John Thomas (1838-1905)

John Thomas  came originally from Cellan, Ceredigion and established a studio known as ‘The Cambrian Gallery’, Liverpool (various addresses) with a branch in Regent Street, Llangollen. He is famous for the large number of portraits of famous Welsh men, especially non-conformist ministers, which he took on his travels in Wales and he also recorded many buildings but among the surviving 3,000 glass plate negatives of superb quality, there are about 100 of women in Welsh costume. Many of these are labelled with the name of the subjects and the place they were taken. They were not dated but the earliest is pre 1865 and remainder are thought to be 1875 – 1885.

He started as a travelling photographer in 1863 and charged 6d for each portrait.

Many of the younger women were photographed outside (providing natural light) with a crudely painted backdrop and mud floor. They all wore a combination of three sets of costume which they presumably borrowed from the photographer. The costumes consist of bright patterned bedgowns with large collars of the north Wales type, either mottled or spotted; an apron of bold check or horizontal stripes and a skirt of vertical stripes either light on dark or dark on light. They didn’t wear a shawl: the neckerchief seems to differ from one subject to the next and the stockings are different (i.e. these belonged to the subjects).

The older women are shown wearing different costumes, suggesting that there were their own. A few of the older women appear to be wearing a tight-fitting, low-cut, short-sleeved top in the style of a bedgown, but the lower part and back are not visible, and the front is often completely covered by a shawl. Most are wearing a fine blouse, shawl, long striped skirt and check apron. Several appear to be wearing separate sleeves on their lower arms. Most are wearing a Welsh hat of which both the main types, tall and slightly conical, and shorter, cylindrical are represented and most are knitting. Some of the men that accompany them appear to be in fancy dress, possibly an attempt to represent 18th century costume.

Some of the portraits are of his family, presumably from Cellan.

While most of the subjects appear to be wearing borrowed or best costumes, one pair, ‘Shonnett and Cady’ of Llanfechell were taken both in working costume and in best costume, possibly their own. (JTP072).

There are several groups of old women, in formal or staged settings, probably in their best clothes (e.g. JTEE007 ‘Capel Garmon “Natives”’ sitting in the street with a spinning wheel).

One of the set is a copy of a portrait of a young woman in Welsh costume in front of a painting of the coast by E.R. Gyde of Aberystwyth (NLW jtkk001).

It is not known how widely distributed these were at the time, and only one printed copy is known. It is of a young woman sitting in front of a classical painted backcloth and unlike the others, it was produced as a carte de visite and published in Liverpool. She is wearing a long-tailed bedgown. Although he advertised his portraits of famous Welsh men for sale, there is no evidence that he sold the portraits of women in Welsh costume as sets of carte-de-visite like other photographers.

At least one of John Thomas’ photographs, was published by Thomas Bros and Co of Everton, Liverpool (NLW album Photographic Album 2306B, mainly comic Welsh cartoons):

‘Anerchiad Calonog o’r Hen Gymru Anwyl’, Thomas Bros. & Co, Everton, Liverpool, no 209, NMW, St Fagans, 76.84/91

Carte de visite of an elderly woman with a baby on her lap. ‘Mrs Griffiths of the Mill, Talybont, Aberystwyth’, published by J Thomas, Cambrian Gallery, Liverpool. Ceredigion Museum 1985.76.3, (10.6 x 6.4 cms)

Carte de visite of a young woman seated on a chair. ‘Cartes, neatly colored {sic} 6d each, Negatives registered, Copies can be had on sending number only 6 for 2/6 —12 for 4/-‘.  Liverpool Archives; NLW jtnn041 (original negative)

0829_1 0829_1a

Postcard, ‘Cottage Life in Dear Old Wales’, with women in straight-sided hats. Based on a photograph possibly by John Thomas and published by Thomas Bros. and Co., Everton, Liverpool.  The card was published with a bilingual text on the back. (Ceredigion Museum, 2008.29.1)

The National Library of Wales’ collection of negatives have been published on the Peoples Collection Wales.

John Thomas’s mother (sitting), Shan y Lliwdy and the Bontfaen maid, all in Welsh costume, 1867

Jane Thomas [John Thomas’s mother] died in 1870 and was buried in the family grave in the peaceful setting of the churchyard at Cellan. Her photograph – looking very dignified in Welsh costume – is included in her son’s reminiscences published in Cymru in 1898. (Jones, Emyr Wyn, ‘John Thomas of the Cambrian Gallery (John Thomas yr Oriel Gymraeg)’, 1838-1905. National Library of Wales Journal, vol. 9, no 4, (1956), p. 386)

Aunt Martha, Aunt Nellie and Aunt Gwenno, c. 1872

Modryb Martha, Modryb Nellie a Modryb Gwenno (1871-2)

A woman knitting in Welsh costume, c. 1875

Mrs Edwards knitting in Welsh costume, c. 1875

Mrs Edwards knitting

Two women in Welsh costume, drinking tea, c. 1875

Maggie Edwards, Llanfechell, drinking tea in Welsh costume, c. 1875

Siani Pen-y-bont, Aberffraw, c. 1875

Mary Parry, Llanfechell, wearing Welsh national dress and carrying a basket, c. 1875

William Thelwall Thomas and a friend, taken at Amlwch, 1882

William Thelwall Thomas and a friend, taken at Amlwch, 1882

W Thelwall Thomas and friend, taken at Amlwch 1882

W. Thelwall Thomas and friends

The entrance to the National Eisteddfod at Liverpool, 1884

A woman in Welsh national dress with a spinning wheel, c. 1885 She has been identified as Leusa Jones, and her photograph was used to advertise the Wool Factory, Melin Brynhir

Miss Ada Davies, Bontuchel, drinking tea in Welsh costume, c. 1885

Two women in Welsh costume, knitting  another version

woman (Williams) in Welsh hat

Mary Parry, Llanfechell and another

Miss Ada Davies, Bontuchel in Welsh costume

[Morass Workers, Aberffraw],  c. 1885,

Jones, Iwan Meical, Hen Ffordd Cymreig o Fwy, Pfotograffau John Thomas / A Welsh Way of Life, John Thomas Photographs, (NLW, 2008)

Jones, Emyr Wyn, ‘John Thomas, Cambrian Gallery: Ei Atgofion a’i Deithidiau’, Journal of the Merioneth Historical and Record Society, iv, no iii, (1963), pp. 242-273.

Jones, Emyr Wyn, ‘John Thomas of the Cambrian Gallery’ Journal of the National Library of Wales, XI, no 4, (1956),

Woollen, Hilary, and Crawford, Alistair, John Thomas, (1838-1905), photographer (Gomer Press, 1977)