this was a residence for staff who worked at 158 Collins Meadow)
  • 158 Collins Meadow 1960-64
  • 60 Hare Street Springs 1960-64 & 1965-70
  • 13 Northbrooks 1960-64 & 1965-70
  • 342 Northbrooks 1960-64
  • 56 Ryecroft 1965-70

These will not be available for public viewing until 2040 and 2046

Management responsibility for the Harlow Family Group Homes

In the period after Hermas Rees Jones, the former Islington SSD, had left for a new post in Pembrokeshire and prior to John Rea-Price joining as Social Services Director on 13.03.1972, Clifford Heap was in situ and the most senior Islington Social Services officer with key responsibility for residential child care services. Advertisements for residential staff provided him as the key contact for council applications. He was based at Bluestar House, Highgate Hill N19 5PJ

Clifford Heap, Assistant Director of Social Services (Day and Residential Establishments Division)

Between 1952 and 1964, Heap was Superintendent of the Lambeth run Shirley Oaks children’s home and later from 1964-1970, he was the Superintendent of Stamford House Secure Unit (much used by Islington).

Council minutes, 29.07.1980

Concerns raised about Clifford Heap and his role in Islington

Shirley Oaks Survivors Association alerted Sarah Morgan QC to their concerns about Heap and the connections between Lambeth and Islington abuse networks.

“I received in response to the call for information a submission drawing my attention to the fact that Clifford Heap, who had been Superintendent of Shirley Oaks Children’s Home, was later 1971-80 an Assistant Director in Islington. The same submission expressed certainty that there had been organised crime networks exploiting children across the authorities during the time of this Review.”

Sarah Morgan QC Review 2018:16.21

See ISN Report #4, Morgan’s Denial of Organised Abuse

The Harlow Homes
158 Collins Meadow

Address: Hare Street, Harlow, Essex

Open: An Inspection report refers to the home being open in 1960 and it closed in 1981

“Collins Meadow was run by two lovely Mums”

Former social worker

“Collins Meadow was run by 3 old women”

ISN survivor

Number of ISN survivors who lived at Collins Meadow children’s home between 1976 and 1980: 7 : Their ages when they lived there ranged from 2 to 13 years

A total of 14 children are named by ISN survivors as living at Collins Meadow children’s home

Between 1976 and 80:  8 girls (ages 6-15 years) and 6 boys (ages 2-11 years) lived in this home.

Council documents: Numbers of children mentioned who lived at Collins Meadow children’s home

There were 5 children living at Collins Meadow prior to the closure of the home in 1981.

Residential staff named as working at Collins Meadow children’s home

1975-1980: 8 women and 4 men are named by ISN survivors as residential care workers in this home. The husband of the manager during this time later became manager of 11-12 Highbury Crescent children’s home. It is said by survivors that he had been a car salesman in Harlow.

The 1981 report above states that 2 children on closure required special educational facilities but that it was hoped the ‘other’ 3 children in the home would move with their housemother to Stevenage. ISN wonder if this was another example of the manager of a closed children’s home assuming ‘fostering’ responsibility for the children (See Hare Street Springs).

Life at 158 Collins Meadow children’s home

As some of the children were very young there is little to inform ISN about their experiences of this home. One male residential worker is described very similarly by two survivors as wearing cowboy boots and ‘kicking us all up the arse.’ Both survivors chillingly describe an incident where they witnessed him severely beating a girl in the home blaming her for something they knew she had not done. ‘He was horrible. He beat this girl frequently – she was about 15 years old.’ ‘He was an angry, skinny man who took us to the pub a lot so he could drink and we played in the beer garden.

One of the women staff is said to have ‘slapped children on the face.’ A survivor described how when her mother bought her lovely clothes these were given to the daughter of this member of staff. ‘She hit us with the paddle brush she used to brush our hair .’

One ISN survivor spoke fondly of ‘Aunty Iris’ a member of the staff. In 1980 a social worker described difficulties in the home because of the  ‘impending closure and staffing pressure’ such that one boy was moved to another home.

A survivor described a married couple who were staff who had a baby. She was not allowed to touch the baby because she was black and the parents/staff said the child might catch something from her. She experienced extreme racism in this home from staff including being singled out for beatings/ physical assaults.

Holiday: From 1977-79 a survivor described trips to Great Yarmouth every year.

60 Hare Street Springs

Address: Hare Street, Harlow, Essex

Open: An Inspection report refers to the home being open in 1960 and it seems to have been closed around 1980.

Number of ISN survivors lived in 60 Hare Street Springs children’s home: 3

Numbers of children named by ISN survivors as living in 60 Hare Street Springs children’s home

2 girls and one boy in the mid-70s in a group of 5 young people

Residential staff who worked at 60 Hare Street Springs children’s home

A woman manager (now deceased) and her son.

Life in Hare Street Springs children’s home

One survivor describes being beaten in this home and deprived of food or forced to eat dirty food. ISN survivors also said that children were made to sleep in beds soaked with urine and were forced to drink urine. Children were said to suffer sleep deprivation.

The home had a sheep dog called Mandy. A former social worker described the manager as ‘not a warm person‘. A survivor said, ‘A lot of people did not like her. My social worker was a bit scared of the woman who ran the home.’

Council minutes, 29.01.1980

ISN have very little information on this family group home. However the above council announcement is of significance as it provides one of 4 or 5 examples where a home was closed and the manager became the foster carer for some of the children – sometimes remaining in the same building. In other similar situations to this it seemed assumed that as the ‘fostercarers’ had been managers of a children’s home that they could therefore automatically assume that role. There is no information on them having been assessed.

