John Knill was an articled clerk to a solicitor in Penzance. He was a Collector of Customs at St. Ives between 1762 and 1782 and was, also, Mayor of the town in 1767. He was a well-respected citizen and travelled a lot in a time when roads were little more that cart tracks, and where all communication was poor. In his position as Customs Officer, both in St. Ives and London, his advice was eagerly sought and he inspected Custom Houses as far away as Jamaica. He also became a magistrate; was called to The Bar and was Treasurer to the Bench of the Inn. He appeared to enjoy life to the full and socially he met many eminent people, including John Wesley and the engineer John Smeaton. In 1782 he had a three-sided stone obelisk built high on a hill as a landmark to those at sea. In his will he left money for the upkeep of the obelisk and also £25 for celebrations to take place every five years on St. James’ Day, 25th July although the first ceremony took place in 1801 with him present. This is known as the John Knill Celebrations.
The people of St. Ives have been faithful to his wishes ever since and a ceremony has taken place every five years, even during war time. The £25 was to be spent thus:-
£10 for a dinner for the Trustees (the Mayor, Vicar and Customs Officer at the time plus two guests each; the dinner to take place at the George and Dragon Inn in St. Ives);
£5 to ten little girls who are daughters of either fishermen, tinners or seamen);
£1 to the fiddler; £2 to two widows; £1 for white ribbon for breast knots; £1 to be set aside for a vellum book for the Clerk to the Trustees to enter a Minute of the proceedings and £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.