Running from Ruan?

The small parishes of Ruan Minor and Ruan Major should not be confused with Ruanlanihorne. (Ruan was a saint – in Old Cornish Rumon.) Ruan Major and Minor will be treated together here as they are neighbouring parishes on the Lizard peninsula, now combined with a third parish to make up the modern Grade-Ruan. Around a half of the men of working age in these parishes in 1861 were farmers or farm labourers, with another dozen (or 10 per cent of the total) fishermen working out of the small port of Cadgwith.

Seven of the eight Ruan children in 1861 have been traced. Four of them were still in Cornwall in 1891 (three in Grade-Ruan or a neighbouring parish) and one at Devonport with only one emigrant. The only place that seems to have attracted more than one of them was Illogan in Cornwall’s Central Mining District.

James Kevern had a difficult early life. He was born in the parish of Breage, the son of Ann, with no father named on the baptismal register and at 11 months old was found ‘lodging’ in Ruan Minor with Elizabeth Yendall, or Gendall, possibly Ann’s mother or another relative. At 11 years old he was working and living at a large farm in the parish. In 1871 he was still a farm servant but at another farm in Gunwalloe on the other side of the peninsula.

We can’t be 100 per cent certain that the James Kevern we find at Gunwalloe in 1871 is the James Kevern of 1861. Although the surname – not that common – is consistently spelt and the age is correct, when James Kevern married Mary Jane Matthews at Porthleven in 1877 a mysterious father popped up on the marriage certificate. We can however be certain that this James was definitely a fisherman at Gunwalloe Cove in 1881. We can also be certain, from the names of their children and their birthplaces, that this is the same James who, with Mary Jane, at some time between 1886 and 1889 moved to Illogan, tellingly perhaps via Breage, and became a stationary engine driver at a mine. From fisherman to mine engineman, let alone from farm servant to fisherman to engineman, is a fairly unusual occupational trajectory.

James and Mary’s marriage certificate

James wasn’t the only Ruan resident spending time in Illogan. Grace Emily Johns was the daughter of a small farmer at Ruan Minor. She married Francis Johns from the same parish in 1879 and the couple moved to Pool in Illogan, where Francis worked as a farm labourer. Maybe they didn’t find industrial Pool to their taste as they had fled back to Grade on the Lizard within two years.

2 thoughts on “Running from Ruan?

  1. son of Ann rather than daughter (para 3). I wonder, regarding the occupational trajectory, how “transferable” the skills from one job to another were. An engineman may have required good literacy (?) which presumably James did not have, but on the other hand a facility for hard work and endurance characterises for me farm labouring and fishing (and many other skills)


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