Ian Weightman

Media Services

Take time to visit Derby

Time is of the essence for Derby in 2013.

It’s 300 years since the birth of one of Britain’s greatest innovators, and the city will be working against the clock to introduce the rest of the UK, and the world, to clockmaker, engineer and geologist - John Whitehurst.  (With a suitable degree of perfect timing - it is also the 200th anniversary of John Smith, a former employee of Whitehurst’s company, whose business is still based in Derby to this day).

The most incredible fact of all, however, is that most of us will have already been staring them in the face (so to speak!), without ever knowing it.

John Whitehurst was born in Congleton, Cheshire, in 1713.  The son of a watch and clockmaker, he moved to Derby and set up in business at 22 Irongate around 1736.  Here, he made clocks, thermometers, barometers, and other philosophical instruments, and also pursued an interest in both engineering and geology.

Derby has long been a hot spot of genius and invention, and at the same time that Whitehurst was making his name in clockmaking, Strutt was busy with his new stocking frame, and Duesbury was helping to establish an English ceramics industry.

Artist Joseph Wright (“Wright of Derby”) was another of the famous names of that time, and there is a theory (possibly based on the fact that it was Whitehurst who introduced Wright to The Lunar Society) that John Whitehurst was the model for his most famous painting of all - “A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery”.

One of the founder members of The Lunar Society, Whitehurst rubbed shoulders with (amongst others) the likes of Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood and James Watt.  One of his finest horological achievements of the time was the invention of the watchman’s clock or noctuary.

In 1779, Whitehurst was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.  And after his death, the business passed to his nephew John Whitehurst II; and then to his son John Whitehurst III; and finally to John Smith who had started in the company as an apprentice.

Having been in the business of creating time for over 300 years, Smith of Derby Ltd today creates contemporary, iconic timepieces, tower and public clocks.  Not surprisingly, they also carry premium value - with the most expensive having been sold to a Chinese collector for £100,000 in 2010.  Made in England, “a Whitehurst movement by Smith of Derby Ltd” is today recognised as the best the world has to offer.

Clockmakers to royalty and some of the world’s greatest families, clients over the years have included King George III (“The King’s Clock), Benjamin Franklin (gifted a clock by John Whitehurst on signing the Declaration of Independence for the United States of America), Catherine the Great Empress of Russia, and some of the finest households in Britain (including two Dukes, one Marquess, five Earls, one Viscount, four Barons and four Baronets).

Without even knowing it, most of us will be familiar with some of the 4,000 clocks created and now cared-for around the world by Smith of Derby.  This has been helped by the fact that in the 20th century Smith of Derby acquired some of the other best-known clock-makers in Britain - including the oldest clockmakers in the world, J.B.Joyce & Company of Whitchurch, responsible for some of the most iconic clocks in the world.

Visit Derby has planned a number of ways to mark the 300th, and 200th, anniversaries in 2013 - most notably via a new “Time Trail” around the city.  Other events in the city are being themed around the same theme, including the 36th annual Summer Beer Festival from July 10th to 14th.

For further details, visit www.visitderby.co.uk.

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