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Torver Mill and the Flying Flea

 The Mill at Torver.                by Pat Barr

In the 12th ad 13th centuries, Augustine de Heton, son of Ughtred of Ulverston, was a large landowner in Furness and Amounderness, to whom William de Lancaster first granted 100 acres of land in Thorvergh (Torver), reserving to himself, as was usual, all buck, doe, wild boars, goats and goshawks.  On this land Augustine erected a corn mill.  He was succeeded in his possessions by his son Roger de Heton, to whom Gilbert Fitz Reinford confirmed the grant of the hamlet of Torver, between the years of 1190 and 1199.

The Mill at Torver was a corn and fulling mill.  Fulling mills were plentiful in Furness in the middle ages.  Fulling was done by beating the cloth in the fulling stocks, which are heavy wooden mallets raised by wheels with projecting cams.  The field near the mill, which stretches out to the fell, is called ‘Tenterbanks’ where the cloth was stretched on frames (tenters) being attached to the frame by tenter-hooks.

The last miller at Torver Mill was Marmaduke Fryer, who lived with his family in the farmhouse.  After the Mill stopped working Marmaduke and his family moved to Park Ground Farm.  The photo (above) is of the farmhouse as it was then, with the mill in the background.

The Mill property was sold to Mrs. Charnley from Sunny Bank which was then a Bobbin Mill.  Mrs. Charnley’s Husband and family also owned the ship breaking yard at Ulverston and much of the timber from the sailing ships was used in converting Torver Mill into two cottages in 1911-1912.

Claude Pennington, who lived in Lytham, was a draughtsman at Vickers Shipbuilders, He sailed by boat from Fleetwood to Barrow Shipyard each week to work, returning home at weekends.  His wife Jean was also from Lytham.  While on a train trip to Coniston, journeying through Torver, they saw a vacant cottage.  When they arrived at Coniston they made some enquiries and went to see the property, liked what they saw and eventually moved into number 8 Green Cottages.  It was while living there that their daughter Joan was born on the 20th of April 1916.

The Pennington’s kept chickens in a henhouse at the end of Green Cottages, but they needed more ground.   Claude was told about a vacant cottage at The Mill, with some buildings and land, which was just what he and Jean wanted, and so it was that Claude, Jean and little Joan made the move to The Mill where they used the ground and buildings as a chicken and rabbit farm, breeding Angora rabbits.  Master William John Peel Pennington (Billy) was born at The Mill on the 26th of April 1921, making the Pennington family complete.

The second cottage at The Mill was rented by Mr. Bert and Mrs. Nora Atkin.  Mr. Atkin travelled to work at Vickers each day, with Claude and Mr. Boyren from Beckstones, on the train from Torver Station.  Mr. and Mrs. Atkin decided to move to Foxfield to be nearer Mr. Atkins’ work.  It was at this time that Claude and Jean bought The Mill from Mrs. Charnley.

The Pennington’s changed The Mill back to one property again, letting the farmhouse to tenants, the last tenants in the farmhouse being Albert and Lily Brownlea.  It was during the Second World War that the farmhouse began to deteriorate, the walls becoming unsafe, and the Brownleas were asked to leave the property.  Because it was wartime the building could not be repaired.  Between the years 1967 and 1977 planning consent was sought twice to rebuild the property and was refused.

After leaving school, Joan Pennington’s first job was sexing chickens, which she did for about 2 years before going into nursing.  She met and married Fred Rostrom, and settled in Preston.  Joan returned to The Mill to be with her mother during wartime and her first daughter, Anne, was born at The Mill in 1944.  Midwife Bessie Prickett of Ellis Howe delivered Anne.  When the war ended the family returned to Preston where their second daughter Elizabeth was born.  Joan Rostrom nee Pennington died in 1995.

Billy Pennington went to work at Vickers Shipbuilding as a mechanic, he was always interested in motorbikes, cars, anything mechanical.  He owned a Bull Nose Morris car.   One day a Mr. Skirrow from Ulverston approached Bill, he wanted to buy the car, but Bill wasn’t really interested in selling it so he asked Mr. Skirrow if he had anything to trade.  The only thing Mr. Skirrow had was a ’Flying Flea’ a single seater aeroplane.  They struck a deal.  It had hopped, it had flown, and it had crashed.  It didn’t work, but it was a plane, and it belonged to Bill.  After acquiring the ‘Flea’, Bill wrote to the Air Commodore regarding modernisations to the craft.  His advice to Bill was, “burn it!”

A friend was driving over Hardknott Pass in a three wheeler Morgan, when his engine blew up, so he telephoned Bill for help. He was told “don’t worry I have just the engine for you”.  The engine from the ‘Flea’ was a British Anzani Direct 4 valve radial twin, which was fitted into the Morgan.

When war broke out Bill applied to join the RAF and he was accepted until they found out that he worked at Vickers.  He was told that as his job was a reserved occupation he was excluded from joining the forces.  He was sent from Vickers Shipyard to Scapa Flow, where he repaired the boats of the British Fleet.

Billy married Doreen Shaw from Coniston on 27th march 1948; they moved to Liverpool after they married.  Bill worked for the engineering firm of Gilbert-Ash.  They had two sons Graham born in 1952 and Harry born in 1954.
Claude Pennington died at The Mill in 1964 on his Golden Wedding anniversary and his wife Jean died at her son Billy’s home in Melling Near Liverpool in 1969.  William John Peel Pennington (Bill) inherited the property but didn’t come back to live at The Mill until 1978 when he took early retirement because of ill health.  Since his retirement and until his death in 1990 he built a water wheel, which ran the electricity for a short time. He had rabbits once again at the Mill, also ducks, geese and sheep.

Mrs. Doreen Pennington donated the ‘Flying Flea’ to H.M. Prison, Haverigg, where it has since been rebuilt and is on show in the R.A.F. Millom Museum.

The Mill is now occupied by Chris and Sylvia Bradley who are renovating the mill wheel to provide electricity to the house.

The passages highlighted in red above refer to the Flying Flea, the aircraft owned by Billy Pennington of The Mill back in the 1940's.  
Harry Bradley, father of Chris down at t'Mill, has done some excellent research into the Flea and what became of that particular model.  
We are dedicating a page to his research and to this remarkable aircraft:  The Flying Flea