Time to celebrate Derbyshire's striking clock heritage

Posted on 23/05/2019 in Press Coverage

Clocks don’t just tell the time, they capture the passage of time thanks to their ever-changing designs, writes Charles Hanson.

Pick any period and you will find a clock that epitomises it, be it the angular lines of an Art Deco mantle clock, the grandeur of a grandfather clock sweeping us back to the late 1600s or the fancy flair of an early 20th Century French clock.

The style, design and character of a particular time and place in history are defined by these classic timepieces and we see many at Hansons - some with a proud Derby heritage.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Derbyshire was home to some of the country’s finest and most skilful clockmakers. Names such as Woolley, Tantum, Whitehurst, Haycock, Aston and Mawkes spring to mind.

And we can’t possibly forget Smith of Derby, clockmakers founded in 1856. John Smith (1813-1886) became an apprentice to John Whitehurst in 1827 and went on to launch his own business.

Whitehurst (1713-1788), a clock maker and scientist, began working in Derby around 1736. He created ingenious pieces of mechanism as well as clocks, thermometers, barometers and other instruments.

Though born in Congleton, Cheshire, he’s regarded as one of Derby’s sons. He was consulted in almost every undertaking in Derbyshire and neighbouring counties if skill in mechanics, pneumatics or hydraulics was required.

Meanwhile, John Smith’s company flourished during the industrial revolution. When he died in 1886, his two sons, Frank and John, took over the running of the family business. Under Frank Smith, the company were responsible for building the huge turret clock for St Paul’s Cathedral in 1893.

With so much clockmaking heritage in Derbyshire I’ve decided the time has come to hold specialist clock and barometer sales devoted to Derbyshire clockmakers. The first will be on July 24.

If you have and type of clock, longcase, grandfather, wall, school or mantle, Hansons’ clocks expert Michael Wetton would love to see it. He’s passionate about antique and vintage timepieces.

Michael (pictured below) comes to our Etwall saleroom once a month to do free clock valuations and he’ll be with us again on Thursday, June 6, 10am-4pm.

A Derbyshire clockmaking dynasty he often talks about is Ashtons. They made clocks in Macclesfield but also in Ashbourne, Wirksworth and Tideswell. Though probably not as refined as London clocks of the day, their clocks were of a high quality for provincial clockmakers of that time.

In our monthly Clocks Auction last Thursday (May 22) Lot 4001 stirred much interest. The George II oak and walnut longcase clock by Joseph Cooper soared to £340 from a low estimate of £80.

Cooper was a highly regarded clockmaker from Whitchurch, Shropshire, and collectors are seeking out quality time pieces as investments.

Clocks that are relatively modern can do well, too. Lot 4015, a 1979, limited edition Thwaites & Reed Money Clock with glass dome sold for £200.

Thwaites & Reed claim to be the oldest clock manufacturing company in the world. Geoffrey Buggins, the last of the original family clockmakers, saw drawings of Thwaites clocks dating back to 1610. The records prior to 1780 went missing but documents from that date are stored with the London Metropolitan Archives.

Charles Hanson with the Thomas Tompion clock.

All this reminded me of a wonderful Thomas Tompion bracket clock, circa 1700, which sold for £200,000 in our Fine Art Auction last autumn, and deservedly so.

Thomas was born more than 370 years ago in 1639 and lived until 1713, but though he came into this world centuries ago he has left a lasting legacy to the world.

I call him Father Time, such was her expertise when it came to making elegant clocks of quality. His bracket clocks are regarded as masterpieces.

Born in Bedfordshire, he was the eldest son of a blacksmith and became apprentice to a London clockmaker. Tompion’s early patron was scientist Robert Hooke, a relationship which opened doors to royal patronage and the latest technology.

Tompion’s excellence was based on sound design and quality materials. This together with the outstanding skills of his workmen gave him an unrivalled reputation worldwide.

They say time waits for no man, but outstanding clocks have earned their makers a place in history that will never dim with the passage of time.

Free Clock Valuations at Hansons

Bring your clocks, watches and general antiques for free valuations at Hansons, Heage Lane, Etwall, on Wednesdays, 5-7pm, Fridays, 10am-4pm, and Saturdays, 9am-noon.

Michael Wetton is available for clock valuations on June 6 and July 4, 10am-4pm.

To find out more, call 01283 733988 or email [email protected].