James Knott was born on the 31st January 1855 at Howdon on Tyne. He was the eldest of ten children. His father, Matthew, was a Customs Searcher. James was educated at the Scotch School in North Shields, which he left at the age of 14 to start work as a shipping clerk on Newcastle Quayside.
At the age of 19, James started as a shipbroker. In 1878 he married Margaret Annie Garbutt and acquired his first ship, a collier brig named ‘Pearl’ for £186. In 1881 he purchased his first steam ship the ‘Saxon Prince’. By 1883 he added a further 8 steam ships and by 1886 owned a total of 17 and had purchased his first tanker.
James and Margaret Knott had three sons, Thomas Garbutt (1879), James Leadbitter (1882) and Henry Basil (1891).
James Knott set up the Prince Line Ltd in 1895. It became the third largest shipping line in the world with 45 ships, many of them built in Tyne and Wear shipyards, primarily by Short Bros. The ships with their slate grey hulls, black and red funnels and white Prince of Wales feathers became familiar the world over. The Prince Line was held in high regard by all who sailed in their ships and by passengers voyaging on the round the world service.
James Knott had many other interests; he owned coal mines, became a ship’s master, studied law, was called to the Bar in 1889 and in 1910 served for a short time as MP for Sunderland.
In 1924 Sir James purchased Samares Manor on the island of Jersey and was responsible for extensive refurbishment of the house and gardens. An investment company, Samares Investments, was formed to further his philanthropy.
The Knott family were great benefactors to the North East and in particular to the village of Heddon on the Wall. The family created the Memorial Park in Heddon in 1925 in memory of his two sons killed in action in the Great War. St James and St Basil Church in Fenham, Newcastle, built 1931, was named after them.
Lady Margaret Annie Knott died at the age of 74 while on holiday in Cannes in 1929. In 1932 Sir James married Miss Elizabeth Chystie Gauntlet, aged 25, at Monte Carlo.
Sir James Knott died in 1934. The eldest son, Thomas Garbutt Knott inherited his father’s title. In 1936 Sir Garbutt Knott gave to the village of Heddon the Knott Memorial Hall in memory of his parents. Sir Garbutt Knott lived at Courtlands in Exmouth, Devon until his death in 1949. He had married Margaret Annie Anderson in 1925 but there were no children from the marriage. Most of his estate was left to the Trust set up by his father, Samares Investments.
In 1938 the Trustees provided funds to build the Knott Memorial Flats and a Nursery School in North Shields, and the site and a generous contribution towards building costs of the James Knott Youth Centre in North Shields (pictured).
In 1990 the Sir James Knott Trust Settlement was divided to form the Sir James Knott Trust based in Newcastle with the reserve remaining in Jersey.
Since 1990 the Trust has made nearly 8,000 grants totaling over £25million, many of them to charities known to have been of keen interest to Sir James Knott.
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