Falmouth’s Mystery Pyramid – the Killigrew Monument

Isn’t it strange that you can see something a thousand times in your life and never really question what it is or why it is there? That was how I felt when one day I actually stopped and looked at the Killigrew Monument in the centre of Falmouth.


When I got home I had a quick read up about it. I found that this pyramid was built in 1737 by Martin Lister Killigrew. I can tell you its vital statistics. It stands 44 ft high, cost £455 to build and it is made of dressed granite from a quarry near Trevethen Beacon. But, to cut a long story short, what I can’t really tell you is why it is there.

No one it seems is entirely sure what exactly this pyramid is for or why it was built.

The Killigrews

Martin was the last of the Killigrew line. He took the Killigrew name when he married Anne Killigrew, clearly the couple had the intention of continuing the family line but it wasn’t to be. They died with no heir. It’s seems that the monument was meant as some kind of memorial by the last member of that ancient Cornish family.

The Killigrews it is said made Falmouth. At one time the town was little more than the family’s manor, Arwennack, and a few fishermen’s cottages. It was the Killigrews that saw its potential, along with a famous visitor, Sir Francis Drake.

The pyramid under construction/deconstruction.

The family were very wealthy, influential and had a long connection with the town and its people. A connection, for good or for bad, that lasted hundreds of years. They constructed much of it’s waterfront as we see it today, were magistrates and officials for Falmouth and had streets named after them.

But there are also many unsavoury tales of piracy, greed and ill-gotten riches mixed up with their name too.

No Inscription

Martin commissioned his granite pyramid after he had left Cornwall for London. He never saw it completed but he sent detailed instructions as to where to source the materials and exactly how it was to be constructed. He also made it clear that it was to have no mark of any kind on the outside. No date, no initials, no inscription.

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Unfortunately there are many conflicting accounts of the pyramid’s history.

It appears that it originally stood in an area of Falmouth known as The Grove because of the elm trees Martin had planted there. But the monument has moved twice since then. Once in 1836 to the end of Arwenack Avenue (also known as the Ropewalk) and then again with the arrival of the railway to its present position in 1871.

It seems that at some point during these moves a strange discovery was made.

The Bottles

Local legend has it that the men who were dismantling the stone monument in 1836 found two glass bottles inside sealed with wax. Some accounts say that the bottles were empty (unlikely I think), some say that one contained parchment and the other coins. And yet another account says that one of the bottles was added during the final move and inside it was placed an account of the pyramids history. I can’t tell you which story is true, perhaps someone out there knows. Perhaps Martin did leave us a message, a clue as to what his obelisk really meant, he wrote that he wanted it to beautify Falmouth’s waterfront but was that all?

Final Thoughts

No one, it seems, appears to know what happened to those bottles . . . whether they were removed or whether they are still inside the great granite tomb of Killigrew’s Monument?

This is Lady Mary (butter-wouldn’t-melt) Killigrew as a young woman

But I have an idea! Mary Killigrew, Anne Killigrew’s ancestor, was a pirate (supposedly). Mary was meant to have stolen some Spanish treasure and hidden it in the garden of the family home -Arwenack House – which still stands very close to where the pyramid is today . . . So did Martin, the last of the Killigrew’s, leave us a Treasure Map perhaps, were those coins in the second bottle part of the treasure or . . . or oh . . .hang on a minute . . . has my imagination just run away with me . . . again?! Bother.

Further Reading:

The Notorious Women of the Killigrew Family

Who was Pirate John ‘Eyebrows’ Thomas?

Celebrating the Rather Eccentric Mr Knill

The Mystery of Pencalenick Obelisk, near Truro

Things to do in Falmouth

Walking Opportunities:

Walk around Falmouth Town

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13 thoughts on “Falmouth’s Mystery Pyramid – the Killigrew Monument

  1. How interesting. I have no idea where this is, or if there is any chance in my life that I will see it. But, it’s really neat to look up info on things we should really should know more about…perhaps because we walk past them everyday. This was a pretty interesting story, and even if you didn’t find all of the answers..all of the possibilities are great! I hope that you eventually find out, maybe even when you least expect to 🙂

  2. The only thing I know about the pyramid is when I was young we used the area around the pyramid and the mound it is built on as a BMX track!
    Interesting post. Thank you.

  3. Really interesting! I’ve been to Falmouth many times & never seen this!! Or have I? I’m not sure now 🤔 We’re going to Cornwall next week & will be including Falmouth in our trip, so will look out for this mystery pyramid 😊 Great read!

  4. I used to play round this pyramid as a kid with my brothers and some friends. We were all convinced we could climb to the top of it but funnily enough we never managed it!

  5. Great blog! I found it after reading about the Killigrew Monument in Philip Marsden’s “The Levelling Sea” (worth a read if you want to learn more about British maritime history focussed around Falmouth). My family is originally from the town and I remember passing this monument many times on our visits as a child.

    1. Thanks Nick, I love Philip Marsden’s books, have you read Rising Ground too? It focuses on Bodmin Moor area.

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