The Park School

The Park School

Founded in 1851 by Martha Softley


Martha Amelia Softley (photographed at left) was born in 1830 in Tufnell Park, Holloway, Middlesex. She was the niece of schoolmaster of Prospect House Academy William Softley and his wife Catherine. 

In the 1851 census, at the age of 21, Martha was lodging in the boarding house of Mary Lukins in Kingston and listed her occupation as a schoolmistress. Indeed, it was in 1851 that Martha started her own school, later to become The Park School, at Ashgrove, Mudford Road.

In the 1861 census Martha was listed at Ashgrove as 'Principal of School' with her sister Harriett and cousin Catherine, known as Kate, both listed as 'Assistant in School'. There were three boarding students; Fanny and Mary Stone, aged 9 and 5 respectively and 7-year old Ellen Indoe. Also in the house was a boarder, a cook and a housemaid.

The purpose of her school was to impart a good general education for girls, founded on a Christian basis. Shortly after founding her school at Ashgrove, she moved to a house on the corner of Mudford Road and Higher Kingston. However, certainly by 1869, the school was in The Park since this is the address given in an advertisement announcing the commencement of the new term. In the 1871 census Martha, Harriett and Kate was listed living in Ram Park / The Park (both addresses were given in the census for the property) together with two domestic servants and nine female boarding students aged between ten and eighteen. This building has now been identified from the 1908 postcard and the still from the 1960's Yeovil cine film - see Gallery.

In the spring of 1871 at Yeovil Martha married 'Minister of the Gospel' William Henry Bennet (b 1843), originally from Ashford, Middlesex. It is known that they became involved in missionary work, which is probably the reason they don't appear in the next two censuses. By 1901 Martha and William were back at The Park where William listed his occupation as Minister of the Gospel and Martha gave hers as Principal of Girls School. Catherine listed her occupation as Joint Principal of Girls School. There were also 23 boarding girl students, aged between 6 and 18, a cook and two housemaids.

In the 1911 census William, now aged 68, listed his occupation as 'Minister of the Gospel (Brethren)' and Martha, now aged 79, still listed hers as Principal of Girls School. Also in residence were two governesses, a cook, a housemaid and eight girl boarding students. 

Martha finally retired in 1917 and died in Yeovil in the spring of 1919 at the age of 88. William died the following year, aged 77. They had been married for 46 years but had no children.

Catherine who in the meantime had married Fred Bennet, took over the running of the school. Kelly's Directory of 1919 listed the 'Girls Boarding School at 22 The Park, Mrs Catherine C Bennet'. Catherine and her daughter Gwendoline Bennet continued as joint Principals in name (on most of their directory listings) although Gwendoline was effectively Head of the school from 1920 until 1964.

A gymnasium was built in 1940 and the school moved to Kingston House, with its large garden, in 1949. By 1951 numbers at the school had increased to 287, including 80 boarders. The school was recognised by the Board of Education in 1955.

Much of the school had to be demolished for the building of the new inner ring road and in its edition of 3 June 1976 the Western Gazette reported "New premises had to be found when the original buildings in The Park had to be demolished to make way for Yeovil's inner relief road. Somerset County Council footed the bill for the £220,000 schoolhouse which stands just a few hundred yards from the original site. Yeovil architect Mr David Young designed the building, which is double-glazed to shut out noise of relief road traffic, and it was built by Ilminster contractors Coombes & Sons. The school's 220 pupils have been using the building since the beginning of summer term. It has classrooms, music room, kitchen and offices and accommodation for resident staff."



The 1886 Ordnance Survey map showing, circled in red, the location of the Park School from at least as early as 1869. This building is shown in two photographs below. The site of this building is now roughly in the centre of Queensway and the present Park School buildings of the 1970s would be located in the top left quadrant of this map.



Ashgrove, Mudford Road, where Martha Softley originally founded her school. Photographed in the 1970s.


An advertisement for The Park School in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1890.


An advertisement for The Park School in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1900 at which time Martha Bennet née Softly and her cousin Catherine Softley were Co-Principals.


Courtesy of Jack Sweet

A postcard of the Park School, posted in 1905. This is the building occupied by the Park School from at least 1869 and shown on the map above.


From my collection

Another postcard of the Park School, this dated 1908.


The 1908 Park School building, at right, from the 1960's Yeovil cine film.


Advertisement for The Old Park School in Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1918.


This Regency house, Kingston House, was built by Charles Vining and was the home of his son James Tally Vining. It later became part of the Park School.


Park School, the new building opened in 1976.


Miss Gwendoline Bennet, daughter of former Principal Catherine Bennet née Softly, was Headmistress from 1920 to 1963 and is seen here opening the new School House on 28 May 1976. She is being watched by Francis Stent, Chairman of the Governors, Mayor of Yeovil Kay Heath and the then-headmistress Miss Anthea Cousins.


.... and another view of the new building.


An advertisement for the Park School from the 1970s.


From my collection

A postcard of the Park School - I'm guessing in the early 1980s.


An advertisement for The Park School in the Western Gazette on the occasion of the Western Gazette's 250th anniversary in 1987.


An advertisement for the Park School from the 1992 edition of the Yeovil Town Guide.


The 6th Form Study Centre in Kingston, next door to Swallowcliffe House. Photographed 2013.


An aerial view of the Park School; Park Road is at extreme left and Kingston at extreme right.