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Background

High up on Worvas Hill overlooking the sea in the picturesque Cornish coastal town of St Ives stands Knill’s Monument, a 50ft 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 Cornishman and 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 for the British Government.

 

Missing pointing and vegetation growth at base

How we helped

Knill. Conservation. Repointing. Tobi Carver. 17 Dec 2013Exposed to the harsh coastal elements, Knill’s Monument 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.

In 2012 we commissioned local architect Jeremy Chadburn to assess the monument and produce both a condition survey and a subsequent specification for repairs. With the project work generously supported by The Paul Mellon Estate, St Ives Town Council, The Tanner Trust and many other kind individuals, trusts and foundations, essential repairs were completed in November 2013.

In 2012 we commissioned local architect Jeremy Chadburn to assess the monument and produce both a condition survey and a subsequent specification for repairs. With the project work generously supported by The Paul Mellon Estate, St Ives Town Council, The Tanner Trust and many other kind individuals, trusts and foundations, essential repairs were completed in November 2013.

During the six months of on-site conservation work, the obelisk was completely repointed in lime mortar and the commemorative shield on the face of the monument carefully repaired.

Exeter firm McNeilage Conservation carried out detailed analysis of the heraldic shield featuring Knill’s coat of the arms and the Latin motto NIL DESPERANDUM (never despair). This proved to be a particularly interesting aspect of the conservation work, revealing that the lion, text and crosses were in fact bronze, with one piece having been fitted using a timber replacement at some point.

Why it matters

Knill. Condition. steps and pavement. vegetation, biological growth, incrustations. Jeremy Chadburn. 16 July 2012Knill’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 (25 July) 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 centrepiece of a unique living tradition.

 

pic: Tobi Carver/World Monuments Fund Britain