John Whitehead was born in Ashton-under-Lynne, Lancashire, in 1726. He was a man of many interests and talents: amateur architect, engineer, scientist (astronomer mathematician and researcher), bibliophile (he owned an extensive library) and consul of the British nation. He lived in Porto between 1756 and 1802.
As a consul, he developed a close relationship with João de Almada e Melo and was very influential in the Public Works Board and in introducing the Neo-Palladian style in Portugal, thus paving the way to Neo-Classicism, which was assumed as a counter-current and an alternative to the late Baroque that still persisted in Porto at the end of 18th century.
Between 1765 and 1780, he followed up and performed works included in the Almadino plan for the selection of John Carr for the project of the Santo António Hospital. He played a decisive role in the construction of the first and only Protestant cemetery of Porto (1787-1788). He was connected to the works done in Ribeira Square, the Chapel of Nossa Senhora do Ó and S. Domingos Square, and probably authored the project of the English Factory House (1785-1790) in Porto.
Reports from that time regard him as an eccentric man and even a sorcerer, as he had a private laboratory and observatory equipped with solar microscopes, where he tested a lightening conductor he had invented and experimented in the dark chamber and on electricity. In any case, he was much appreciated by his countrymen and respected by the Portuguese. It is known that in 1785 he lived in Rua de São Francisco.
John Whitehead died in Porto on 16 December 1802. The English Factory House determined that he would be buried in the centre of the city’s Protestant cemetery, where they erected a monument in his honour, which was built about 20 years later.