John William Thomas

J.W. ‘Tommy’ Thomas was a commercial photographer whose career in Oxford spanned the second half of the 20th century. Thomas’s photography covered everything from restoration work on historic buildings to industrial processes and staff parties.

Key Facts

  • Size: 100,000 images
  • Coverage: Oxford, Oxfordshire and further afield, particularly London, southern England, including the Isle of Wight, and the Midlands.
  • Date range: about 1946—2000


  • J.W. ‘Tommy’ Thomas set up as a photographer in Oxford after the Second World War and became famous for his images of Oxford’s historic buildings, being awarded an honorary M.A. by the University of Oxford in 1963. His expertise led to contracts elsewhere and he also worked extensively for local firms.
  • The former Oxfordshire Photographic Archive (now Oxfordshire History Centre) purchased and conserved the Thomas Photos collection in 2001-2 with financial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Resource / Victoria & Albert Museum Purchase Fund, the Oxford Preservation Trust, the Greening Lamborn Trust and FAMOS.
  • The collection included 80,000 glass plate negatives that had mostly been stored in a garden shed and were badly affected by damp and mould when the collection was bought by Oxfordshire County Council in 2001.
Encaenia procession of honorary graduates, passing the Clarendon Building in Broad Street, Oxford, 1975 View of Morris Minor cars parked in front of a South African car assembly plant, 1950

Thomas’s career in photography

“As much a part of Oxford as Carfax Tower.”
Thomas earned a reputation as the meticulous photographer of Oxford’s historic buildings and art treasures.

Photographer, J W Thomas with his camera and tripod, on the roof of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, 1960

Saving the Thomas Collection

Originally housed in a garden store, the Thomas collection badly needed intervention to arrest the damage caused by damp and mould.

Glass plate negative boxes, 2001