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Knill Monument

St Ives, Cornwall

Location Guide

Knill Monument is a granite pyramid or spire with 3 sides, around 50 foot high but thinish. Built in 1782 by John Knill.  He was a local customs and excise man, who later became Mayor of St Ives. It is said that he wanted to be remembered after his death, so built this monument as a mausoleum. He died in 1811 while in London aged 77 and was buried in Holborn.

Photo by Pierre Terre 

It is now considered to be a follly and is located 100 foot above sea level, on the top Worvas Hill close to Carbis Bay which is near St Ives.

The pyramid also caries a decently painted coat of arms. Its motto "Nil Desperandum"  is said to mean, "Do not despair, trust in God!" while the inscription above it "Resurgam" has been translated as "I shall rise again!"

He left instructions in his will for 10 young virgins and 2 older women, possibly widows, accompanied by the local minister, the Mayor of St. Ives, a violinist, and a customs and excise man, to dance around the pyramid every 5th year whilst spectators sang the 100th psalm, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands." This is still performed in St Ives on the 25th July,  every 5 years. The last time was in  2006, so 2011 will be the next time.

Its not clear if  'I shall rise again' and being danced around by young virgins, was designed to be amusing, was intended to make sure he was noticed, or perhaps he didn't spot the way it could be read.

He left £25 to cover the cost of each celebration, taking place every 5th year, defining the use as:-

  • £10 for a dinner for the Trustees, who are the Mayor, Vicar and Customs Officer at the time, and two guests each. This to take place at the George and Dragon Inn, Market Place, St. Ives.
  • £5 to ten little girls who have to be the daughters of either fishermen, tinners or seamen.
  • £1 to the fiddler.
  • £2 to two widows.
  • £1 for white ribbon for breast knots.
  • £1 to be set aside for a vellum book for the Clerk to the Trustees to enter a Minute of the proceedings.
  • £5 to the man and wife, widower or widow who shall raise the greatest family of legitimate children who have reached the age of ten years.

If so, young virgins are children, so this may be an event that photographers may need to be careful at or their motives could be misunderstood, although it is well attended and a lot of photographs are taken. In practice 11 are chosen in case one has to pull out, but most times all 11 take part.

This all 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, the 10 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 proceed 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".

Worvas Hill is said to be  a lovely place full of rhododendron 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.

Location: Knill Monument, St Ives, Cornwall

Grid Reference: SW516386 Ceremonial County: Cornwall

Map Link: multimap

OS Getamap

Aerial photo: multimap

Getting there: Path up the hill is well marked, tower is clearly visible from some way off

Website: St Ives Trust    John Knill biography 
Other Useful Websites: Folly Towers   Another
Postcode: Telephone:
Opening Times: All the time

Charges: No cost

Nearby Locations:
Other Location Pages: List of Follies in the UK 

Notes:  Next event 25th July 2011


Page Ref: : Knill_Monument

Classification: Follies

Date Updated: 10/2008

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