Decorated initial J

oseph Whitehead (1868-1951) was born in Aston, Birmingham, the first son of John Whitehead (c.1845-1904), who ran a successful business in undertaking and funerary sculpture. Joseph attended the National Art Training School and the Accademia di Belle Arti di Carrara, where the firm had an office near the famous marble quarries, and then joined the family business, as did his younger brother John. Having married a young Italian woman from Carrarra, Joseph now settled down in London and became the family firm's principal sculptor and then, very early in the twentieth century, its director (see "Joseph James Whitehead").

List of Whitehead's works accepted for the Royal Academy's summer exhibitions, 1889-95.

As well as executing funerary monuments, Joseph had his own studio next to the workshop in Vincent Square, Westminster, and exhibited examples of his work for several years in a row (1889-95) at the Royal Academy summer exhibitions. The firm also had a branch in Aberdeen (Noszlopy and Waterhouse 292). It was very highly reputed, working, for example on the marble decoration of the Baptistery and Chapel of the Holy Souls at Westminster Cathedral. Of the Baptistery, the architect's daughter, wrote, "In design and choice of material it owes everything to the mind of the master, while its successful interpretation is due to the marble firm of Whitehead" (de l'Hôpital 150); and of the latter, "Messrs. J. Whitehead & Sons having signed the contract for the main part of the marble-work in February 1902, finished all theirs with the exception of the floor in nine months from that time" (de l'Hôpital 202). One can hardly imagine more prestigious commissions in London at that time.

Marble work in the Baptistery (left, showing the elaborate font) and the Chapel of the Holy Souls, in Westminster Cathedral.

Whitehead is best known now for his war memorials, a poignant accolade since he and his wife Ottilia lost their own son Eric in the later stages of World War I, in a flying accident at Amesbury.

Left: Whitehead's war memorial at Chertsey, in Surrey. Right: Memorial wall at Digby Stuart College, Roehampton University (Sacred Heart Society — Wall).

Eric was still just 18, and is remembered on a plain white wall plaque, with black lettering, on the memorial wall by the main gate of Digby Stuart College, Roehampton: ERIC JOSEPH WHITEHEAD/ 2ND LIEUT. R.F.C./ ACCIDENTALLY KILLED/ WHILST FLYING AT AMESBURY/ 3RD MAY 1918/ AGED 18 YEARS & 10 MONTHS. The plaque was, of course, executed by the family firm.

In later years, the family firm operated from the Imperial Works, Kennington Oval, and was commissioned by the now well-established Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, becoming "the Contractor in marble work, responsible for the design and execution of works such as the drinking fountains" ("Joseph Whitehead & Sons Ltd"). This might not seem an important commission, but in fact the resultant works could be very elaborate. The firm would continue to operate until the 1964 (see Wyke and Cocks 464). In retirement, the couple moved to Hampshire, where Joseph helped to design Creek House in Barton-on-Sea, Hampshire. He died there in 1951. — Jacqueline Banerjee



de l'Hôpital, Winefride. Westminster Cathedral and Its Architect: Volume I, The Building of the Cathedral. 2 vols. London: Hutchinson, 1919. Internet Archive, from a copy in the Getty Research Institute. Web. 8 November 2023.

"Joseph James Whitehead." Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011. Web. 8 November 2023.

Joseph Whitehead & Sons Ltd. London Renmembers. Web. 8 November 2023.

Noszlopy, George Thomas, and Fiona WaterhousePublic Sculpture of Staffordshire and the Black Country. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005.

Public Sculpture of Britain biographies - W. PSSA (Public Statues and Sculpture Association). Web. 8 November 2023.

The Royal Academy of Arts: a Complete Dictionary of Contributors and Their Work from Its Foundation in 1769 to 1904. Vol. VIII: Toft to Zwecker. London: Henry Graves / George Bell, 1906. Internet Archive, from a copy in the Getty Research Institute. Web. 8 November 2023.

Sacred Heart Society — Wall. WMT (War Memorial Society). Web. 8 November 2023.

Speel, Bob. "Sculpture of the Month - September 2017 - Chertsey War Memorial in Surrey, by Joseph Whitehead." Web. 7 November 2023.

Wyke, Terry, and Harry Cocks. Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2004.

Created 8 November 2023