Sir Frank Whittle

Another of the famous guests to have stayed at The Swan & Royal, was Sir Frank Whittle, who invented the jet engine.

Originally based in Coventry, the British Government suggested he relocate to Clitheroe, when his factory was bombed in 1941. It was here, in Clitheroe, that he was based when he proved to be successful with his jet engine project. Sir Whittle used The Swan & Royal on a regular basis, both to dine, and to hold his conferences.

The Five Shilling Meal That Sealed A Great Jet Deal On a cold day in November 1942, ‘three wise men’ converged on a small Lancashire town.

Nestled beneath the foothills of Pendle – noted for its association with the Lancashire witches – it is overlooked by a Norman Castle keep. It wasn’t a babe in a manger that the wise men had come to pay homage to; it was the world’s first practical jet engine that lay stabled in the town.

There in an empty factory – the disused Waterloo Mill – Rover Motor Company engineers were secretly ‘nursing’ Whittle’s first jet engine brought away from its Coventry base.

With Bristol radial engines currently being assembled and tested in nearby Clayton-le-Moors, near Accrington, they were in good company. They welcomed the safer country surroundings to continue their secret work.

First run at Rugby at the General Electric factory, this engine was the brainchild of inventor Frank Whittle and was still in its infancy state.

Although already running, it was not considered to be fully operational. Combustion problems beset it and it was constantly breaking down.

Whilst fully realising its potential, the Government of the day decided to place it in the hands of an experienced engineering company and had selected the Rover Motor Company to continue this work.

In collaboration with the Lucas Company, who had set up their factory at Burnley, they concentrated on imparting consistency by introducing concepts that are accepted to this day.

There was urgency in this mission. Nothing was to stand in its way. Gallileo had proved the principal of jet propulsion many years ago. The Germans, amongst others, were neck and neck in the race to introduce it to propelling an aircraft. It was a new idea that had enormous prospects. A real world-beater if it could be applied.

The Gloster Aircraft Company was commissioned to build an experimental aircraft to take the new engine. It was assembled in a garage in the centre of Cheltenham. It was called just simply … the E28/39.

A shopping arcade now occupies that site, but anyone visiting there could not miss the glass-encased feature drawing attention to this historic achievement. It recognises the first aeroplane to be built … and flown … without a propeller!

Designed as the forerunner for future jet fighter aircraft for the RAF – faster and more efficient than ones with propellers – it was no good without an engine. Time was vital and not on our side.

Rover engineers who had arrived in Clitheroe were understandably feeling the change. There they were in this old factory. Away from home and out there ‘in the sticks’! It was raining. “Why have we been sent out here?”, they lamented. Admittedly, it was safer, but they did not know anyone. It was a complete change that they would have to get used to.

All top engineers would say about the project in response to those who asked was that it was a ‘supercharger’. Even those working on the engine were not made fully aware of what it really was … until, of course, they had been working there for some time.

It was something quite unique to Clitheroe, a typical country market town. It is a friendly place with several quite interesting small shops. A well-established bookshop with a wide selection of best sellers, a famed wine merchant and a butchers who claim to sell as many varieties of sausages as Heinz produce soups. It is, as you would imagine, a closely-knit community. A jewel in the Ribble Valley

The Frank Whittle Room