Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas, John (1813-1862)

THOMAS, JOHN (1813–1862), sculptor and architectural draughtsman, born at Chalford in Gloucestershire in 1813, was of Welsh descent. In 1825 he was apprenticed to a neighbouring mason, and later assisted his brother William, an architect at Birmingham. A monument by him at Huntingdon attracted the attention of Sir Charles Barry [q. v.], who employed him on the schools at Birmingham. He first attracted public notice at the time of the rebuilding of the houses of parliament, when, coming to London, he was at once engaged by Barry on the sculptural decorations of the new structure. His quick intelligence, technical facility, and organising talent soon marked him out as a valuable collaborator for the architect, and the army of skilled carvers and masons employed upon the ornamentation of the building were placed practically under his sole control. His labours in this connection and the many commissions of a like nature resulting therefrom naturally hindered the production of more individual work. His only noticeable achievements of a more fanciful kind were the ‘Queen of the Eastern Britons rousing her Subjects to Revenge,’ ‘Musidora,’ ‘Lady Godiva,’ and ‘Una and the Lion.’ Of the great mass of decorative work carried out by him the most characteristic examples, says the ‘Builder,’ are ‘the colossal lions at the ends of the Britannia Bridge over the Menai Straits, the large bas-reliefs at the Euston Square Station, the pediment and figures in front of the Great Western Hotel, figures and vases of the new works at the Serpentine, the decorative sculpture on the entrance piers of Buckingham Palace. … In Edinburgh there are specimens of his handiwork on the life assurance building, besides the group of figures at the Masonic Hall, and the fountain at Holyrood. In Windsor Castle he was much engaged for the late prince consort.’

He had further a considerable practice as an architectural draughtsman, and prepared the designs for the national bank at Glasgow, Sir Samuel Morton Peto's house at Somerleyton, the mausoleum of the Houldsworth family, and the royal dairy at Windsor.

His design for a grand national monument to Shakespeare and a design for a great majolica fountain (executed by Messrs. Minton, and placed in the horticultural gardens) were at the International Exhibition of 1862. He died at his house in Blomfield Road, Maida Hill, on 9 April 1862, leaving a widow and a daughter. Among the unfinished works in his studio at his death were statues of Joseph Sturge [q. v.] for the city of Birmingham and of Sir Hugh Myddelton [q. v.] for Islington. He was a frequent exhibitor of busts and decorative subjects at the Royal Academy from 1838 to 1862.

[Scott's British School of Sculpture; Art Journal, 1862; The Builder, 1862; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Dict. of Architecture.]

W. A.