Lewis Thomas was born in Wales in 1832 and started his working life in a woollen mill at the very young age of eight. He went on to work in coal and lead mines and in iron works. He emigrated to Australia in 1859 hoping to make his fortune on the gold fields. Mr Thomas must not have been very successful as he then came to Ipswich to work in the Redbank coal mines. In 1866 he went into partnership with Mr J. Thompson and started his own coal mine in Blackstone, which later became named the Aberdare coal mine. After years of very hard work, Mr Thomas had become quite wealthy and in 1891 he built his mansion Brynhyfryd.
Brynhyfryd (Welsh for ‘pleasant hill’) was composed of 49 rooms over three levels plus a tower and was designed by George Brockwell Gill. The ground level included servants quarters, kitchen, dairy/butter room, bathrooms, and dining rooms among others. The second floor was dedicated to entertainment and included a large library, music room and guest quarters. The third floor was the family’s bedrooms and private rooms. It cost around 13000£ to build and included beautiful building materials such as imported marble fireplaces and mantles, welsh slate for floors and roofing and vast quantities of pine and cedar wood. The 600,000 bricks were all hand-made locally by Mr Gunthorpe and his brother.
Brynhyfrydd also had the very latest conveniences installed including an elaborate passenger lift worked by a hydraulic water ram and an inside toilet. It had its own generator to run electric lights and the family had a live-in chauffeur to look after their many vehicles.
The outside surrounds included a billiards room, stables, gardener’s cottage and a magnificent garden with hothouses filled with exotic plants. The grounds were planned out with formal gardens set in geometric shapes. They had their own vegetable gardens, dairy cows and chickens and were almost entirely self-sufficient in providing food for themselves and their servants.
The last member of the Thomas family, Mrs Thomas, died in 1930 at the age of 93. The house was put up for sale but the depression was in force and nobody could afford to buy or upkeep “the castle’. Eventually Rylance Collieries bought the property for the coal deposits in the ground under the mansion and proceeded to sell the mansion and its contents for demolition. Building materials from Brynhyfrydd can be found in a large number of buildings around Ipswich. The Rylance company donated the beautiful front door to the Blackstone Welsh Church where you can still see it today.
For more information on Brynhyfrydd check out these resources held in the Local History Room on level 2 of the Ipswich Library.
‘Ipswich in the 20th century 1904 – 2004’ by Robyn Buchanan
Newspaper clippings folder – Brynhyfrydd (ask library officer at desk for access)
‘Memories of Blackstone and Brynhyfrydd, Ipswich, an oral history with Jessie Edwards, 1995’ – available on Picture Ipswich