Dingwall, Walter

Dingwall, Walter

Walter Spender Dingwall, Headmaster of Hurstpierpoint College 1937 to 1945 died at Terry’s Cross, Woodmancote, on 28 August 1990 in his 90th year.

The following Obituary appeared in The Times:-
“Walter Dingwall was appointed Headmaster of Hurstpierpoint, Hassocks, Sussex, in 1937. He was educated at Marlborough and Christ Church, Oxford. After university he went to St.Edward’s School. Oxford, as Assistant Master and was sixth form master there from 1922 to 1937. For 10 years he had charge of one of the Houses. As well as being form master and house master he was also for nine years School Bursar. He thus gained an insight into financial organisation and administration which was possessed by few other masters in the country. His knowledge of the bursar’s work was widened still further when he was, from 1932 until 1938, honorary secretary and treasurer of the Public Schools Bursars’ Association, a newly founded organisation. By bringing together the various bursars, he was able to work out many suggestions for more effective and economical management.

Dingwall went to Hurstpierpoint College from St.Edward’s and remained headmaster until 1945. His main achievement was to build up the sixth form, so strengthening the academic side, and he was keen to encourage boys to go on to Oxford and Cambridge. After he retired he gave money to found scholarships to encourage boys to stay on for an extra term to take entrance examinations. At St.Edward’s and at Hurstpierpoint he had paid out of his own pocket the fees for certain boys to stay on in the sixth form. Dingwall improved dormitory accommodation at Hurstpierpoint and living conditions by providing cubicles in day rooms to give boys privacy. Half of Westminster School were evacuated to Hurstpierpoint during the war and though boys were billeted in the village, teaching accommodation was shared with the help of judicious organisation. Westminster was there less than a year but the way it was catered for was a tribute to Dingwall’s managerial skills. He was also a man of considerable foresight, and bought all the blackout curtains for Hurstpierpoint in September 1938, a full year before war broke out. He was too young to serve in the first world war and his job too important for him to serve in the second, though he was in the Territorial Army. Dingwall taught mathematics and economic history. He was approachable and mixed well with staff, maintaining authority by his strong personality. When he arrived in 1937, he seemed almost too young to be a headmaster. He was 36, played hockey for the masters against the college and was keen on squash and bridge. His talents also flourished during the 15 years he was Chichester diocesan secretary, concerned with administration, from 1946 to 1961, before his retirement. He was known for his financial expertise, the post-war reconstruction of churches in Sussex, and for improving the lot of the clergy. His wife predeceased him. ”

Ken Mason, who taught at Hurstpierpoint College from 1933 to 1973 writes about Hurst during Mr. Dingwall’s time.
“The arrival of WSD in 1937 had the effect on Hurst of oxygen given to a moribund patient. The School had suffered severely from the depression of the thirties. By 1937, numbers had fallen dangerously low, academic standards were poor, there was no proper Sixth Form, living conditions for both boys and staff were basic, the School was barely solvent. I can well remember WSD coming to visit the OTC contingent, in camp at one of the Tidworths in the summer of 1937 to enlist support- for the changes he planned to begin in the September term. While we sat under a hedge to watch a demonstration, he explained that his first objective was to improve boys’ living conditions. Using his considerable bursary skills, he had been school bursar at St.Edward’s, Oxford for nine years and secretary and treasurer for six years at the newly formed Public Schools Bursars Association, he managed to raise sufficient money to transform the bleak, bare and featureless day rooms by the installation of ‘horse boxes’, one for each boy, and by going some way to civilising the cavernous and intimidating dormitories by partitioning each into junior and senior sections and by replacing the camp-like ablution arrangements with proper hand basins with running water. He proved to be an inspiring leader, but unorthodox and unstuffy; he was prone to pay casual visits to one’s rooms at night to play bridge and to join in mild gambling games : he played squash and hockey with the boys, he quickly turned Hurst into a vibrant and efficient unit in which it was a delight to work. A Sixth Form came into being : to win Higher Certificates became the norm : despite the war, from December 1940 onwards, a steady stream of Oxbridge awards were won ; Physical Training periods became part of the curriculum : time consuming but rewarding standard sports were introduced, both especially dear to WSD’s heart : the games results improved considerably and some Blues were won.
After only a brief two years of peace, WSD was then faced by the huge, innumerable problems brought by the war. He responded energetically to the new challenge, and, despite the fact that the school was situated in a prohibited defence zone and that most of our adjacent independent schools had been evacuated, he managed steadily to increase the numbers on the school roll. Typical problems included the recalling of the staff in the summer of 1939 to cope with the immense task of installing the black-out in the cloisters, dayrooms, dormitories and classrooms with material characteristically bought the year before; the chivvying of the school into digging a long trench along the edge of the South fields as an embryo air- raid shelter, fortunately never used in earnest.
Twice he had to make hectic dashes to London, first to lobby to prevent the buildings being requisitioned for use as an hospital, and then to argue against a plan to turn the whole area into an American air base;, which would, incidentally, have involved the demolition of the Chapel tower. For nearly a year he had to cope with the evacuation of half of Westminster School to the College, some of whom were billeted in the village, some in the school.
For much of each summer holiday he organised Forestry camps for the older boys and the staff. The Kent visit proved to be the most exciting. For to WSD’s dismay and the boys’ glee, we found the camp to be situated in the middle of the designated RAF killing ground ,for doodle bugs between the London barrage balloons and the coastal AA guns. A pre-war Territorial, he also found time to command the school Home Guard platoon, and typically, insisted on its forestry camp members taking their arms and uniforms to camp to help to round up bailed out German air crew during the Battle of Britain. I believe we used them once. Also, typically, he was heard to urge the Home Guard during the invasion crisis in case of disaster to make sure ‘to take one with them’.

In coping with his job he was able to rely on the wholehearted backing of hi-s wife, Mary, even to the extent of having to dodge fighter bullets in Kent. Mary seemed happy to accept the enormous inroads into their private life, entailed by his total involvement with the school, and unstintingly devoted her considerable skills as a hostess to furthering his plans for the school.

Briefly, in difficult circumstances, WSD successfully revived the flagging fortunes of the school and, in so doing, managed to lay such sound foundations that each of the three succeeding headmasters have been able to build on his and their predecessor’s work to make Hurst the successful school it has again become.”

A Thanksgiving Service for the life of Walter Dingwall was held at Hurstpierpoint College Chapel on Saturday, 10th November 1990. The Service was conducted by Bishop Evans and the address was given by Sir Derek Day, Chairman of the School Council, who was a boy at the College in Mr. Dingwall’s time.

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