Thursday 12 May 2011

Tick tock

Walking through town a couple of days ago, it began to strike me just how many clocks there are around the place. I didn't even start looking until I was right down at the bottom of St Peter's Street, but these are the ones I spotted in the Cathedral Quarter.

Herbert Brown is a nationwide pawnbroker which also deals in the buying and selling of jewellery. This clock hangs outside their shop on the Corn Market.

W.E.Watts (Est 1858) is a little further down the Corn Market; a family business specialising in Swiss brand watches and other high quality jewellery.

Opening out from the Corn Market into the main market square, there is the four-faced clock on the 103 foot high Guildhall tower. I was unable to find any information about the Guildhall clock except that a turret clock was constructed and presented to the Guildhall in 1736 by John Whitehurst; a clockmaker from Congleton who wished to trade in Derby. As thanks for the gift, the corporation enrolled him as a burgess, giving him the freedom to trade.

However, the Guildhall tower was only constructed after the previous building was seriously damaged by fire in 1840, so I assume that this clock dates from that time.

Walking up Irongate, we reach Derby Cathedral with its newly refurbished clock. Back in 2009, Friends of Derby Cathedral raised the £13,000 needed for the restoration, which was carried out by Smiths of Derby. The two clock faces were completely stripped back, the dials were hand painted with the blue and the Roman numerals and the minute markers guilded in 24 carat gold. All of this work was done by engineers who had abseiled from the top of the tower and were hanging in situ. Nice!!!

Finally, on my tour, I spotted this clock, just above the Cathedral approaching the inner ring road. This clock, made by John Smith, hangs outside 27 Queen Street, the building where he began his business in 1856. Smith was originally apprenticed to John Whitehurst III (the family of Guildhall turret clock fame) and this building was formally the Whitehurst family home.

27 Queen Street has quite a rich history, having been built by Stephen Flamsteed in the 1600s and lived in by his son, Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed. Later, it was rented to artist Joseph Wright and it was in this building where he died in 1797. During the time of John Whitehurst, the house was visited by Benjamin Franklin and part of the building has also served time as a pub; The Acorn.

Lately, since being bought in 2001 by London developer Joseph DeWinter, the building has fallen into disrepair. It is currently occupied by squatters. DeWinter is taking court action to try to remove the squatters, but proceedings have been adjourned by the judge. The squatters, who call themselves the Clockwork Collective, claim to have made many repairs to the house and have even taken people on guided tours of the building, explaining its history. They are currently working with members of Derby City Council and a local historian in an effort to have the building listed for protection, restored and brought back into public use.

Meanwhile, operating from a new base in the city, Smiths continue to build and repair clocks in the UK and abroad. Their most famous clock is probably the Great Clock of St Paul's Cathedral, London, which was installed in 1893 and has been maintained by the Smith company since that time.


  1. You are very knowledgable about your local town.
    I don't fancy that abseiling job!
    Lisa x

  2. A fine collection of clocks. I suppose in the days before wristwatches, public clocks were the free wi-fi zones of their era.

  3. What super clocks you have found on your tour. When I was young, before I had a wristwatch, I used to know where all the clocks were in our local town - now you see people looking for the time on their mobile phones! 27 Queen Street looks and sounds fascinating I'd love to see inside it:)

  4. They are all so beautiful. I'll have to take a look around Victoria to see where I find clocks.

  5. Super clocks as Rosie says and on top they were all the same time around 9 am (I checked) only the two last once you took after 1 pm ! What did you do meanwhile ?? There is a hidden Miss Marple in me !

  6. All have Roman Numerals. Interesting. The Romans sure had an impressive effect! By the way, what happened to all your tick-tocks on the side of your blog?

  7. Love your clocks. Re the abseiling on my blog. The building was at Canary Wharf and I#m not sure how high it was but maybe around 250 methres

  8. Yet another superb post! It's always such a treat visiting here no more so this week which has been very busy. What a welcome distraction! Thank you! Hope you are making the most of your lovely warm, sunny days :)

  9. Some of those clocks are actually very pretty :)