Gravestone of Joseph and Sarah Whitley


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Graveyard of the Church of St John, Wetherby Road, Roundhay, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS8 2LE


© Crown Copyright and database right 2021. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2021. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1460284.pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 08-Mar-2021 at 19:46:10.


Statutory Address:
Graveyard of the Church of St John, Wetherby Road, Roundhay, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS8 2LE

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Leeds (Metropolitan Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Gravestone of Joseph and Sarah Whitley, 1889, with decorative painted tilework by Louis Le Prince.

Reasons for Designation

The gravestone of Joseph and Sarah Whitley, erected in 1889, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* it has a bespoke design using high-quality materials, including sandstone-ashlar, bronze, marble and painted tilework;

* it has a strong level of design, craftsmanship, and attention to detail, and incorporates symbolic imagery;

* it is a particularly personal memorial through its incorporation of bronze plaques provided by Joseph Whitley's own bronze foundry and painted tilework completed by the Whitleys' artist and inventor son-in-law, Louis Le Prince.

Historic interest:

* it has significant historic links to the invention of early cinema as both Joseph and Sarah Whitley were filmed in the 'Roundhay Garden Scene', the first moving picture in the world, which was shot at their family home by Louis Le Prince in 1888;

* it is a tangible link to a pioneer of motion picture and a crossroads moment that heralded the age of cinematography.

Group value:

* it has strong group value with the Church of St John (1824-1826, Grade II) and the boundary wall, gate piers and gates on the south side of the churchyard (around 1830, Grade II).


Joseph Whitley (1816-1891) was a mechanical engineer and metallurgist who established the engineering firm of Joseph Whitley & Co (later known as Whitley Partners) in Leeds in 1844. In 1858 Whitley began to make advancements in metallurgical science, particularly in the treatment of iron and bronze, and he has been described as 'the best bronze-founder in the world' (Iron and Steel Institute obituary 1891), having produced bronze of very high tensile strength, density and homogeneity.

Whitley was a prolific inventor and acquired approximately 50 patents, ranging from the manufacture of railway wheels and tyres, the manufacture of metallic shells and torpedoes, the production of alloys, the treatment of sewer gas, ideas for ornamenting textiles and fabrics, the design of apparatus for the development of electricity, and improvements in the construction of ships. Joseph Whitley married Sarah Whitley (1816-1888) in 1842. Their son, John Whitley, became managing director of Whitley Partners in 1871, although Joseph later took back control of the company.

Whilst studying at Leipzig University John Whitley was introduced to a postgraduate chemistry student named Louis Aime Augustin Le Prince (1841 - disappeared in 1890) who had trained as an artist in Paris and specialised in painting pottery. Le Prince's father was a close friend of one of the pioneers of photography, Louis Daguerre. In 1866 John invited Louis to Leeds and he joined the firm of Whitley Partners, marrying John's sister, Sarah Elizabeth Whitley (known as Elizabeth), who was also an artist, in 1847. Louis later became a partner in the firm and was responsible for marketing in France and also attended international exhibitions with John Whitley.

Louis and Elizabeth experimented with colour photography on metal and pottery, fixing the colours in a special kiln built at the Whitley home in Roundhay, and they founded the Leeds Technical School of Applied Art in 1877. In 1881 Louis and his family moved to New York and in 1885 Louis began building a moving picture camera, filing his first patent for multi-lens and single-lens machines in the United States in 1886. In 1887 Louis returned to Leeds and began work on a single-lens camera, before filing patents in France and on the Continent.

In October 1888 Louis used a single lens camera to shoot the first moving pictures on paper film when he filmed members of the Whitley family, including Joseph and Sarah, in the 'Roundhay Garden Scene', and a further scene entitled 'Leeds Bridge' in the city centre, significantly pre-dating the work of the Lumiere brothers and Thomas Edison. In the same month Elizabeth's mother Sarah died and Louis produced the decorative ceramic tilework adorning her gravestone, which was completed in 1889. The grave's plaque is of bronze and is believed to have been manufactured by Whitley Partners.

In 1890 Louis Le Prince was preparing to travel to the United States to promote his invention and secure a patent, but he first decided to visit his family in France. Louis reportedly boarded a train from Dijon to Paris, but he never arrived and was never seen again. Several theories have been put forward for his disappearance, including suicide due to financial difficulties, fratricide by his brother over an inheritance, and murder by a competitor in order to stop him filing his patents, but the case has never been solved. As Le Prince's body was not found the family had to wait seven years for him to be declared dead before they could administer his estate and protect his patents. However, in the intervening period Edison had filed his own patents and claimed the title of inventor of the motion picture.

The lettering on the Roundhay gravestone commemorating Joseph Whitley was added following his death in New York in 1891, and his body was buried alongside that of his wife.


Gravestone of Joseph and Sarah Whitley, 1889, with decorative painted tilework by Louis Le Prince.

MATERIALS: sandstone ashlar memorial with bronze plaques, pink-marble columns and painted ceramic tiles.

The gravestone is attached to an 1820s churchyard boundary wall* (the wall itself is not included within the listing of the gravestone) located approximately 10m north of the Church of St John and running east-west. The gravestone is located just beyond the wall's mid-point, approximately 14m north-east of the church tower. The memorial consists of a large sandstone-ashlar frame incorporating a central decorative carved band supported by slender pink-marble columns with stylised capitals and carved bases, and a semi-circular decorative carving above incorporating two Gothic arches intertwined with two fleurs-de-lys; the whole gives the appearance of a window or doorway. Set in between the columns are bronze plaques with moulded edges and floriated fixings that are believed to have been produced by Joseph Whitley's company.

The top plaque reads: 'In Memory of/ SARAH ROBINSON/ The Beloved Wife of/ JOSEPH WHITLEY/ Died Octr. 24th 1888/ AGED 72 YEARS.', whilst the bottom plaque reads: 'Also of/ The Aforesaid/ JOSEPH WHITLEY/ Died Janry. 12th 1891/ AGED 74 YEARS.'. To the side panels and uppermost section of the memorial above the semi-circular head are decorative Arts & Crafts painted tilework (damaged and worn in places) by Louis Le Prince, artist and pioneer of cinematography and also the son-in-law of Joseph and Sarah. The tiling to the side panels depicts tall urns, whilst that to the upper part of the memorial depicts a calvary to the centre with two crossed swords behind and the Latin phrase 'FIT VIA VI' (strength is the way) flanked by vases, foliage, and poppy heads (symbolising eternal sleep). Incorporated onto the tile to the bottom right of the memorial are Louis Le Prince's signature (his initials) and the date 1889. The grave plot is enclosed by sandstone coping stones with canted edges.


Grace's Guide British Industrial History. Joseph Whitley (1816-1891), accessed 20 September 2018 from
Leeds celebrates its film pioneer, accessed 20 September 2018 from
Louis Le Prince Disappearance, accessed 19 September 2018 from
'Louis A. A. Le Prince and the Whitley Family', P Kelley, 2002. Available at


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building is shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building but not coloured blue on the map, are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act. However, any works to these structures which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent (LBC) and this is a matter for the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine.

End of official listing

Your Contributions

Do you know more about this entry?

The following information has been contributed by users volunteering for our Enriching The List project. For small corrections to the List Entry please see our Minor Amendments procedure.

The information and images below are the opinion of the contributor, are not part of the official entry and do not represent the official position of Historic England. We have not checked that the contributions below are factually accurate. Please see our terms and conditions. If you wish to report an issue with a contribution or have a question please email [email protected].