Knill’s Monument

Completed Project
St Ives, Cornwall, United Kingdom


High up on Worvas Hill, overlooking the sea in the picturesque Cornish coastal town of St.Ives, stands Knill’s Monument, a 50-foot-high granite obelisk steeped in local tradition dating back over two centuries. This imposing structure was the last work of the important architect John Wood the Younger of Batheaston, designer of the Royal Crescent in Bath, and was built in 1782 as a mausoleum and memorial for a mayor of St.Ives, John Knill (1733–1811). Knill was a customs collector prior to becoming mayor, and was responsible for building the town’s first pier during his time in office, before making his fortune as inspector of Jamaican ports.

Exposed to the harsh coastal elements, Knill’s Monument has suffered notable deterioration over the years, its ailing condition marked by missing and damaged pointing, the onset of vegetation growing on the structure and the poor state of the original commemorative shield.

How We Helped

WMF Britain first discussed the conservation needs of Knill’s Monument on BBC One’s Inside Out program in 2011, and went on to launch a conservation project in partnership with St.Ives Town Council to secure the future of this historic monument.

In 2012, WMF Britain commissioned a local architect to assess the monument and produce both a condition survey and a subsequent specification for repairs. Essential repair work commenced in July 2013, and was completed in November of that year. Over the last six months, this important landmark has been carefully repointed in lime mortar and the original paint scheme of the commemorative shield analyzed and restored.

Exeter-based firm McNeilage Conservation repaired the shield, repainted the original red and stone scheme and added the gilding, while a local blacksmith cast replacement bronze metalwork crosses and the missing ‘M’ of the Latin motto NIL DESPERANDUM (“never despair”).

The project was generously supported by St.Ives Town Council, the Paul Mellon Estate, the Tanner Trust and many other kind individuals, trusts and foundations.

Why It Matters

Knill’s Monument is a Grade II* Listed structure of significant architectural and historic importance, and an integral part of a local Cornish community. What makes the monument especially important is that John Knill prescribed an elaborate quinquennial ceremony to take place on St.James the Apostle’s Day, which he personally supervised in 1801, a decade prior to his death. It involved ten young dancing girls from the families of fishermen, dressed in white, two widows in black, and a fiddler to play the “Furry Dance.” Remarkably, this folk ceremony is still enacted here every five years to this day, making the monument the centerpiece of a unique living tradition.

Last updated: October 2015.

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