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An old print of a photo of the ceremony
John Knill built his mausoleum in 1782. It is also known as the Knill Steeple or Knill Monument. This mausoleum towers above sea level, is a triangular pyramid of granite some 50 feet high on Worvas Hill close to Carbis Bay which is near St. Ives in the county of Cornwall, England. The words "Resurgam" and the Coat of Arms and Motto - Nil desperandum - of John Knill on one side of the triangle, the second side bears the inscription "I know that my Redeemer liveth" and on the third side is inscribed "Johannes Knill 1782". John Knill fully expected to be buried in his mausoleum as on one side the structure is hollow and contains a stone sarcophagus. However, he died in London on 29th March 1811 and was buried at Holborn but that cemetary was badly bombed in the second world war. Worvas Hill is a lovely place full of rhododendrons bushes and is a joy to see in the Spring time. The view over Carbis Bay is truly spectacular on a beautiful clear sunny day.

The monument today
John Knill was born in Cornwall, in Callington on 1st January 1733. His job as an articled clerk to a solicitor in Penzance meant he was well able to deal with all the problems surrounding harbour dues and customs monies. Life was very harsh in 18th century Cornwall and smuggling was rife and the ships that were wrecked on the rocks on this notorious coastline plundered. John Knill knew about many of his neighbours activities. He became a Collector of Customs at St. Ives from 1762-1782 and also Mayor of the town in 1767 at 34 years of age. He was a well respected citizen and travelled a lot in a time of roads little more that cart tracks and where all communication was poor. In his position as Customs Officer both in St. Ives and London his advice was eagerly sought and he inspected Custom Houses as far away as Jamaica. He also became a magistrate, was called to The Bar and was Treasurer to the Bench of the Inn. He appeared to enjoy life to the full and socially he met many eminent people, including John Wesley and the engineer John Smeaton. There is a story that John had his mausoleum built high on a hill as a landmark to those at sea smuggling in goods to St. Ives and that he himself was a smuggler. However, there is no evidence that this is so and could be gossip spread around by his enemies.

Here we are standing by the monument.
In his will he left money for the upkeep of the mausoleum and also £25 for celebrations to take place every five years on St. James’ Day, 25th July although the first ceremony took place in 1801 and he himself was present. This is known as the John Knill celebrations.The people of St. Ives have been faithful to his wishes and a ceremony has taken place every five years even during war time. The £25 was to be spent thus:-

Obviously, the £25 was more that adequate in days gone by but now income tax has to be paid as it is not a charity and obviously the costs have steadily risen over the years. Somehow or other with the generosity of interested people the ceremony goes on.

The monument stands on a hill and is a landmark on land and from the sea.
I went to the last one which took place in 1996 and was pleasantly surprised at how many local people attend. It is quite an event for the town. The area around the Steeple was packed with hardly a place to stand and watch. Apparently, there is great competition amongst the little girls to be part of the ceremony and usually 11 are chosen in case of illness and invariably the 11 take part. They are all dressed completely in white with ribbons or flowers in their hair. The two widows have long black dresses and matching capes with old fashioned black poke bonnets. The fiddler wears old fashioned garb as well. Also there is usually an American called Knill or two who come over to England especially to see this ceremony and take part. By some miracle of the English climate the 25th July is always a fine, sunny and hot day.

A Knill ancestor take a photo of the monument
This quaint ceremony starts at 10.30am outside the Guildhall in St. Ives where the Knill’s iron chest is opened with three keys into the three locks by each of the Trustees. After a few words in explanation the procession made up of the three Trustees, the Master of Ceremonies, the fiddler merrily playing his fiddle, two widows, the10 little girls and not forgetting many council members proceed to a place where they board transport to take them to the Steeple. In years gone by the procession would have walked, of course or maybe a carriage or two!! Everyone is dropped off at the bottom of the hill and then process up the very steep climb to the Steeple. The St. Ives Town band will have been playing to the crowds since 11am.

At 12 noon the ceremony takes place around the Steeple. The little girls join hands and dance around the Steeple to old Cornish tunes played on the fiddle. The widows usually find someone to dance with as well.! After fifteen minutes everyone stops to sing the Hundredth Psalm "All people that on earth do dwell".

The monument is signposted....
After which many photographs are taken, the Master of Ceremonies says a few words and then the procession leads off back to the waiting transport and this wonderful old ceremony will be at an end. There is usually a house or two along Steeple Lane which opens its doors to sell refreshments to the people descending to the road below.

...and has an information point. These two Knills and a friend plan their visit!
The next ceremony will take place in 2001 which is exactly 200 years since the first ceremony took place.
Joyce Knill. Please email questions. Back to homepage


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Johannes Knill 1782

Seated: unknown. Standing: Friend, Kevin and Joyce Knill

Kevin takes a photo

Follow the path up the hill

Checking out the information centre