Born into a military family in Ballysillan, Northern Ireland, Captain Francis Fowke (1823-1865) was educated at Dungannon College, and received his training as an engineer at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, London. He soon became known for his inventiveness and ingenuity, which he exercised even as a young subaltern in Bermuda. His first architectural work was the Raglan Barracks in Devonport, Plymouth. This led to some interesting commissions. For example, he helped to superintend the machinery section of the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855, and received the Legion of Honour for his work there. This work also brought him into contact with Henry Cole, and he became an Inspector for the newly-formed Department of Science and Art in London in 1857. He was soon supervising the buildings to be put up in South Kensington. It was the beginning of a high-profile career in gallery and museum design, facilitated by Prince Albert's preference for working with Royal Engineers and builders rather than architects (see Turnor 86). Sadly, Fowke died, apparently of overwork, without seeing some of the biggest projects completed.

Nevertheless he had made some unique contributions to the architecture of his time. His collaboration with the decorative artist Godfrey Sykes "led to the exploration and use of innovative materials such as terracotta" (Chichester and Dishon). He was also important for his innovations in gallery lighting and ventilation. In his tribute to him, Cole said, "England has lost a man who felt the spirit of his age, and was daring enough to venture beyond the beaten path of conventionalism." In particular, Cole felt that Fowke "was solving the problem of the decorative use of iron, and by appreciating the spirit both of the Gothic and Renaissance architects, was on the threshold of introducing a novel style of architecture when, alas! death, at the early age of forty-two years, has cut short his promising career" (qted in "Captain Francis Fowke [1823-1865]"). — Jacqueline Banerjee



"Captain Francis Fowke (1823-1865)." (Royal Engineers Museum site). Viewed 6 February 2010.

Chichester, H. M., and Dale Dishon. "Fowke, Francis (1823-1865)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 6 February 2010.

Turnor, Reginald. Nineteenth-Century Architecture in Britain. London: Batsford, 1950.

Last modified 12 April 2012