Portsmouth writer on the hunt for tales of city’s former Beneficial School 

From left - Bill Foster, Rosalie Cuthbert, and  Arthur Cray. Bill and Arthur were both pupils at The Beneficial School, now The Groundlings Theatre in Kent Street, Portsmouth, between 1935-1939.
From left - Bill Foster, Rosalie Cuthbert, and Arthur Cray. Bill and Arthur were both pupils at The Beneficial School, now The Groundlings Theatre in Kent Street, Portsmouth, between 1935-1939.
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A WOMAN on a mission to uncover the history of a well-known theatre – which was once a city school – staged a reunion for former pupils.

Rosalie Cuthbert is writing a book about the old Beneficial School, in Kent Street, Portsea – which is now home to the Groundlings Theatre.

And last night she hosted a special reunion for people who went to school in the Georgian building to discover their tales and playground memories.

Retired social worker Rosalie, of Purbrook, said she was blown away by the response to her plea, which she issued in The News.

She said: ‘This has been fantastic. I have had so many people turn up. There are people here meeting old school friends that they have seen in donkey’s years.’

Two sessions were held last night for former pupils to attend. More than dozens turned up, with some well into their 90s.

Among them was Portsea resident Bill Prior, 74. He was a pupil there between 1949 and 1952 and said he met up with people he had not seen in decades.

‘I have met my brother-in-law’s sister and I didn’t know her from Adam,’ he said. ‘There are people here that I knew at school but we don’t recognise each other its been that long,

‘It’s been brilliant seeing everyone. The school is a lot smaller than I remember it though. It always seemed massive when I was five.’

Mr Prior told of his memories from the school and spoke of a young disabled boy he ‘took under his wing’ when he was a lad.

‘I remember vividly I used to look out for him,’ he said. ‘He used to struggle upstairs so one day I took his leg irons off because I thought that would help him.

‘I remember a teacher coming to me and telling me that those leg irons were the reason he could walk.’

Rosalie said it was tales like these she was interested in.

‘You can get the dry facts of when it was built and who by but getting the personal stories adds a different element,’ she said.

The site was built in 1784 and served as a school for children from impoverished families, running until 1962.

Charles Dickens’s was almost born there and Australia's former premier Sir Henry Ayres was also a pupil there once.

Rosalie is still researching stories and hopes to finish her book next year.