Harry Thomas (1897-1955) was the first Lampeter man to become a bishop in England.
Harry was the son of Theophilus John Thomas, a gardener, and his wife Caroline, née Thomas. He was christened in Aberdare on September 12 1897 and attended Cyfarthfa Castle School, Merthyr Tydfil. He served in the Welsh Regiment during the First World War, acquiring three medals but also a piece of German shell in his back.
After leaving the army, he attended at the Knutsford Ordination Test School. Established by Rev. P.B. ‘Tubby’ Clayton, this aimed to educate ex-servicemen so they could obtain the qualifications they needed to go to university and work for ordination. Thomas went on to study at St David’s College, Lampeter. For his last year, he was awarded the Butler scholarship, worth £30. Alongside academic work, he was a vigorous participant in college life. It was said of him that he probably held as many offices in college as any student up to that time. Among these, he was President of the Students’ Meeting, President of the English Debate, President of the Christian Union, vice-captain of golf and secretary of rugby. He was said to be a popular and powerful speaker, but a notorious singer.
After completing his degree, Thomas was ordained deacon in 1923 and priest in 1924. Following curacies in St Bride’s Major with Wick and then at South Hinksey with New Hinksey, he went back to higher education to study at Oriel College, Oxford. He then spent a short time as a missionary in Zanzibar for UMCA, (Universities Mission for Central Africa). He returned to Britain in 1930 to become vice principal of Ely Theological College. E.L. Mascall wrote of him in Saraband, his book of memoirs, ‘The Vice-Principal, Harry Thomas, had been a missionary in Central Africa, but had been struck by lightning and was in poor health; he made a remarkable recovery …’ The college had a reputation for extreme Anglo-Catholicism; it was generally thought that men trained at Ely had little chance of ecclesiastical promotion! Mascall felt the theological training given was fairly sketchy. However, he remembered with gratitude the life of the ordered community and the emphasis on a regular discipline of prayer.
Thomas went overseas again in 1936. William Wand, his old dean at Oriel College, was now Archbishop of Brisbane. Through one of his commissaries in Britain, Wand recruited Thomas as principal of St Francis College, Milton. Again, this was regarded as the most Anglo-Catholic of the Australian theological colleges. Alongside this, Thomas became Archdeacon of Brisbane in 1938. He also acted as the archbishop’s deputy, while Wand was absent either overseas or elsewhere in Australia. In addition, he was a canon residentiary of St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane.
Wand returned to Britain in 1943 to become Bishop of Bath and Wells. Again, Thomas followed him to his new diocese; in 1945 he was consecrated Suffragan Bishop of Taunton in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral. It was said of him that he was welcomed at every vicarage as one of the family. He chaired the Diocesan Education Committee for many years. He was also a Sub-Visitor of St David’s College and a Vice-President of the Lampeter Society.
Thomas was taken ill in the summer of 1955. He died two weeks later in hospital in Wells and his funeral was held in Wells Cathedral. He left a widow, Léonie, née Tod, and a son. It was said of Thomas, ‘Many will remember him not only as a pastorally minded bishop, who cherished the full faith and teaching of the Church, but as a brilliant lecturer … Somerset church-people mourn the loss of a real father-in-God.’
Bishop of Taunton. (1955, July 11). Times. Retrieved February 17 2021 from https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/apps/doc/CS218715371/TTDA?u=walamp&sid=TTDA&xid=1b87ac0e
Harry Thomas, beloved Bishop of Taunton. (1955, July 15). Church Times. Retrieved February 17 2021 from https://www.ukpressonline.co.uk/ukpressonline/view/pagview/ChTm_1955_07_15_012
Thomas, Rt Rev. Harry. (2021). WHO’S WHO & WHO WAS WHO. Retrieved February 17 2021 from https://www.ukwhoswho.com/view/10.1093/ww/9780199540891.001.0001/ww-9780199540884-e-243652.
Price, D.T.W. (1990). A History of Saint David’s University College Lampeter. Volume two: 1898-1971. Cardiff: University of Wales Press
Mascall, E.L. (1992). Saraband: the memoirs of E.L. Mascall. Retrieved February 17 2021 from https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=pSeILfiO5pcC&pg=PA102&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false
Kidd, A.P. (1990). The Brisbane episcopate of William Wand 1934-1943. (Master’s dissertation). University of Queensland, Australia. Retrieved February 17 2021 from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/15077813.pdf
Obituary (1955). The Bulletin of the Lampeter Society, 8,15
Who’s who. (1923). S. David’s College Magazine, N.S. 12(4),155