Whitehurst Egg Timer

“How do you like your eggs in the morning?”

 When this mechanical egg timer turned up at an auction house in Lichfield we just had to have it. It shows the diverse talents of the Whitehurst family and is a quirky addition to our collection of clocks and barometers. The number ‘5969’ suggests a date of 1840 so a little late for John Whitehurst (1713-1788) and possibly made by John Whitehurst III, his great nephew who continued the family business. We were advised that the outer box may be a later refinement as they were usually free standing, however it would need some form of stability. The timer still works but the hammer isn’t connecting.

 We have also purchased a rare Whitehurst Angle Barometer and a Noctuary Clock as part of the Enlightenment! project.

 Matt Edwards, Derby Museum & Art Gallery

Enlightenment! poem – Luminary by Ann Atkinson



 Set the scene with a full bright moon,

 note Flamsteed’s Crater in the Ocean of Storms,

 the impact; now think of the tide-swell,

 the collision and ferment of curious minds,

 a beginning, then, of modern times.


So at full-moon they come to Erasmus,

unfolding ideas like charts, maps to a future,

these friends – the maker of buckles, the potter,

the clock-maker working with minutes,

but dreaming of eons, engineers, mechanics,


and you, Joseph Wright, artist and witness,

 frame new perspectives, cast your light

 on these moments advancing the times.

 We think of you stretching your canvas, mixing

 a spectrum of colour, planning balance and form.


Those intimate nocturnes – faces, keen and alight,

 drawn close by the candle’s flame; and there,

 a lamp is the sun, and the orbit of planets, moon,

 demonstrates an eclipse; in the foreground,

 another – the dark silhouette of a child.


 There, is the clamour and heat of the air

 in the blacksmith’s forge, a glimpse of moon

 behind clouds; and the same moon shines

 as the Alchemist kneels, like prayer, and gasps

 at the instant, the phosphorous flare.


You write from Italy, wishing John were there

 to see Vesuvius redden the sky, say

 that he would think deeply into the mountain

 while you skim the surface, the glare in darkness,

 the moon floating palely over the bay.


John is our clock-maker. He explains the heave

 and uprising that opened up strata, like pages

 recording the layers of time. You paint him,

 pen and diagram in his hands, a smoking volcano,

 the image you choose for the power of his mind.


You give us your views in the changing light,

 Arkwright’s Mill, Matlock Tor, Dovedale

 by day, by night, and the stories you frame

 come like news from your time. You set these scenes,

 the storm and the vision of these luminous minds.


Ann Atkinson: Derbyshire Poet Laureate: 2009 -11

Luminary was commissioned to celebrate ‘Faces in the Crowd: Joseph Wright and Friends in Georgian Derbyshire’, an exhibition at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery from 5th March to 30 May 2011. 

Ann Atkinson was Derbyshire Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2011 and before that Poet Laureate of the Peak from 2008 to 2010. Her book From Matlock to Mamelodi: 5000 miles of poetry is available from Ali Betteridge, Literature Development Officer on 01773 831359 or email alison.betteridge@derbyshire.gov.uk.  Ann’s pamphlet Drawing Water is available from Smith/Doorstop.

An 8 day noctuary clock movement by John Whitehurst III

Derby Museum and Art Gallery have bought a brass and steel eight-day movement from a two-row facing pin type noctuary or watchman’s clock.

A noctuary was used principally to monitor a night watchman’s rounds.  The pins would be depressed every 15 minutes by the turn of a lever.

John Whitehurst III was the third generation of the family to make clocks in Derby.  He was born in 1788 eldest son of John Whitehurst II nephew and heir of the firm’s founder John Whitehurst FRS.  He was apprenticed to his father in 1809 and was thereafter in partnership with him until his father’s death in 1834.  A leading local freemason, he won the competition to make the clock for the new Palace of Westminster in 1855, but died the same year without work having started.  The firm was taken over by Roskell of Liverpool and closed in 1862.

 In August 2010 Derby bought an angle barometer made by John Whitehurst FRS, find out more here.

A John Whitehurst Angle Barometer dated 1757

A rare find indeed!

Matt Edwards: Collections Access Assistant, Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

The Enlightenment! team have recently purchased a rare barometer that came up at auction following its discovery during a house clearance in Borrowash, Derby. I went down to Bamfords auctioneers on the sale day and found myself in quite a fierce bidding war with an internet and telephone bidder. It was quite a day, not for the faint hearted. There was some local media attention prior to the auction and certainly afterwards as to who the purchaser was. The general feeling among the local collectors was that they hoped it was staying locally and that the buyer was a museum. Well done us!

The John Whitehurst angle barometer inscribed ‘Whitehurst/1757’ in a Mahogany case with a silvered scale is the earliest recorded angle barometer of this type with his patent 0-60 scale. This is the second earliest surviving instrument of the 25 known to have been manufactured by John Whitehurst. Of the 24 others 1 is lost and 4 are untraced. Only 11 however are dated.


The images you see here are of the barometer in the condition in which it was found. My next job was to seek conservation advice. The main issues were the missing veneers, the blockages and possible damage of the mercury tube, a missing finial at the end of the arm (which adjusts the indicator which is also missing) and the general strengthening needed to the angled joint.

In correspondence with a specialist in barometers I have gained some knowledge about their fixtures and fittings but I also thought it might be worth looking at a similar model to make some comparisons. Derby Museums were to take trip to Oxford to visit the Ashmolean so I took the opportunity to go to the Museum of the History of Science to look at a Whitehurst angled barometer in the collection there. While this was a fine example in much better condition, there was little provenance and it was less unique being undated. It was however useful to see the missing parts and take photographs to pass to the conservator. Although some conservation work was necessary we still wanted to keep the barometer true to its original state without too much intervention, therefore preserving it as a historical object.

 Look out for updates and new photographs after the conservation treatment.

Who was John Whitehurst?

John Whitehurst (1713 – 1788) was born in Congleton, Cheshire. Apprenticed to his clockmaker father, together they would go for walks in the nearby Peak District, during which time a life long interest in geology was developed. He set up a clockmaking shop in Derby in 1736, where he built up a business of national recognition, including providing movements for Matthew Boulton’s manufactories (Whitehurst wrote to Boulton in 1757 offering to make him a barometer, but there’s no way of telling if this is the one). His sidereal clock of 1772 which showed the movement of the sun in relation to fixed stars is considered one of the most significant clocks made.

 In keeping with the times, Whitehurst took an active interest in several areas of engineering technology: he was a mechanical and hydraulic engineer; he made compasses, pyrometers, barometers and timers for pottery kilns; and he undertook major domestic engineering improvements (plumbing, heating systems and kitchen ranges) at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire.

 An active member of the Lunar Society, he introduced Joseph Wright of Derby to this circle, and his portrait by Wright hangs at Derby Museums and Art Gallery.

 In 1774 he was appointed Keeper of the Duplicates or Copies of the Standard Weights of the Royal Mint. Now living in London and continuing his investigations he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1779.

 His most significant publication was An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth in 1778. In it he proposed a method to predict which rocks might exist beneath those close to the surface, using detailed sectional diagrams of the strata of Derbyshire to support this. He described the fossil sea creatures, and speculated on their age, having to resolve the intellectual difficulties in reconciling this geological evidence with his Christian faith.

 In 1787 he published his final work An attempt towards invariable measures of length, capacity and weight from the mensuration of Time, seeking to rationalize all forms of measurement by decimalization.