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JOHN WHITEHURST, 10 April 1713 – 18 February 1788, Fellow of the Royal Society.


John Whitehurst was born in Congleton, Cheshire, to a clockmaker, John Whitehurst the elder. Receiving only a basic formal education, Whitehurst Junior was taught clockmaking by his father, who also encouraged the boy's pursuit of knowledge. At the age of twenty-one, the son visited Dublin to inspect a clock of curious construction of which he had heard.


About 1736 Whitehurst entered into business for himself at Derby, where he soon obtained considerable employment, distinguishing himself by constructing several ingenious pieces of mechanism. Besides other works he made the clock for the town-hall, and in reward was enrolled as a burgess on 6 September 1737. He also made thermometers, barometers, and other philosophical instruments, and interested himself in contriving waterworks. He was consulted in almost every undertaking in Derbyshire and in the neighbouring counties in which skill in mechanics, pneumatics, and hydraulics was required.


Whitehurst  made the movement of the Sidereal Clock produced at Soho in 1771 incorporating some of the principles developed by John Harrison for his marine chronometer in 1764. The mechanism of the clock shows how the sun and stars move in relation to the earth. This clock failed to sell at Christie’s and by 1796, desperate to sell the piece, Boulton shipped it to St Petersburg with the hope of selling it to the Empress Catherine the Great. It was returned, unsold, some years later and remained in the Boulton family. It is now on regular display at Soho House, but has been taken into the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s Boulton Bicentennial Exhibition.


In 1774, Whitehurst obtained a post at the Royal Mint in London. In 1775, on the passage of the act for the better regulation oí the gold coinage, without any solicitation on his part he was appointed stamper of the money-weights on the recommendation of the Duke of Newcastle. Whitehurst moved to London, where the rest of his life was passed in scientific pursuits, and where his house in Colt Court, Fleet Street, formerly the abode of James Ferguson (1710-1770), was visited by men of science.


In 1778 Whitehurst published his theory on geological strata in ‘An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth.’ The original object of this work, which he began to prepare while living at Derby, was to facilitate the discovery of valuable minerals beneath the earth's surface. He pursued his researches with so much ardour that the exposure he incurred tended to impair his health.


On 13 May 1779 Whitehurst was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1783 he was sent to examine the Giant's Causeway and the volcanic remains in the north of Ireland, embodying his observations in the second edition of his Inquiry. About 1784 he contrived a system of ventilation for St. Thomas's Hospital, and in 1787 he published ‘An Attempt towards obtaining invariable Measures of Length, Capacity, and Weight, from the Mensuration of Time.’ He obtained data from which the true lengths of pendulums, the spaces through which heavy bodies fall in a given time, and many other particulars relating to the force of gravitation and the true figure of the earth, could be deduced.


On 9 January 1745 Whitehurst married Elizabeth Gretton, daughter of George Gretton, rector of Trusley and Dalbury in Derbyshire. After Whitehurst died in 1788 at his house in Bolt Court, Fleet Street, he was buried beside his wife in St. Andrew's burying-ground in Gray's Inn Road. There were no surviving children.


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