The BWI Archives

1993 ~ Dennis Knowles


Dennis Edward Knowles, third Headteacher of Bishop Winnington-Ingram Church of England Primary School, was born into the small south Yorkshire village of Little Houghton, six miles east of Barnsley, on 15th May 1933.  This was a mining community in which his father was a pit engineer at one of the two mines nearby. 
Dennis’ sister, Christine, was born in 1945. Unfortunately it was quickly established that she was seriously handicapped and subsequently required high levels of support throughout her life; both Christine’s parents and Dennis provided constant love and dedication to her wellbeing until her death early in 1915.  
School was not quite the success it should have been for Dennis.  He was an intelligent child for whom much of the work proved too easy and consequently boring.  His school moved him up a year, though this too was not without its issues.  Outside of school, sports played a key role - cricket in particular.  He played for nearby Darfield in the 
South Yorkshire leagues (joining the local church choir so that he would be eligible for membership of the club!) and a bicycle provided the necessary transport as player or spectator – even on occasion travelling as far afield as Scarborough, a distance of some 90 miles.
With clear academic ability, Dennis was able to gain a place and subsequently attend university, one of only two from his school.  In his case, it was the University of Hull where he read medieval history – but naturally also indulging his passions for cricket and now rugby as a member of the university teams. The bicycle continued to be a valuable aid, enabling a 1,000 mile round-Britain tour one summer.
Two years of National Service followed 
university and already a future in teaching was beginning to develop: as a sergeant in the Royal Tank Regiment he was based at Catterick where he found himself required to teach soldiers, helping them improve their reading and numeracy skills.  It was during this military stage of his life that Dennis met and married Val, his wife of over fifty years.
On completing his National Service, Dennis began his first formal post as a teacher at Longwood Primary School in South Yorkshire - he and Val setting up home in the nearby mining village of Cudworth where their sons Chris and Ian were born. Deputy Headship followed in Cookridge, to the north of Leeds.  In 1971 there came - as what must have seemed a revolutionary change for a family born, brought up and working in Yorkshire - the move south to Ruislip and to Bishop Winnington-Ingram CE Primary 
School following Reginald Jennings as the school’s third Headteacher.  Reg. Jennings had battled against the limited space and poor facilities on the Eastcote Road site and in 1968 overseen the school’s move to Southcote Rise. Dennis Knowles was now to move it forward over the following twenty-two years, using the new facilities to the full, and enabling it to be one of the foremost and desired primaries in the London Borough of Hillingdon. 

Outside the teaching, Dennis was fully involved in the local community, especially that of St Martin’s Church, Ruislip.  Sports were still a vital interest, being a member of the MCC and frequent spectator at Lords and Headingly; rugby was not forgotten, nor cycling with close attention to the annual Tour de France.

The young family grew up, went to university: Chris following his father’s path of teaching and eventually leading his own school as Head; Ian becoming an expert acoustician.  Between them they had five children on which proud grandparents Dennis and Val could dote.
With a sixtieth birthday in 1993, and the rapidly changing face of education in England, Dennis decided to take retirement.  As he wrote in the Ruislip and Northwood Gazette 
of the 21 July 1993, “It’s more and more a young person’s job”.  But while he might have struck this rather negative note, he also commented that the job had given him “Twenty-two tremendous years.”
Following retirement Dennis and Val took the opportunity for frequent trips around England and abroad, especially
France where he could continue to use his French (he was a keen participant in a weekly conversation class).  He also took up golf. And of course there was the important role of loving grandparents. Education, however, was not forgotten. Dennis was an active governor at Bishop Ramsey, the Ruislip Church of England secondary school; frequently dropping in to observe lessons as well as attending the various Governing Body meetings.  He also trained as an Ofsted Inspector – though one suspects what turned out to be a short-lived involvement with the agency was the result of rapid disillusion with its often critical stance and lack of capacity for offering support for what it perceived as weaknesses; Dennis always preferred to recognise strengths.
For those who knew him, Dennis Knowles' untimely death at 82 on 13th July 2015 meant the loss of someone who had made a significant positive impact on their lives.  His public legacy are the generations of children who benefitted from his steady, thoughtful guidance of BWI over those twenty-two years during which he led the school.


First uploaded: 30 November 2016