John Whitehurst - Derby clockmaker - scientist and engineer - Father of modern geologyJohn Whitehurst
Father of modern geology


John Whitehurst 1713-1788

John Whitehurst lived in Derby from 1736 to 1780. He was one of the foremost scientists of his day, father of modern geology and founder member of the Lunar Society along with Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgewood, James Watt and others.

As a clock maker and engineer, Whitehurst's innovations included the round dial long case clock, a standardisation of parts and the manufacture of components to very high tolerances. He also made compasses, waywisers,timers for pottery kilns, pyrometers and barometers. Whitehurst's most important achievement was in geology. In 1763 he sent Benjamin Franklin ( an occasional visitor to his Derby house ), an outline of his theory on the origin and formation of the earth, later published. The second edition (pub 1786) included a section on the strata of Derbyshire.

His work on strata facilitated the prospecting and mining of minerals such as coal, lead and copper and he had a stake in the extraction operations of Anthony Tissington, proprietor of a very prosperous mining company which owned mines not only in Derbyshire but also in Yorkshire, Durham and Scotland.

John Whitehurst was born 10th April 1713, eldest son of John Whitehurst who was a clock maker from Congleton. His interest in geology was fostered by his father in long walks in the Derbyshire Peak District.

He set up in Derby about 1736 where he presented a turret clock to the corporation for installation in the new 1731 Guildhall thus gaining his freedom to trade as a burgess. His home in Iron Gate still stands. He moved in 1764 to a house in Queen Street rebuilt for him by Pickford, which had once been the home of John Flamstead and which later became the home of Joseph Wright.

He married Elizabeth Gretton in 1745 and worked as Church Warden of All Saints in 1761-62.

Whitehurst obtained the position of Stamper of the Money Weights at the Royal Mint under an act of 1780, finally leaving Derby in 1780 for London.

He died in 1788 leaving his property and clock making business to his nephew John Whitehurst 11, son of his brother James who had succeeded to his fathers firm in Congleton.

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Time piece by John Whitehurst in Derby's Industrial museum
Time piece by John Whitehurst

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