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New lease of life for landmark

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: February 06, 2014

  • The Knill coat of arms; restorers were surprised to find the details were cast in bronze. Jeremy Chadburn

  • The Knill Steeple in all its glory. Picture: Tobi Carver/World Monuments Fund Britain

  • Melissa Marshall, mayor Colin Nicholls and architect Jeremy Chadburn at the monument. Tobi Carver

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AFTER more than 230 years of being ravaged by rain and wind on top of Worvas Hill, Knill's Monument has been restored to its former glory.

The charity World Monuments Fund Britain (WMFB) has worked with St Ives Town Council on the conservation of the historic memorial.

In 2012 architect Jeremy Chadburn was commissioned to survey the ailing structure, and found the pinnacle at risk of collapse. Repairs began in July 2013; damaged pointing and vegetation were removed and the obelisk completely repointed in lime mortar.

Exeter firm McNeilage Conservation analysed the heraldic shield on the face of the monument, which bears its builder John Knill's coat of arms and the Latin motto Nil Desperandum, which translates as "Never despair" and is also a pun on his surname.

This revealed that the lion, text and crosses were in fact made of bronze, one cross having been replaced in wood.

Local blacksmith Garry Johnson then cast replacement crosses and a missing letter 'M' while the conservators repaired the swag over the shield, repainted the original red and stone colour scheme and reinstated the gilding.

Knill (1733-1811), a former mayor of St Ives who also instigated the creation of its first pier, built the monument constructed in 1782. It was the last work of John Wood the Younger of Batheaston, architect of the famous Royal Crescent in Bath, and Knill intended it to be his final resting place, though as it was not consecrated this wish was thwarted.

The 50ft granite obelisk is the focal point of a unique ritual dating back more than two centuries, to 1801. Knill left a legacy to pay for ten girls aged under 10, daughters of fishermen, seamen or tinners, to dance around it on St James's Day, July 25, every five years. They are accompanied to the monument by a fiddler, two widows (also of fishermen, tinners or seamen) and three trustees of the bequest, and the ceremony ends with communal singing of the 100th Psalm.

WMFB project manager Melissa Marshall said: "It's been a rewarding experience securing the future of a monument that's so valued and enjoyed by the local community, and the support of the town council has helped make this a really successful project."

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

WMFB is now aiming to secure funding for information boards at the site in time for the next Knill celebration in 2016.

Mayor of St Ives Colin Nicholls said: "The Knill Steeple is a local landmark which serves as a monument to John Knill, and also marks the strong traditions the St Ives community is proud to uphold. Set in the Steeple Woodland, it's enjoyed by walkers and it's only right that the monument has been restored in this way."

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