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

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.

John Davis and the Miners dial or level

Among the instruments purchased for Enlightenment and currently displayed at Derby Museum is this miners dial or level.

Miners dials or levels are not uncommon in Derbyshire because, until about 30 years ago it was a mining county. Now, however, all the coal mines which once thronged the eastern side of the county from Renishaw to Stanley and the south of it from Swadlincote to the Leicestershire border by Moira are all closed, following the lead mines before them. The Miners’ Dial is a compass-like instrument, the forerunner of the theodolite, used for measuring angles of underground passages or mineral ore seams. They had open fold-up/fold-down sights, a 360 degree face with a magnetic needle and a Vernier scale enabling angles to be read to the nearest 3 minutes.

Davis Derby (John Davis) was a family business established in Leeds in 1779 by Gabriel Davis as a manufacturer of optical, surveying and mathematical instruments. Gabriel Davis’s nephew John was born in the village of Thame in Oxfordshire in 1810, he becameapprenticed to J Abrahams who styled himself as Mathematical Instrument Maker to the Duke of Wellington. On completion of hisapprenticeship in his late teens, John Davis moved to Leeds to join his uncle’s family business. In the early 1830`s John Davis travelled regularly betweenLiverpool Cheltenham and Derby to sell his products. John continued to visit Derby for the next decade. In 1843, perhaps attracted by the railways and the rapid transition taking place in Derby, he took upresidence with his family. John bought the free-hold of the sixteenth century Meynell town house, which is now the oldest surviving premises in Iron Gate, Derby and at the rear of thepremises built a workshop to produce his products. The house was to be thefamilyresidence for around 20 years.

At this time coal production in the UnitedKingdom had risen to 55 million tonnes and 250,000 men, women and children were employed underground. Around 1840 John Davis began to manufacture mining equipment such as mine safety lamps based on the designs invented by Sir Humphrey Davy in 1815. Production of miner’s lamps continued for more than 100 years, reaching 10,000 a year by the end of thecentury. John Davis quickly became famous in mining circles as apioneer in the use of electricity in mines and for his mining products. The company continued to manufacture the Hedley dial until around 1960. John Davis died in 1873 at the age of 63, and his son Henry Davis was appointed to run the business. Under the leadership of Henry Davis the business continued to expand moving to new premises in November1875 at All Saints Works, Amen Alley in Derby, close to the Cathedral. The earliest surviving Davis Derbycatalogue is dated in 1877 and shows that products included turret clocks, weather vanes, surveying instruments, a wide range of miner’s lamps and electric bells for both mining and domestic use.

The Eidograph

The Enlightenment! programme recently purchased an eidograph, a form of pantograph, made by John Davis and possibly used by the Midland Railway in Derby. The first pantograph was constructed in 1603 by Christoph Schiener, who used the device to re-create diagrams and enlarge, but he wrote about the invention over 27 years later, in “Pantographice” (Rome 1631). One arm of the pantograph contained a small pointer while the other held a drawing implement, and by moving the pointer over a diagram, a copy of the diagram was drawn on another piece of paper. By changing the positions of the arms in the linkage between the pointer arm and drawing arm, the scale of the image produced can be changed. A more complicated version called the eidograph was developed by William Wallace in 1831.