Legacy snapshot

  John Sharp (1949-2019)

Distributing a £1.25 million legacy gift to the RNLI

To support the build of the Hartlepool Shannon 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, Giving and Impact, Charities Aid Foundation

Image: RNLI

Supporting the build of the Hartlepool Shannon

Today’s RNLI lifesaving service is provided largely by volunteers and run almost entirely through voluntary donations. In 2022, the service cost £188 million to run, rescuing 45 people on average every day. The volunteer crew at Hartlepool launched their Trent and B class lifeboats 43 times in 2022, aiding 35 people who found themselves in difficulty.

The Shannon is the latest class of all-weather lifeboat to join the RNLI fleet. She’s the first modern all-weather lifeboat to be propelled by waterjets instead of traditional propellers, making her the RNLI’s most agile and manoeuvrable all-weather lifeboat yet. Designed entirely in-house by a team of RNLI engineers, cutting-edge technology has been used to ensure she meets the demands of a 21st century rescue service, building on systems developed for her big sister, the Tamar Class Lifeboat.

She is self-righting and can endure up to 10 hours in extreme sea conditions. She is highly manoeuvrable even in shallower waters, and her seats have impressive suspension to make arduous sea voyages in the worst conditions more comfortable and safer for crew by reducing the impact of vertical slamming forces.

The Shannon will gradually replace the Mersey and Tyne class lifeboats which are now nearing the end of their operational lives. Once rolled out, the entire all-weather lifeboat fleet will be capable of 25 knots (almost 50% faster than the Mersey), making the RNLI’s lifesaving service more efficient and effective than ever before. The Shannon class follows the RNLI tradition of naming lifeboats after rivers but it's the first time an Irish river has been chosen. 

The manoeuvrability of a jet-driven boat is phenomenal – it really has to be seen to be believed.”
Trevor Bunney, Mechanic, RNLI

The new Shannon at Hartlepool, which will bear the name John Sharp, is due on station by the beginning of 2024, ready for action saving lives along the North East coast for hopefully decades to come. 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 funding this new lifeboat would certainly have appealed to John and would probably have made him chuckle with satisfaction” says Anthony. “He would also have enjoyed the fact that it will be helping to save lives in seas close to Bamburgh Castle.”

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