From steam to solar: a 160th birthday present for our Midland Clock Works

Barra clock

Clock on the Catholic church, Our Lady of the Sea, Barra, made at the J Smith & Sons Midland Steam Clock Works Derby in the early 1890s

I represent the 5th generation of the Smith family on the board of one of the best known names in public clockmaking globally – Smith of Derby Ltd. Through the hard work and skill of everyone involved, and steady and patient investment in everything from training and R&D, to new talent and infrastructure, the company has reached its 160th anniversary year. And we have just given ourselves a birthday present in the form of some new kit that will reduce our bills and our reliance on fossil fuel based energy. To agree to invest wasn’t easy when there are so many other more immediate concerns.  But we are proud to report on the first big measures. Today’s press release appears below.

Carbon Brief,  ECIU and Business Green are the place to go to keep up with the detail in policy debate, but for our part I’ll just say that we are proud to be pioneers amongst traditional engineering SMEs in taking these steps. It is tempting to add  further comment on the ‘peculiar’ state of national energy policy, particularly in the wake of the UN climate agreement in Paris, but enough perhaps to say that the board agreed investments in solar PV, LED lighting and a new heating system within an environment that encouraged these moves. Will other SMEs or larger companies follow our lead with so much uncertainty and apparent contradiction in energy policy? The signals from our meetings for any government are: make  investment in long term energy savings and non-fossil fuel energy sources the easy decision. That means getting pricing/taxing/subsidies right and nurturing the skills and businesses that support low and zero carbon infrastructure. And make finance easily available to companies to cut consumption and, where possible, expand renewables.

We wouldn’t have been able to make the investments we have without incentives that at least match those that support fossil fuel based energy. We’ve a great deal more to do in our business to reduce our environmental impacts and costs, but this is a good start. Thanks to everyone – from past politicians; policymakers and journalists, through to present day entrepreneurs and their teams (such as Custom Solar) – who have made it possible for us to celebrate the start of our 160th birthday year with a solar powered spring in our step.


Smith of Derby’s new life in the sun


Media release

5th January 2016

For immediate release

Clockmakers Smith of Derby goes green with solar installation

LED lighting and other sustainability measures also being used

For over 150 years, the world-leading clockmakers Smith of Derby has been at the forefront of engineering innovation, creating stunning timepieces for interior and exterior space.

Now it is taking the lead in environmental consideration, having invested heavily in an array of solar panels on the roof of its clockworks, and taken other measures to reduce its demand for energy.

The panels cover around half of the company’s electricity needs, and Joe Smith, Director, said that it underlined its commitment to reducing the environmental impact of the business and making a contribution to tackling climate change.

He said: “The move is a significant investment but it demonstrates that we are among the leaders in trying to be more efficient. It reminds everyone that we are long-term thinkers.

“We constantly look to the future in terms of product, skills, innovation and the way we run our enterprise, and going partly solar-powered is one way of helping us prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.”

188 panels have been installed at the company’s head office in Alfreton Road, Derby, with any electricity not used being sold to the National Grid.

Professor Smith said the move can also help insulate Smith of Derby against unstable energy prices, adding: “We can flick on the lights, fire up the computers and turn on the lathes knowing that we have significantly reduced both local pollution and global carbon emissions from fossil fuel derived electricity.”

But he also stressed that introducing a big slice of renewable energy supply is only half the job. “It is just as important that everyone in the business work to reduce energy demand. All this helps to make a company more profitable and robust,” he said.

The company has also introduced a new heating system and LED lighting that go hand in hand with the investment in the solar panels, and will be on the lookout to cut energy waste further in the months to come.

He said that the family-owned company’s reputation with major developers and architects was also a factor.  The investment helps to demonstrate that it attends “to everything from health and safety and environmental policy to the same degree that they might expect from major international firms. In other words this is just one of the ways in which we can show that we are in all senses a ‘good company’.”

He said: “In the second half of the nineteenth century one John Smith of Derby was so proud of his company being steam driven that he added the fact to his marketing and the brass plate on his clocks: ‘J Smith and Sons. Midland Steam Clock Works. Derby’.

“More than a century later we are equally proud of going (partly) solar powered. John Smith 1st was an innovator and a leader. Our history and our actions today show that companies of any size can thrive by investing for the long term.”

Matthew Brailsford, Managing Director of Custom Solar, which installed the system, said: “We are extremely proud to count Smith of Derby as a client as for us it personifies the perfect attitude towards a sustainable future and energy generation. When a 160 year old business looks to the future it is truly inspiring. It makes me very happy to say we will stand by the nation’s leading clock makers, repairers and restorers for the next phase of their history.”

For more information please contact Nick Britten, Another Voice Public Relations and Media Management on 01332 258359 or email

Notes to editors:

  • Smith of Derby creates, builds and maintains over 4,500 clocks worldwide. The 160 year old company’s iconic time pieces include in the UK St Paul’s Cathedral, the Emirates clock and the Swiss Glockenspiel in Leicester Square, and abroad The Customs House in Shanghai and Waldorf Astoria in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE.
  • Solar panel details: System Size: 49.92kWppanel manufacturer: Seraphim SRP-260-6PB. Inverter Manufacturer: Samil Power Solar Lake 17000TL x 1 & 25000TL x 1Estimated System Annual Performance: 45,286 kilowatt hours. Estimated System worth over 25 years: £323,448. CO2 Savings per annum: 24,001 kg
  • Custom Solar is a renewable energy company specialising in commercial scale solar, with head offices in Chesterfield we are ideally placed to support and maintain our clients in the Midlands. Founded in 2010 Custom Solar have worked to achieve worldwide recognised accreditations in ISO 9001 and 14001 and have just been named the Derbyshire Times ‘Environmental Business of the year for 2015’.


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