John Thomas

John Thomas, architectural sculptor, was born in 1813 in Chalford, Gloucesterchire. In 1825 he was apprenticed to a stonemason. He soon settled in Birmingham where his elder brother practised as an architect. Thomas' carving on monuments impressed Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) who hired him to carve wood and stone Coats of Arms for the Gothic-style King Edward VI Grammar School, Birmingham (1833-7).

In 1837 Barry again employed John Thomas, but this time in the new Palace of Westminster. There Thomas managed the production of carving at the palace. Prior to the project's start, Thomas was sent on a drawing tour of Belgium to train for the post. During the build, small drawings from Barry's office were developed into the large-scale. These plans helped to form the full-size plasters from which the figures and architecture were carved into stone.

It is likely that Thomas met Sir Morton Peto and Edward Ladd Batts, the building contractors for the Palace, during the project. Thomas went on to work for both as an architect. For Betts, he built Preston Hall, Aylseton, Kent (1850) as well as laying out the garden. Thomas also rebuilt Somerleyton Hall, Suffolk for Peto, and created a vast Italianate/Jacobean house in red brick along with the lavish gardens. The adjacent church and village were also reworked.

Thomas is known for a number of other famous commissions. His workshop created the monumental lions, weighing 80 tons, that flanked Robert Stephenson's railway bridge across the Menai Strait to Anglesey (1850). He also undertook sumptuous carving on the West of England and South Wales District Bank in Bristol, built by W. G. Gingell and T. K. Lysaght (1854-8). At Harewood House, West Yorkshire, he was again employed by Sir Charles Barry for alterations made to the house.

Thomas is similarly held in high regard for Italianate garden ornaments, layouts and church furnishings, as well as decorative arts.

John Thomas died at Florentine Villa, 15 Blomfield Road, Paddington, London on 9 April 1862. He died of either blood poisoning or overwork.

Bibliography

Stevens, T (2004) ‘Thomas, John (1813–1862)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [Oxford University Press, Oxford]

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