Celebrating the Rather Eccentric Mr Knill

John Knill loved St Ives and more than 2oo years after his death St Ives is still remembering him.  2016-07-26-10.44.57.png.png

This rather eccentric philanthropist (some say smuggler) wanted to provide for the people he had grown so fond of and to guarantee that his name would be remembered for all time in the town that he made his home, so he devised a ceremony to do just.

Every St James’ Day, the 25th July, the locals and hangers-on like myself, march up to the 15m high pyramid he built on Worvas hill above St Ives.

There is music, dancing and singing and at the end of it all the Master of Ceremonies asks the 3 trustees if they believe that all has been done as John Knill requested.  If they all agree then the crowd disperses, job done for another few years! I have never attended the ceremony before as it is only held every 5 years and this is the first year that I have been able to (or indeed remembered) to go.  But I have to say I am really happy that I did, it may not be as famous as the Padstow Obby Oss or as colourful as Helston Flora Day but I loved it.

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It all starts in the town centre outside the Guildhall where the trustees – the vicar, customs officer and mayor- put their 3 keys into the locks on the chest that Knill gave the town and hand out the money that he provided in perpetuity for the day.

Remaining faithful to Knill’s specific instructions they choose 10 girls under the age of ten, who must be the daughters of seamen, tinners or miners and two elderly widows who must be the widows of seamen, tinners or miners, and a fiddler to accompany the dancing.  Then they, along with the trustees and other notables, all proceed up hill to the Knill Steeple (these days by bus!).

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The Steeple was built by Knill in 1782 and was intended to be his final resting place.  Sadly he died in London in 1811 so his wishes in that regard were not fulfilled.  His mausoleum is however a land mark for miles around and can also be seen far out to sea leading to tenuous rumours that he built it as a marker for his pirate friends.

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Born in Callington in 1733 Knill was an important and respected man in St Ives. He was the Collector of Taxes, the Customs Officer and the mayor but it must be said that there are hints that the small fleet of privateers vessels that he formed to combat smuggling was, in fact, a front to cover up a rather lucrative trade in contraband goods.  No wonder the town loved him!

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The fiddler leads the dancing around the Steeple

 

The first ceremony at the Steeple took place in 1801 with John Knill present to supervise that all was done as he envisioned and it has continued in the same way ever since.

The huge granite pyramid has Knill’s coat of arms on one side and his motto, ‘Resurgam’, on the other.  The motto translates to ‘I shall rise again’ and in a way John Knill does.  He comes alive in our lives and in our minds every 5 years or indeed every time we visit his monument and breath in the beautiful views.

For more interesting local folk try: The Singular Mr Daniel Gumb & his house of rocks or Hannah Jory: Mother, Prostitute & Convict or Granny Boswell: Cornwall’s Gypsy Queen

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4 thoughts on “Celebrating the Rather Eccentric Mr Knill

  1. Alex July 27, 2016 / 9:12 am

    Fantastic. Love this story of Mr Knill and how brilliant the ceremony still goes on. I wonder if the writer of Poldark, Winston Graham, was influenced by the motto on Knell’s mausoleum to write in one of the.novels, that when a mine closed for business the owner etched Resurgam on its front? Keep up your blogs…..I do so enjoy them!

    Liked by 1 person

    • esdale77 July 27, 2016 / 9:29 am

      Thank you Alex 🙂 its really good to know you are enjoying the posts, not sure about Poldark, interesting thought though, maybe I could ask Aiden Turner to look into it for me?! 😉

      Like

  2. Pete August 30, 2016 / 11:52 am

    This is great. I recently visited the monument after running St Michael’s Way but I hadn’t found that much info about it until I saw your post. There are some real gems in your blog and I’ll make sure to follow as I visit Cornwall each year with my family and we’re always looking for interesting places to visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • esdale77 August 30, 2016 / 1:03 pm

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment! I’m really pleased to know that you enjoyed my posts, my plan has always been to share my love of this county and introduce people to places and stories they perhaps don’t know about, thanks again!!

      Like

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