2024 is the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Smeaton, the “father of civil engineering in Britain”, who is buried at St Mary’s Church, Whitkirk.

To mark the occasion, St Mary’s is hosting a series of talks and events on John Smeaton, his life and his works

What’s on

Friday 7 June

7.30 pm: Smeaton of Austhorpe

Illustrated talk by Jacki and Bob Lawrence, of the East Leeds History & Archaeology Society.
In co-operation with the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society.

The church will be open from 6.30 pm for visitors to view the Smeaton monument.

Book your place online

Saturday 8 June

From 10.00 am: Exhibition and open church

Discover more about John Smeaton, his life and his achievements, through our displays and videos, or visit St Mary’s Church to see Smeaton’s memorial.

11.30 am: The Astronomy of John Smeaton.

Illustrated talk by David Sellers, astronomy historian and Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.

2.00 pm: The Making of an Engineering Genius.

Illustrated talk by Julia Elton, engineering historian and honorary member of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers

5.00 pm: Church service

A service of worship giving thanks for Smeaton’s life and works.

Watch this service online

Civic guests and members of societies associated with John Smeaton will be joining us.

Saturday 8 June at 11.00 am: Smeaton at Temple Newsam

Guided walking tour with the Park Ranger to look at Smeaton’s work there.

In cooperation with Temple Newsam. Book your place online

Sunday 9 June

10.00 am: Sung Eucharist marking the life and achievements of John Smeaton

2.00 pm – 4.00 pm: Open church with guided tours

Explore St Mary’s Church, Smeaton’s local parish church, site of his memorial and final resting place.

Throughout the weekend

  • Church open
  • Exhibition
  • Refreshments

Our Speakers

Julia Elton FSA has spent a lifetime working with historic engineering books and archives, first as an antiquarian bookseller specialising in the history of engineering and more recently as an independent historian of the subject. She is now working towards a PhD on the scientific development of lighthouse illumination from the mid-18th century. She is a Past President of the Newcomen Society for the History of Engineering & Technology, a long-standing member of the Institution of Structural Engineers History Study Group and an honorary member of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers.

Jacki Lawrence is the Meetings and Events Organiser for the East Leeds History & Archaeology Society. She became involved in researching and documenting local history stories. She is particularly proud of the society’s involvement in promoting the story of the Barnbow Lasses – those who lost their lives in the major explosion at the Barnbow Shell Filling Factory in World War One.

Bob Lawrence joined the East Leeds History & Archaeology Society in 1998 and is the Society’s President. He was also the Curator of the East Leeds Heritage Centre, formerly based in Cross Gates Library. He has written and published ‘Smeaton of Austhorpe’, a short history of the life and times of this famous East Leeds engineer. The book looks at Smeaton’s works across the country and particularly in our local area.

For most of his career, David Sellers was a chartered civil engineer, working on sewerage and flood defence projects. Since retiring as Leeds City Council’s Flood Risk Manager, he has been able to devote more time to his passion for the History of Astronomy. He is the author of several books on the subject, is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and vice-chair of the UK-based Society for the History of Astronomy.