Granville Sharp was the son of Judith Wheler (d. 1757) and Thomas Sharp (1693–1759), Archdeacon of Northumberland, prolific theological writer and biographer of his father, John Sharp, Archbishop of York. Judith was the daughter of travel writer George Wheler and Grace née Higgons, who grew up in the political household of Sir Thomas Higgons.
Sharp was born in Durham in 1735. He had eight older brothers and five younger sisters. Five of his brothers survived their infancy and by the time Sharp had reached his midteens the family funds set aside for their education had been all but depleted, so Sharp was educated at Durham School but mainly at home.
He was apprenticed to a London linen-draper at the age of fifteen. Sharp loved to argue and debate, and his keen intellect found little outlet in the mundane work in which he was involved. However, one of his fellow-apprentices was Socinian (a Unitarian sect that denied the divinity of Christ), and in order better to argue, Sharp taught himself Greek. Another fellow apprentice was Jewish, and so Sharp learned Hebrew in order to be able to discuss theological matters with his colleague. Sharp also conducted genealogical research for one of his masters,
Henry Willoughby, who had a claim to the barony of Willoughby de Parham, and it was through Sharp's work that Willoughby was able to take his place in the House of Lords.
Sharp's apprenticeship ended in 1757, and both his parents died soon after. That same year he accepted a position as Clerk in the Ordnance Office at the Tower of London. This civil service position allowed him plenty of free time to pursue his scholarly and intellectual pursuits.
The Sharp Family
, by Johann Zoffany
, 1779–81, National Portrait Gallery, London. The family musical ensemble are pictured on their barge, Apollo
, with All Saints Church, Fulham
in the background. Granville Sharp is the seated male figure in the centre.
Sharp had a keen musical interest. Four of his siblings – William, later to become surgeon to George III, James, Elizabeth and Judith – had also come to London, and they met every day. They all played musical instruments as a family orchestra, giving concerts at William's house in Mincing Lane and later in the family sailing barge, Apollo, which was moored at the Bishop of London's steps in Fulham, near William's country home, Fulham House. The fortnightly water-borne concerts took place from 1775–1783, the year his brother James died. Sharp had an excellent bass voice, described by George III as "the best in Britain", and he played the clarinet, oboe, flageolet, kettle drums, harp and a double-flute which he had made himself. He often signed his name in notes to friends as G♯.
Sharp died at Fulham House on 6 July 1813, and a memorial of him was erected in Westminster Abbey. He lived in Fulham, London, and was buried in the churchyard of All Saints Church, Fulham. The vicar would not allow a funeral sermon to be preached in the church because Sharp had been involved with the British and Foreign Bible Society, which was Nonconformist.