Tom Whitehead was the son of James Whitehead and Mary Ann (nee Crowther), and was born in Brighouse on June 5th, 1886. The family lived at 212 Hey Street, near what is now Wellholme Park. James Whitehead was a life assurance agent, who later became a bootmaker, while Mary Ann stayed home with their five surviving children; Tom, three daughters named Florence, Maud and Gertrude and another son, Joseph. By the time he had turned fourteen, the family had relocated to 163 Bolton Brow in Sowerby Bridge and Whitehead had began work as a carpet designer. Whitehead started drawing and painting early in his life, and at fifteen he sketched a portrait of his mother Mary Ann, which the Halifax Courier later described as the beginning of his career as an artist.
Whitehead then attended Halifax School of Art. Showing great talent, he was awarded a scholarship of two years study and a maintenance allowance to attend the Royal Academy of Art – one of only three scholarships offered annually. He studied there from 1905-6 and in that time received tuition in many artistic areas including geometrical drawing, drawing light and shade, modelling design and portraiture and received mostly first-class results in his examinations. After his time at the Royal Academy, Whitehead returned to Halifax where he lived for the rest of his life, building up a successful reputation as a portrait painter. He was commissioned for many portraits including leading figures in Halifax, notable townspeople and former mayors including William Wallace (mayor 1906-07).
Whitehead also produced many landscapes and street scenes, travelling the country to capture what he saw on canvas or paper. He worked in oil, watercolour, pastel, chalk, pencil, and produced etchings and dry points. He exhibited widely, including at the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Leeds City Gallery, Bradford's Cartwright Hall, Smith Art Gallery in Brighouse and Bankfield Museum.
During the First World War, Whitehead was a conscientious objector and was imprisoned at Wakefield Prison, Wormwood Scrubs where he undertook hard labour, and finally Dartmoor where he completed a portrait of a fellow conscientious objector.
Later in life Whitehead married Annie Olive Towle (née Margison and known as Olive) who was a professional violinist. He had known Olive since she was a young teenager. The couple were married at Bradford Register Office on 16th December 1957. The Whiteheads were friends with local professional photographer Alice Longstaff and her husband John, and visited them at their home of Learings Farm, Heptonstall. Longstaff also held exhibitions and sold Whitehead’s works in her shop in Hebden Bridge.
The Whiteheads initially lived on York Crescent, Halifax, but later moved to 19 Willowfield Road. Whitehead was a prolific painter and produced a vast body of work in his lifetime, and though many were sold from his numerous exhibitions, there were still enough in his possession to line the walls of his home. Whitehead died in May 1978, soon after a large exhibition at Bankfield Museum. There was a memorial exhibition hosted by Calderdale Museums after his death, which Olive attended. Olive's niece Margaret Thomas was close to the couple. Indeed, in the 1970s and 1980s she and her husband Roy Thomas ran Teesdale Galleries in which they also exhibited and sold Whitehead’s work.
Today, Calderdale Museums holds a large collection of Tom Whitehead’s personal archival material and works spanning his long career, with examples in variety of mediums, kindly donated by Whitehead’s great niece and family.