The Bamburgh Charities
Dr John Sharp (1722-92) became a Trustee on the death of his father, Thomas Sharp, also both Archdeacon of Northumberland and a Lord Crewe’s Trustee. While Thomas Sharp had concentrated his energies on the Charity’s work in Blanchland, his son was more associated with charitable work in Bamburgh. As soon as he became a trustee, he proposed that the keep at Bamburgh Castle should be repaired and the court room put in order to accommodate the manorial courts which had not been held since 1748. Dr Sharp paid nearly £320 for this work out of his own pocket, before it was repaid by the trustees.
The next step was to use the court room, when not required for legal purposes, as a school, followed by the establishment of a girls’ school.
Dr Sharp also secured agreement that all wreckage thrown up on the coast within the manor of Bamburgh would be brought to the castle and stored until it was claimed by its proper owners. He hired men to ride along the coast at night time during every great storm, to assist anyone coming on shore from shipwrecks, and to provide food and shelter for those who chose in the castle for seven days, at the expense of the trustees.
Chains to drag ships onto the beach where they could be repaired, and pumps to get the water out of them, were provided. Dr Sharp paid for a signal gun to be fired regularly during every fog, with the trustees providing the gunpowder.
Dr Sharp provided two granaries in the castle and two in the village, with a windmill in the castle, selling wheat, peas, beans and barley two days a week to any poor person from within forty miles of Bamburgh, and a cheap shop was opened which sold candles, butter, pepper, pins, alum and rice specially imported from Carolina by the trustees. A set of standard weights and measures were provided at the castle so local shopkeepers could bring their own measures in for testing.
In 1772 a surgeon was appointed and a dispensary was set up, to which people were admitted free. On inheriting the library of his brother Thomas, who had been incumbent of Bamburgh, Dr Sharp sold it to the trustees for the use of the public.
On the outbreak of hostilities with America and France (the American War of Independence) the castle became an alarm post with a small garrison to watch for privateers and any potential landing on the coast.
Finally Dr Sharp commissioned an “unimmergible” lifeboat which was converted by Lionel Lukin and has claim to be the first inshore lifeboat, operating from Bamburgh. The Trustees continued to provide and run a lifeboat service from North Sunderland until passing its management over to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in the 1860s.
Dr Sharp developed a remarkable miniature welfare state at Bamburgh, financing it from his own pocket until refunded by the Lord Crewe’s Trustees