Legacy snapshot

  John Sharp (1949-2019)

Distributing a £1.25 million legacy gift to the RNLI

To fund the upgrade of the Tynemouth Severn class lifeboat

A generous gift left to Charities Aid Foundation by John Sharp, who passed away in 2019, pays homage to his remarkable ancestry by investing in the future of the lifeboat service on England’s North East coast.

Unearthing a lifeboat pioneer of the past

One of John’s interests throughout his 70-year life was researching his family history. He was particularly intrigued by four brothers and three sisters in the eighteenth century, the grandchildren of John Sharp, Archbishop of York (1645-1714). These ambitious, free-thinking siblings achieved prominent positions at the heart of British society and pioneered major movements that defined the period, including campaigning for the abolition of slavery, extending the waterways, and improving public health. 

The eldest brother, another (Dr) John Sharp (1723-1792), became Senior Trustee of Lord Crewe’s Charity, the then owners of Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. During his tenure, Dr Sharp established what was effectively a model welfare state: subsidising corn for the poor, creating a school, and a well-equipped general dispensary and surgery. He later became Archdeacon of Northumberland.

The Sharp Family, Johann Zoffany, 1781

The Sharp Family, Johann Zoffany, 1781 © Private Collection
Dr John Sharp is seated bottom right

In 1786, Lord Crewe’s Charity under Dr Sharp commissioned inventor Lionel Lukin to convert an old fishing coble into one of his patented ‘unimmergible boats’ to act as a lifeboat for the coast around Bamburgh Castle. Although it was not the first vessel kept for the specific purpose of saving lives at sea, it was the first to be specially adapted, retained, and crewed for that purpose, with mounted watchmen stationed along the coastline. During storms, men from the castle patrolled Bamburgh’s shores on horseback, ready to go to sea in their lifeboat and help save lives from shipwreck. 

Bamburgh Castle
Saving lives at Bamburgh (image: Lord Crewe's Charity)

Continuing the legacy

With this legacy gift, John Sharp has ensured a safer coast in the North East for years to come.

“Everything my brother did was very carefully thought through,” explains John’s brother, Anthony. “He lived very modestly but was a highly skilled and active investor. With an estate worth close to £3m and with no immediate family, his decision to direct half of it to charity was perfectly logical and reflects his thoughtfulness and generosity. His selection of the Charities Aid Foundation was logical too. Not having a detailed knowledge of the sector, it was better to give it to someone who does.” 

John did however provide a steer for how his charitable legacy should be directed. In a memorandum filed with his will he stated: “I favour charities that do things, such as the RNLI and the Red Cross, and not those that campaign.”

It was a simple matter for John’s family to make the connection between his naming the RNLI as a preferred charity and the work of the earlier Dr John Sharp and his funding of the first unsinkable lifeboat at Bamburgh.

The legacy team at CAF were able to act on the Sharp family’s requests and facilitate the grant to the RNLI.

“As a charity, the RNLI has relied on generous and kind donations from supporters ever since it was founded in 1824, to save lives at sea. It is these donations which enable the charity to provide its lifesavers with the kit, training and craft to launch in all manner of conditions to help those in trouble. 

Six out of ten lifeboat launches are only made possible by legacies, large and small, left to the RNLI in people’s wills. We are extremely grateful to those who give to the RNLI, without them we couldn’t continue to carry out our lifesaving work. The organisation still protects the shores around the North Eastern coast, and is able to operate thanks to the generosity of voluntary donations.”

Jayne George, RNLI Fundraising Director

“We are delighted to be a part of this wonderful story which brings real meaning to the idea of legacy giving. This generous gift pays tribute to both John and his ancestor and namesake John Sharp, who was pivotal in commissioning the first lifeboat in the 18th century. It also connects them to future lifesaving operations at sea in the boat named after them.”
Mark Greer, Managing Director of Philanthropy Services, Charities Aid Foundation

Crane aft deck
Image: RNLI

Funding the upgrade of the Tynemouth lifeboat

Today’s RNLI lifesaving service is provided largely by volunteers and run almost entirely through voluntary donations. In 2020, the service cost £159.6 million to run, rescuing 35 people on average every day. The volunteer crew at Tynemouth launched their Severn class lifeboat and D class lifeboat 77 times in 2021, aiding 64 people who found themselves in difficulty.

The RNLI’s Severn class all-weather lifeboats are some of the biggest, most powerful and most iconic in the fleet, often being the difference between life and death in rough, open seas and busy shipping lanes. Without them, there would be a critical gap in the ring of safety the RNLI provides around our shores. After 20 years of service, however, they are nearing the end of their operational lives.

The Severn class needs updating, from wiring and hydraulics to seats and lighting to improve capability and crew safety while out at sea. The RNLI has designed an upgrade programme that makes best use of the charity’s resources by making all the adjustments whilst keeping the tough hull intact. The Severn Life Extension Programme will ensure that the Severn class will last another 25 years and continue to bring the crews, and the people they rescue, home safely. 

This cost-efficient life-extension programme saves the charity money compared to building a new lifeboat from scratch. While still a significant investment, the upgraded Severn – with the new name John Sharp – will be even better equipped to continue saving lives along the Northumberland coast for another 25 years. It will enable the crew to find people more quickly, recover them more safely and take better care of them while storms rage.

“The logic and rationale of this proposal would most certainly have appealed to John and would probably have made him chuckle with satisfaction. The strategy of refitting the Tynemouth lifeboat offers excellent value, he would have approved of the thriftiness of the project,” says Anthony. “Positioning this memorial on the Northumberland coast not only places it close to Bamburgh Castle, but Northumberland was also an area he knew well, where his wife was brought up and where they spent much time together.”

Want to learn more about our legacy service?

CAF Charitable Legacy Service is a flexible way to leave one gift in your Will to benefit as many charities as you like.

Talk to our Legacy team