Mantel Clock by John Whitehurst of Derby

Of all the clockmaking firms that existed outside London, the most illustrious was undoubtedly that founded by John Whitehurst of Derby in 1736.

Whitehurst was a remarkable polymath who carried out pioneering research in geology and civil engineering, becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society, and was a member of the influential Lunar Society of Birmingham, along with Boulton, Watt, Wedgwood, Priestley and Erasmus Darwin.

Probably Whitehurst’s most advanced clocks were the ‘Geographical’ and the ‘Sidereal’, produced in collaboration with Boulton but he also designed and made barometers of unsurpassed elegance. He was succeeded by his nephew John in 1775 and the firm went on to build a world-famous reputation as makers of turret clocks; this culminated in the notorious battle with Dent in 1844 to win the contract to build Big Ben (eventually won by the latter in distinctly dubious circumstances).

The design flair of the Whitehursts is well demonstrated by this mantel clock. Like many Regency pieces, it catches the eye because of the deliberate contrast between a starkly simple geometric shape and elaborate decoration. It is perhaps unkind to describe it as a ‘chocolate brick’ but once seen, it is not likely to be forgotten.

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