Our family of clockmaking companies includes five of the most reputable names in British Horology.
John Smith & Sons, Midland Clock Works, Derby Ltd.
John Smith (1813 – 1886) trained under the famous Whitehurst family of Derby clockmakers. He set up on his own first as a millwright during the day and repaired domestic clocks in the evening. He was able to build up sufficient capital to move to the well-known Clock Works in Queen Street and start turret clock work in earnest.
His early designs of hand wound clocks used the horizontal or flat-bed cast iron frame favoured by Lord Grimthorpe (designer of Big Ben). He also used either his double three-legged gravity or a reliable pin wheel deadbeat escapement. The power to weight ratio of these clocks was better than any made by other manufacturers. They continued to be hand-made until the 1930s and have been used occasionally for important installations since.
Frank Smith (1852-1913) & his younger brother John (1857 – 1910) had been made partners by their father and took over the running of the business after his death. Using newspaper cuttings to guide them to potential business they built up a very successful business. Their cuttings books are held in the company archives along with nineteenth century ledgers and marketing material. Their attention to quality and reliability of product and service continue to this day. It was under their guidance that the Great Clock of St Pauls Cathedral, London, (the BBC’s stand in for Big Ben on several occasions) was made and installed in 1893.
Howard Smith, also John, (1907 – 1983) was a true turret clockmaker. He designed our first and subsequent synchronous electric movements and their associated electro-mechanical bell striking units. He also designed our first auto-winding units which paved a way to preserving the use of existing clocks. Howard combined a profound affection for the traditions of horology with enthusiasm for new technology. He advised the then nascent Council for the Care of Churches Clocks sub-Committee in the 1960s, and also the Landmark Trust in its early years. His diaries recount thousands of visits to clocks old and new across the British Isles from the 1940s to the 1970s. He was involved in the major new clock and carillon made to celebrate Derby as a new diocese in 1927. A huge number of clocks were maintained, restored or installed under his long stewardship of the company.
Nicholas (Nick) Smith (1935 – to date) completed business training as a chartered accountant. He joined the firm following the death of his uncle Alan to run the accounting side of the business and immediately became involved in inspecting installations and obtaining work throughout the British Isles and abroad. His “apprenticeship” of climbing towers with his father Howard from childhood on were crucial. He was tasked with bringing the business through from the 19th to the 21st century, including significant export and UK new installations and the further expansion of the group of companies. His
Jonathan (Joe) Smith (1967 – to date) is Professor of Environment at the Open University and also serves as an active director of Smith of Derby Ltd. He represents the fifth generation in the business. In a period when people are increasingly recognising the importance of ‘place’, Joe is convinced that the company and wider industry has more relevance than ever. Other members of the family are involved as directors of the holding company, Smith of Derby Group Ltd, including Victoria Millar (4th generation), Heather Whitworth (5th generation) and Gordon Smith (5th generation) who is currently residing in Denmark. A number of members of the sixth generation have already had work experience within the business or contributed their knowledge and skills in varied ways.
In recent years, we have had the benefit of leadership from outside the family. Peter Sully served as Managing Director (1996-2006) and masterminded the move from split sites to Alfreton Road and improved our profitability. Peter continues to support the company by applying his formidable knowledge within the sales team. Former chairman Roger Leivers (2006-2013) brought our corporate governance up to date and informed the development of an international export strategy. Most recently Jeremy Bowler, a very experienced chairman, has worked with Bob Betts (2007-to date) through a period of sustained investment in our skills and products. Recent years have seen steady expansion of our traditional work and the development of significant new export markets.