The Covenant and the World of Tom Mathias

When I first moved to Pembrokeshire, back in the early 1980s, a fascinating discovery had just been made in the area: a cache of negative plates taken by a local photographer, Tom Mathias, 1866-1940. The plates had been rescued and restored by another photographer, James Maxwell Davies, and were put on display in the village where I’d just arrived.

Four Generations

I was fascinated by them and bought several copies as they are so atmospheric, so inspiring in their portrayal of life at the start of the 20th century. The life of the local gentry was there: the mansions, the hunts, the carriages, the fat babies and scholars, the dignified gents and stately ladies posing for the camera.

Not just the gentry though. Their servants are there, gathered en masse for a photographic record but also at work, along with a myriad of photographs of ordinary people leading their ordinary lives, at chapel, in the street, sawing logs, turning hay, working in the slate quarries, catching salmon in their coracles, trying out the earliest tractors.

Here is just a small sample.

Perhaps it’s this photograph of haymaking that imprinted itself most firmly on my mind as an image of the past in these parts. I carry it with me.

The Covenant
published by Honno 20th August 2020

14 thoughts on “The Covenant and the World of Tom Mathias

  1. I was born and brought up in West Wales. I think I remember my parents, both from Noth Pembrokeshire, talking about Tom Mathias. so many of these pictures resonate deeply with me. I’m old enough to remember haymaking days often a communal effort when farmers helped each other, and there were wonderful picnics of cold potatoes, fatty ham and home brewed beer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wonderful! I know Tom Mathias kept himself very busy capturing everyday life all around the area so lots of people must have come across him. Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s the photographs of the everyday life of the ‘ordinary’ people that I love most. These form such an important snapshot of an era and it’s wonderful that the plates were developed so that we can appreciate all the little details of life in that community. As for the Mathias cottages – I’d think twice about lingering under those roof slates during windy weather…

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Nice to see these here. I am a great-granddaughter of Tom Mathias of Cilgerran. You might want to tell your readers where they can find more of these photos, such as the National Museum Wales, the Peoples Collection Wales, and Cultural Services Pembrokeshire [County] website. The National Museum Wales published a book about his photogrpahs in 1995 as well.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, that’s right. There were several exhibitions in Cilgerran and Cardigan and Haverfordwest in the mid-1980s, and at the museum in St Fagans near Cardiff in the 1990s. In 2012, there was an exhibit at Theatr Mwldan in Cardigan. They still draw great interest.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I am so glad they have been preserved. They are a wonderfully atmospheric evocation of ordinary life around here a hundred years ago.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: