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Trail Stop No 6 - 2000s:
Bicentenary of the John Knill ceremony

John Knill was the collector of customs in St. Ives between 1762 and 1782 and was elected as the mayor of the town in 1767.  He made his fortune in on a visit to Jamaica in 1773 and 1774 to collect taxes on behalf of King George III. He was responsible for building the first pier St. Ives.  In 1767 he had a pyramid shaped monument constructed to commemorate himself - it stands 50 feet tall on Worvas Hill overlooking St. Ives Bay and is made of granite. It was designed by John Wood the younger, who also designed the Royal Crescent in Bath. Knill originally intended it to be a mausoleum, but he was eventually buried in London. On one side of the monument is Knill's coat of arms with the motto 'Nil Desperandum' (Never Despair) and on another are inscribed the words Johannes Knill 1782 Resurgam (I shall arise) and 'I know that my redeemer liveth'. 

Knill left money in his will for the monuments’ upkeep. He also left £25 for a celebration to take place every 5 years on the 25th July, St.James' day.  His will detailed exactly how the ceremony should take place and how the £25 should be spent.

  • £10 on a dinner at The George & Dragon Inn in Market Place, St Ives (sadly no longer there) for the Mayor of St Ives, The Vicar, The Customs Officer plus 2 guests each.

  • £5 to be split between 10 young girls who have to be the daughters of either fishermen, tinners, or seamen (although today others are eligible).

  • £1 to the fiddler

  • £2 to two widows

  • £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.

  • £1 for white ribbon for breast knots.

  • £1 to be set aside for a vellum book for the Clerk to the Trustees to record the proceedings.

The first ceremony took place in 1801 when Knill was still alive and he attended it himself! Since then it has been held every 5 years during years ending in 1 and 6. The format has remained largely unchanged.  The £25 is distributed at the Guildhall. Then, the 10 young girls all dressed in white, along the the officals, fiddler and widows, all walk in procession as the fiddler plays from the market house up to the monument. At noon, the whole party dances around the upper step, hand in hand, singing the old hundredth (All people that on earth do dwell).

A portrait of John Knill painted in 1777


Participants in the 2001 ceremony

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2001 was the 200th anniversary of the first Knill ceremony. The next one will be the 46th event, and will take place on July 25th 2026. In St. Ives Museum you can find out more about John Knill, see photographs of many of the ceremonies held in earlier years and see the chest which John Knill left to keep the money and artefacts used in the event.

The model of Knills's monument in St. Ives Museum

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