Sir James Knott

Knott Family – Chronicle Article 2017

By Tony Henderson, Evening Chronicle 2017

Caption from the featured photo above – Thomas Garbutt Knott (left); Lady Knott; Sir James Knott and The Church of St James and St Basil in Fenham

Starting work at 14 and one of a family of 10 children, James Knott went on to found his own shipping line.

James had been born in Howdon on Tyneside in 1855, with his parents moving to North Shields shortly after. His first job as a boy was in a Quayside shipping office but by 23 he had bought his first vessel- an old collier brig, called Pearl, for £85. It was the beginning of the Prince Line, with James Knott’s first steamer being launched at Swan Hunter in 1881. In addition to the shipping line, which was based at Milburn House in Newcastle, James set up the Ashington Coal Company.

“The extraordinary lives of the Tyneside Knott family revealed – Their legacy has gone on financing good causes in the North East through his Samares Investment Trust and Sir James Knott Trust”

His increasing wealth enabled him, with wife Margaret, to move into a succession of fine homes, from Monks Haven which still overlooks Cullercoats Bay, to Manor House in Jesmond in Newcastle then Close House near Wylam in Northumberland, which was bought by businessman Graham Wylie in 2004 and is now the Close House Hotel. Not content with shipping and coal, James studied law and was called to the Bar at the age of 34. He was also MP for Sunderland.

Lady Knott; Thomas Garbutt Knott; Sir James Knott

James Basil and Thomas

But, like so many lives, that of James Knott with his prosperity and achievement, was dealt a devastating blow by the First World War. Two of his three sons were killed in France – Henry Basil Knott in 1915 and James Leadbitter Knott in 1916. James and Margaret paid for the building of the Church of St James and St Basil, on the corner of Fenham Hall Drive and Wingrove Road in Newcastle, as a memorial to their sons. The church, consecrated in 1931 and is now listed as a fine example of the Arts and Crafts movement.

James Leadbitter Knott was born in North Shields in 1883 and became a director of the Prince Line and the Newcastle Journal. Enlisting in the Northumberland Fusiliers, he rose to the rank of major. He was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.

Major James Leadbitter Knott; Window dedicated to two members of the Knott family, Major James Leabitter Knott and Captain Henry Basil Knott; Captain Henry Basil Knott

His brother, Henry Basil Knott, had been born at Manor House in Jesmond in 1891 and was a partner in his father’s business. He also joined the Northumberland Fusiliers and became a captain. He died from wounds at Ypres in 1915. After the war, the body of James was moved from the Somme and buried next to his brother at Ypres Reservoir cemetery. On their gravestones is inscribed: “Devoted in Life, In death not divided.”

Their elder brother, Thomas, who loved travel and adventure, fought in the Boer War with the South African Light Horse. In the First World War, he joined the Otago Mounted Rifles in New Zealand, transferring to the Anzac Camel Corps and then the Auckland Rifles. Serving in the Egyptian theatre of operations and the Balkans, he survived the war. The brothers’ uncle and their father’s youngest brother, Stanley, also served in the Boer War as a captain in the Uitenhage Mounted Volunteers as part of the Zululand flying column and in 1914 joined the Canadian army, as that was where he was living. He served on the Western Front, and died at a camp in southern England in 1918.


In the Newcastle church, James and Basil are commemorated in the south window of the Memorial Chapel, which also shows the family home at Close House. The church has a unique chime of 17 bells. The tenor bell is inscribed with : “We ring in memory of James & Basil Knott. God knows”. James – later Sir James Knott – used his wealth for philanthropic projects such as Knott’s Flats overlooking the mouth of the Tyne and the Sir James Knott youth centre in North Shields.

His legacy has gone on financing good causes in the North East through his Samares Investment Trust and Sir James Knott Trust, including the purchase of two of the finest landscape areas in Northumberland, the College Valley and Chillingham Park, with its wild white cattle.

The church is open seven days a week. Details on

By Tony Henderson – Evening Chronicle 2017