Sir James Knott Memorial Flats in Tynemouth
Sir James Knott Memorial Flats in Tynemouth The flats were built to withstand WW II air raids. Image: Russel Wills, Geograph (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Two of the special features
Two of the special features were the use of fire-resistant materials throughout, unusual for those days, and the huge cellars designed as air raid shelters. Image: Russel Wills, Geograph (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Charity Details
Full Name: The Sir James Knott Trust
Founded: 1990
Type: Independent
Where Operates: North East England
Headquarters: Newcastle, NE1 6JQ
Charity No: 1001363

History and Activities

The Sir James Knott Trust is a grant-making charitable trust based in Newcastle. The Trust supports charities across the North East, managing for public benefit the residual fortune of Sir James Knott (1855 – 1934), a successful entrepreneur in shipping and coal.

James Knott was born in Howden on Tyne and was the eldest of ten children. He was educated at the Scotch School in North Shields, leaving aged 14 to work as a clerk for the shipbroker Borries Craig on Newcastle’s Quayside. Aged 19, he became a ship owner, borrowing £500 to buy his first ship, a collier brig called the Pearl. He bought his first steamship, the Saxon Prince, in 1881, and by 1886 he owned 16 ships. In 1895, James established the Prince Line, which became the third largest shipping line in the world with a fleet of 45 vessels. Outside of business, he enjoyed a brief political career, serving as Conservative MP for Sunderland in 1910.

The First World War brought tragedy for James and wife Margaret. They lost two sons, Henry, aged 24, and James, aged 32. An older brother, Thomas, was held as a German prisoner of war. Devastated by the deaths of his two sons, James sold the Prince Line in 1916. In 1917, he was made a Baronet, taking as his motto “deeds not words”. The Memorial Park in Heddon, Northumberland, nearby the family home, Close House, was created in memory of the sons he and Margaret lost. In Newcastle, they built a beautiful Arts & Crafts church, St James and St Basil in Fenham, to help keep alive their memory

When Sir James died in 1934, he left his £5 million estate, equivalent to about £340 million today, in trust with Samares Investments Ltd., registered in Jersey and named after the manor house he had bought there in 1924. The trustees made some important philanthropic investments in the 1930s, notably building the Knott Memorial Flats and a Nursery in North Shields, and making a large donation toward the James Knott Youth Centre in North Shields. Following the death of his third son, Sir Thomas Garbutt Knott, without children in 1949, his estate reverted to Samares Investments Ltd. In 1990, the Samares trustees decided to extend its philanthropic activities and endowed the Sir James Knott Trust, based in Newcastle, as the charitable vehicle for that purpose.

Numerous causes have been supported over the past thirty years and the James Knott Foundation has featured high on the list of contributors to numerous capital campaigns, especially in the field of arts, culture and heritage, where the Northern Stage, the Great North Museum and the Sage Gateshead have been significant beneficiaries. Since 1990 more than 8,500 grants have been made with a combined value of £27.8 million. In 2016/17, the trust awarded £1,365,010 in grants divided between 344 recipients. The most favoured causes were arts, culture and heritage (28%), community services £23%), health (14%) and education (11%). Sir James Knott, a hundred years after the end of World War I, remains a stalwart of North East philanthropy, the wealth flowing from his entrepreneurial ventures continuing to benefit the lives of people throughout the region. 

Vital Statistics (year to 31/03/2017)

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Charity Commission. (2017). Sir James Knott Trust- Trustees’ Report and Financial Statements. Available at: (Accessed: 02/08/2018).

Dobson, J. (2012). Newcastle Shipowner – The story of Sir James Knott and his shipping business, Newcastle: Sir James Knott Trust.

Heddon-on-the-Wall Local History Society. (2018). Sir James Knott, Available here (Accessed: 02/08/2018).

Sir James Knott Trust. (2018). Knott family history, Available here (Accessed: 02/08/2018).

Wikipedia. (2018). Sir James Knott, 1st Baronet, Available here (Accessed: 02/08/2018).