John Benson

John Benson was a famous English clockmaker who worked and lived in Whitehaven. He became a highly skilled and much respected clockmaker, and his work was mainly in brass dial 8-day clocks with rolling moons for the upper market. Benson was married in 1750 and died in 1798.

Most of his surviving specimens are brass dial 8 day 'long case' (Grandfather) clocks which often incorporate rolling moons, tidal and other astronomical indicators above the main clock face. About twenty clocks have been noted by him, including one with quarter chimes and music, all of fine quality, often in superior red walnut or mahogany cases.

Benson is reputed to have won a contract to supply timepieces to the British Navy, and as a consequence any sailor named Benson was nicknamed "Ticker" Benson. He was one of the first to produce white-faced clocks. These enamel-painted faces were much cheaper than brass, and easier to read.

His work can be seen in the main hall of 10 Downing Street, the residence of the prime minister. The clock had such an irritating chime that at one point Winston Churchill demanded it be "silenced."

Many famous feet have trodden the entrance hall at 10 Downing Street: from world leaders to sporting heroes. But this is also where the PM's staff enter each day to work among the myriad corridors and staircases which snake around the building - all passing by a piece of Whitehaven History.

Nov 1776 - Newspaper Advertisement: 

JOHN BENSON, CLOCK-MAKER on the West Side of the Fish-market in Whitehaven, who makes all sorts of Plain, Repeating, Musical, and Astronomical Clocks; as also Scales of different Kinds, for weighing Gold, in the exactest Manner, at reasonable Prices. Begs Leave to return his most sincere Thanks to his Friends, for the many Favours they have conferred on him, humbly hoping for their further Patronage and Custom; and takes this Opportunity to inform the Public in general, that he will go into the Country, in the environs of Whitehaven, to clean and repair Clocks, upon a short Notice.
Those who please to favour him with their Commands, may be assured of his utmost Care, to do Justice to the Work, as his Abilities are unquestionable; having carried on the Clock-making Business, in all its different Branches, with Credit, during a continuance of thirty Years in Whitehaven. Hadley's Quadrants repaired and Cleaned.
John Benson Clock, 10 Downing Street
John Benson Clock, 10 Downing Street


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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