These arrangements were sometimes referred to as ‘experiments’ and followed through the concept of a substitute ‘family’ with the children calling the manager ‘Mum’. The financing of these arrangements is unclear. These projects were managed by Clifford Heap (01.04.1971-31. 07.1980) 

As with the other Harlow homes – residential care outside of Islington was being closed, brought into the Borough and reduced in line with an increase in fostering.

52-56 Ryecroft

Address: Hare Street Harlow, Essex

Open: An Inspection Report refers to the home being open in 1965 and closed in around 1979

Numbers of ISN survivors who lived at Ryecroft children’s home: 2 – a man and a woman. Also ISN have evidence from a former residential social worker and a social worker.

The former residential worker kindly sent ISN a lot of lovely photographs of the children in Ryecroft 1977-9. She told us ‘I wish to say all the children are remembered fondly.’

If you were there at that time please contact ISN and if we have a photograph of you at Ryecroft we will send it to you.

Number of children named by ISN survivors and staff witnesses as Living at Ryecroft children’s home: 13

5 boys and 8 girls in this home during the 70s

Numbers of children who lived at Ryecroft children’s home (Former residential worker)

1978: 9 children: 5 or 6 older ones and 4 or 5 little ones under age 6 yrs.

Residential staff named as working at Ryecroft children’s home

ISN have heard of just of one manager and one residential worker.

Life at Ryecroft children’s home

Ryecroft was the name of a street in Harlow. A former residential worker contacted ISN. She worked there in the late 70s and described it as a family home for children who needed fresh air.  There were 9 children there.  The manager was Ms Daniels (now deceased) and it was said that the staff were unionized and there was a Residential Workers Charter. Children were sent there from Highbury Crescent children’s home in groups.

The home had 4 bedrooms and a living room, a cat and a dog. This worker provided a book of many photographs of the children and pets. She also remembered the names of some children. A former social worker also recalled the names of two children.

All the children had their own social workers and Ms Daniels was described as very proactive in working alongside social workers. However, ISN have been told that prior to Ms Daniels being in charge there had been concerns raised by older boys about abuse.

Two survivors have come forward to ISN from Ryecroft in the 70s. One when about 7 years old has memories of racism towards her in the home.  She remembers the manager and stroking the cat. From the photos it would seem she was the only black child in the home.

Long suffering tabby cat who sat on new children’s knees, was dressed up in dolls clothes and wheeled about

In 1977, social worker who moved a boy out of a poorly managed and chaotic home, said that in contrast Ryecroft had a ‘caring, disciplined and flexible structure.’ He seemed ‘generally happy and had settled well.’

3 Northbrooks

Address: Hare Street, Harlow, Essex

Open: An Inspection report refers to the home being open in 1960 and it seems to have closed by 1981.

ISN have no information about this home.

342 Northbrooks

Address: Hare Street, Harlow, Essex

Open: An Inspection report refers to the home being open in 1960 and it seems to have closed by 1981.

Number of ISN survivors who lived in 342 Northbrooks children’s home : 2 boys age 12 and 14 years

Number of children named by ISN survivors as living at 342 Northbrooks children’s home : 6

1976-7:  5 children (2 girls and 3 boys some older teenagers.)

1981: 1 child

Numbers of children stated in council documentation as living at 342 Northbrooks children’s home

In 1981 there were 3 children living at Northbrook prior to closure.

Residential staff named as working at 342 Northbrooks children’s home

1976-7:   Woman superintendent and 2 women residential workers

1981: the same woman superintendent (now deceased)

Life at 342 Northbrooks children’s home

Two ISN survivors who went to Northbrooks had remarkably similar experiences although they were living there 4 years apart. The manager was the same person throughout (now deceased).

Both are black and both refer to ‘terrible racism’ at the home and at school. This, as part of their negative experience of this home, is corroborated in their social work files as comments such as;

  • ‘He was teased for being coloured’
  • ‘He was victimised, very unhappy and frightened’
  • ‘Teacher suggests he feels discriminated against because of his colour’
  • ‘He came in for a lot of hostility from other children and became badly scapegoated. His situation became untenable’
  • ‘He was beaten by older boys in the home’
  • ‘He refused to get in the car to return to Northbrooks’
  • ‘He is very unhappy and wants to leave’
  • ‘He wrote 4 pages of examples of how he was victimised in the home.’
  • ‘He packed his bags and was leaving’
  • ‘Manager is said to favour the other children’
  • ‘Likes to be on his own and take the dog for a walk’
  • ‘He is finding something difficult e.g. being coloured especially at school as there are only a few coloured children’
  • ‘He has a supporter, a very large black boy who lives next door and acts as his champion.’

Both had social workers who wrote critically of the home’s management regime. One of the boys had repeatedly told professionals (including a psychiatrist who visited the home) that he was very unhappy and his social worker was aware of the boy being the victim of severe intimidation from older children in the home. She and a social work colleague delivered a series of eight 2 hour group sessions to try and resolve issues for the children in the home and the staff. This was an innovative approach reaching out to all the children and staff – but she commented that the manager was ‘uncooperative’. The boy is described as ‘motivated, gentle and cooperative’ – the manager as ‘suspicious, and hostile, defensive and demeaned the group in front of the children saying it was a waste of time.’ The boy was moved and the situation left unresolved. It was said that the manager had difficulty separating personal feelings from professional responsibilities and a senior manager was consulted. The boy realised the manager’s ‘dislike of him and his life was miserable’.

Another boy age 12 years whose social worker was highly critical when the manager called the police (the survivor does not know why this action was taken) and he was left by Northbrooks staff in Harlow Police Station overnight. The social worker collected him the next day, took him back to Northbrooks and challenged the manager about her actions. The police she spoke to questioned the reason for being called in by the children’s home staff and they described the boy as ‘good as gold’ and ‘small and slightly’. He left Northbrooks shortly after.

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