Cornishman John Knill left his own epitaph and in some style. He was born at Callington in 1733 and subsequently went to St Ives to work with a relative, a solicitor. He lived in Fore Street in what is now known as Kill’s House. John Knill became very popular in St Ives and in 1762 he became Collector of Customs, holding the post for 20 years. At the age of 34 he became Mayor of the town.
In 1782, Knill moved to London and it was in that year that he built a mausoleum at the summit of Worbas Hill overlooking St Ives. Known as Knill’s Steeple, it is a 50ft high triangular pyramid made of granite. On one side is written, Johannes Knill 1782. On another side is his Coat of Arms with the word Resurgam and the motto Nil Desperandum, whilst on the third side are the words, I know that my redeemer liveth. The steeple is hollow with an arch on the south side. Inside is a stone sarcophogus where Knill planned to have his body interred but was unable to do so due to consecration difficulties.
Not content, Knill also made plans in his will for his quinquennial celebrations. Once every five years, a ceremony would take place on 25th July (St James’Day). Beginning at The Guildhall in St Ives, a party of ten girls, all under the age of ten years, dressed in white, and daughters of Cornish fishermen, seamen and tinners, would walk up to Knill’s Steeple accompanied by two elderly widows and a fiddler. There they were to dance around the steeple for half an hour, singing the 23rd psalm, while locals dignitaries would stand and watch. This ceremony takes place as laid down in the will and has done so since 1801 when John Knill was actually present! He died on 29th March 1811 at Greys Inn Square in London at the age of 78 years. Much missed by the people of his time, it seems that he will be remembered by the generations to come. In his will, Knill wrote :
‘ It is natural to love those of whom you have had the opportunity of serving and confess I have real affection for St Ives and its inhabitants in whose memory I have an ardent desire to continue a little longer than the usual time those do of whom there is no sensible memorial. To that end my vanity prompted me to erect a mausoleum.’
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Photo taken in Saint Ives, Cornwall, UK
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