Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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THOMAS, JOHN (1838-1905), photographer.

He was b. at Glan-rhyd , Cellan, Cards. , 14 April 1838 , son of David and Jane Thomas , went to Cellan school (where he became a pupil-teacher ), and was apprenticed to a draper at Lampeter . From 1853 till 1863 he worked in a drapery shop at Liverpool ; then illhealth drove him to seek outdoor work as commission-salesman for a stationery and photograph firm .

Noting the scanty representation of Wales among the notabilities whose photographs he had to sell, he embarked upon a venture which became his life's work. He began, in 1863 , by purchasing a camera and inviting a number of famous Welsh preachers to sit to him. He had at first to battle with a prejudice against ‘street photographers,’ but he persevered, and in 1867 opened his own photographic business at 53, S. Anne Street ; this became known as ‘ The Cambrian Gallery ,’ a name which it retained (at various addresses) for thirty years, until it became ‘ Yr Oriel Gymreig ,’ when it was acquired by ( Sir ) Owen M. Edwards . In 1867 , too, Thomas made his first professional visit to Wales — to photograph the Calvinistic Methodist General Assembly , then in session at Llanidloes . Thereafter he travelled the length and breadth of Wales , photographing notabilities and ‘characters,’ churches and chapels, homes of famous Welshmen, ancient buildings and places of scenic beauty — all this despite difficulties of open-air photography by the wet process,’ and difficulties of transport. Realising the unique value of his collection, he selected over 3,000 of his plates and sold them ‘ for a very moderate sum ’ to O. M. Edwards , who used them for illustrating Cymru and ‘ Cyfres y Fil ’; they are today in the National Library of Wales .

Thomas had other interests. He wrote extensively in Cymru (O.M.E.) and other Welsh periodicals. He was a deeply religious man, a member of Rose Place C.M. church until its dissolution in 1865 , and afterwards of Fitzclarence Street C.M. church .

He m. ( 1861 ) Elizabeth Hughes , of Glandwr , Bryneglwys, Denbs. (d. 1895 ); they had four children: Jane Claudia , afterwards Mrs. Hugh Lloyd ( 1863 - 1934 ), William Thelwall , Robert Arthur ( 1866 - 1932 ), and Albert Ivor ( 1870 - 1911 , a medical man ). He d. 14 Oct. 1905 , and was buried in Anfield cemetery , Liverpool .


  • Cymru (O.M.E.) , xiv, 229, xvii, 133 (portrait), xxii, 221;
  • Y Cymro , 19 and 26 Oct. 1905 ;
  • Y Goleuad , 27 Oct. 1905 ;
  • family papers, including autobiographical notes written in 1904 , and further observations by Hugh Lloyd (son-in-law) in 1924 .


Emyr Wyn Jones, M.D., F.R.C.P., (1907-99), Pwllheli / Liverpool

Published date: 1959