Tributes to a ‘gentle giant’

Fred Knox unveiling the Miners' Memorial sculpture in Oakwell Hall Country park, the site of the former Gomersal Colliery.
Fred Knox unveiling the Miners' Memorial sculpture in Oakwell Hall Country park, the site of the former Gomersal Colliery.

Former magistrate and a founder member of Spen Valley Civic Society Fred Knox has died at the age of 92.

Fred, who lived in Birkenshaw, was born in Durham and moved to Yorkshire in 1941 to work at the old Peacock Cilliery in Birkenshaw.

He later became a deputy and then safety and ventilation officer at the nearby Gomersal Colliery.

It was his knowledge of the mining industry which proved vital to the Civic Society’s project to commemorate Gomersal pit which resulted in a sculpture in the grounds of Oakwell Hall Country Park, and a book.

In 1966 Fred was appointed a magistrate to the old West Riding Court in Dewsbury and following re-organisation, joined the Dewsbury Bench. He became deputy chairman of the Bench in 1979, chairman of the Dewsbury Bench in 1985 and chairman of the newly-formed Batley/Dewsbury Bench from 1987-1991.

He was elected to the local, central and national executive probation committees and served on the steering committee to set up the community service scheme, to co-ordinate the probation and private bail hostels.

While on the West Yorkshire Central Probation Committee, he was on the Bail Hostel Committee, chaired the finance committee and Elm Bank Hostel in Cleckheaton, and served on the national executive association of bail hostels.

Civic Society president John Holroyd, who served as a magistrate alongside Fred, said: “A conscientious and caring man, he was well suited to the role of a Justice of the Peace and during his chairmanship he oversaw the smooth merger of the Dewsbury and Batley Benches.

“In 1972 Fred founded Spen Valley Civic Society along with Fred Smith, Arthur Swailes, Fred Bean and James Sladdin. Since that initial meeting Fred has been an enthusiastic supporter of the society’s causes. He became vice-chairman in 1977, vice-president in 1987 and was made president in 1992, in which post he served until 2008.

“Having been a pit deputy at Gomersal Colliery, his help and advice, together with his many contacts within the mining industry, helped the society to achieve a lasting memorial to the miners of Gomersal at Oakwell Country Park. The society will miss his knowledge and sound advice.

In 1996 Fred and his wife, Mary, were invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace in recognition of his service to the community.

He was also an active member of Batley Salvation Army, serving as a bandsman, songster, and corps sergeant major, and represented the Yorkshire area of the Salvation Army in London at its centenary celebrations. He was a board member of the Spenborough Flower Fund Homes and was a former president of the Batley Probus Club.

His son, Brian, said: “He was a giant of a man, 6ft 4ins tall, with a giant personality to go with it and a wonderful sense of humour.

“He was very kind-hearted and caring.

“People have told me that he was very thoughtful and would give them little gifts to cheer them up if they were feeling down.

“He was very organised and would get things done, and his advice to people was always greatly appreciated.

“And for all his public service, he was very much a family man. He and my mum, Mary, had been married for 68 years.”

The funeral service is on Tuesday at 12.30pm at the Batley Salvation Army Hall, followed by refreshments, and the committal will take place at 2.45pm at Dewsbury Crematorium. Fred leaves his wife Mary, Brian, daughter-in-law Aileen, five grandchildren and great-grandchildren.