Old Beneficiary School42 Kent Street, Portsea, Portsmouth.
The Old Benny, the affectionate name for the former Old Beneficial
School in Portsea, is a beautiful grade II listed building, dating
back to the Georgian period.
In 1754 a Beneficial Society was created by John Shakespear and 5 colleagues with the aim of supporting each other in times of need. with each member contributing one shilling per month. It was agreed that any spare money collected would be donated to pay for the education of poor children from the local area. This concept was further enhanced by membership being extended in 1755 to both Beneficial and Honorary members who gave an annual subscription to what had become an educational charity.
Consequently the building still remaining today was constructed in 1784, with the downstairs floor serving as the classroom and the upstairs being used by the Society for meetings, concerts and theatre. The school applied a very disciplinarian attitude to education and, indeed, a hook to which children were tied to receive punishment by the birch is still present amongst many of the original features.
It was not until 1837 that the previously boys only school, was
opened to girls and a junior school was also formed in 1873.
The school had to be closed in 1939 due to the outbreak of WW11
and it is said that a Nazi
sympathiser used the roof of the school to direct, through a torch, bombers seeking to hit the Portsmouth Dockyards.
The school finally closed in 1962 becoming a youth training centre before opening in 2010 as the Groundlings Theatre, a lively and reenergised centre for performances, a drama school and arts centre.
There are many fascinating historical facts about the Old Benny. Two of these are that, in 1812, whilst attending a dance in the building, Elizabeth Dickens went into labour and shortly afterwards gave birth to her son Charles. Secondly, the man who became the Premier of South Australia 7 times and after whom Ayres Rock was names, Henry Ayres, was a pupil at this school.
The Old Benny is reportedly one of the most haunted buildings
It is thought that there are up to 9 active spirits – the ghost of “little George” on the staircase and Emily in the classroom. Laughing children have been heard upstairs, not to mention the cheeky poltergeist who has been known to play tricks by moving objects, including people !
What causes the strong smell of lavender in one of the rooms, the distinct cold spots on the site or the apparition of orbs throughout the building ?