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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 married (1861) Elizabeth Hughes, of Glandwr, Bryneglwys, Denbs. (died 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 died 14 October 1905, and was buried in Anfield cemetery, Liverpool.
Published date: 1959
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