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 had slate grey hulls, black and red funnels with white Prince of Wales feathers. The late Edwardian era saw the the Prince Line at its peak. Larger vessels were built and the company was held in high regard around the world by all who sailed with them.
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.
During the First World War the Prince Line lost 21 ships through enemy or other maritime actions. 86 crew members lost their lives. The Knott family lost two sons, who were serving officers in France. Henry was killed in action on the 7th September 1915, aged 24, and James was killed at the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916, aged 32. The two brothers were buried side by side in Ypres cemetery. The eldest brother, Thomas, was captured and interned in Germany until Armistice Day.
James Knott was devastated by the deaths of his sons and these tragic events were the main reason he sold the Prince Line to Furness, Withy & Co. In the 1917 Birthday Honours List he was made a Baronet and became Sir James Knott Bt.
In 1924 Sir James Knott purchased Samares Manor on the island of Jersey and extensively refurbished the house and gardens. An investment company, Samares Investments, was formed to further his philanthropic interests. In 1925 the Memorial Park at Heddon, Northumberland, was created in memory of his sons. At Fenham, Newcastle, St James and St Basil Church built in 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 died in 1934, aged 79. His 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.
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).
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.
Sir James Knott believed in ‘action not words’ - his many generous gifts to charities in the North East were examples of this philosophy.
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 over 8,500 grants totalling over £27.8million, many of them to charities known to have been of keen interest to Sir James Knott.
Michael Coats, a local historian, has created a short film about the life of Sir James https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rr2VvcqYrws
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