Sir John Fowler, 1st Baronet

Sir John Fowler, 1st Baronet

Infobox Engineer

image_width = 150px
caption = An 1868 engraving of Sir John Fowler by Thomas Oldham Barlow from a portrait by Sir John Everett Millais
name = John Fowler
nationality = English
birth_date = 15 July 1817
birth_place = Wadsley, South Yorkshire
death_date = Death date and age|1898|11|10|1817|7|15
death_place = Bournemouth, Dorset
education =
spouse =
parents =
children =
discipline = civil engineer
institutions = Institution of Civil Engineers (president)
practice_name =
significant_projects = Forth Bridge, Millwall Dock
significant_design = "Fowler's Ghost" fireless locomotive
significant_advance =
significant_awards =

Sir John Fowler, 1st Baronet KCMG (15 July 1817 – 10 November 1898) was a railway engineer in Victorian Britain. He helped build the first underground railway in London, the Metropolitan line in the 1860s, a shallow line built by the "cut-and-cover" method. His finest achievement was the Forth railway bridge built in the 1880s.

Early life

Fowler was born in Wadsley, South Yorkshire, England.


With Sir Benjamin Baker, he designed the Forth Bridge, a cantilever bridge, and Millwall Dock in east London. He was called in after the Norwood Junction rail accident when a cast iron bridge on the London-Brighton railway line fractured as a train passed over (1891). The girder failed from a large internal hole which had not been detected at installation. Since he had designed and built most of the bridges on the line, he advised that many should be strengthened or replaced, given the heavier locomotives then in use compared with those when the bridges were first built. Cast iron beam bridges had failed frequently and were barred from use as under-bridges by the Board of Trade after the Norwood accident.

Forth bridge

Together with Benjamin Baker and William Arrol he designed and built the world-famous Forth railway bridge using the principle of the cantilever. The construction created a continuous railway connection from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, and the design replaced an earlier proposal by William Bouch for a suspension bridge. After the Tay Bridge disaster, the plans were scrapped.

The bridge is famous for being one of the first to use steel throughout. The bridge is regarded as an engineering marvel. It is 2.5 km (1.5 miles) in length, and the double track is elevated 46 m (approx. 150 ft) above high tide. It consists of two main spans of convert|1710|ft|m|abbr=on, two side spans of 675 ft, 15 approach spans of convert|168|ft|m|abbr=on, and five of convert|25|ft|m|abbr=on. Each main span comprises two convert|680|ft|m|abbr=on cantilever arms supporting a central convert|350|ft|m|abbr=on span girder bridge. The three great four-tower cantilever structures are 340 ft (104 m) tall, each convert|70|ft|m|abbr=on diameter foot resting on a separate foundation. The southern group of foundations had to be constructed as caissons under compressed air, to a depth of convert|90|ft|m|abbr=on. At its peak, approximately 4,600 workers were employed in its construction. Initially, it was recorded that 57 lives were lost; however, after extensive research by local historians, the figure has been revised upwards to 98.

He is credited with the building of the near identical Albert Edward Bridge at Coalbrookdale, Shropshire in 1864 and Victoria Bridge at Upper Arley, Worcestershire in 1861. Both remain in use today carrying out their originally designed function of carrying railway lines across the River Severn. Albert Edward Bridge carries the railway line from Lightmoor Junction to Ironbridge Power Station. Victoria Bridge carries the preserved Severn Valley Railway between Arley and Bewdley.

Following the death of Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1859, Fowler was retained by the Great Western Railway Company as a consulting engineer, and a ex-Great Western Railway Sir Watkin class locomotive was named "Fowler" in his honour.

Fowler's Ghost

Fowler was also the designer of an experimental fireless locomotive (nicknamed Fowler's Ghost) which was tried out on the Metropolitan Railway in the 1860s. It stored energy in heated bricks (on the same principle as a storage heater) but was unsuccessful.

Three different designs were produced but only one locomotive was actually built and this has led to some confusion. The first design was for a 2-2-2 saddle-tank and a drawing of this has been published in some books as a representation of the real machine, although it was never built.

The locomotive actually built, by Robert Stephenson and Company, was a broad-gauge 2-4-0 tender engine. It was of fairly conventional appearance but very unconventional inside. The boiler had a normal firebox and this was connected to a large combustion chamber containing a quantity of fire brick. The combustion chamber communicated with the smokebox through a set of very short firetubes. Exhaust steam was condensed by a water-jet condenser and there was a pump to maintain a vacuum in the condenser. The idea was that it would operate as an ordinary coal-fired locomotive in the open but, when approaching a tunnel, the dampers would be closed and steam would be generated using stored heat from the firebricks. It was tried out in 1861 but was a dismal failure.

Following this unsuccessful trial a third design was produced, this time for a 4-2-2 saddle tank. It would, again, have had the hot brick heat store but, above the boiler drum, would have been a second steam/water drum to allow for large variations in water level. This machine was never built and, instead, conventional steam locomotives with condensing apparatus were used.

The Metropolitan Railway advertised the 2-4-0 locomotive for sale in 1865 and some parts of it were bought by Isaac Watt Boulton.

Later life

In 1865, he was elected president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the youngest ever president.

In 1890, he was created a baronet, Fowler of Braemore.

He died in Bournemouth, Dorset, at the age of 81 and is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London. []

He was succeeded to the baronetcy by his son, Sir John Arthur Fowler, 2nd Baronet (d. 25 March 1899). The baronetcy became extinct in 1933.


* "The Chronicles of Boulton's Siding" by Alfred Rosling Bennett, first published by the Locomotive Publishing Company in 1927, new impression by David & Charles 1971, ISBN 0 7153 5318 7
* Peter R. Lewis, "Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay: Reinvestigating the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879", Tempus, 2004, ISBN 0-7524-3160-9.
*Charles McKean "Battle for the North: The Tay and Forth bridges and the 19th century railway wars" Granta, 2006, ISBN 1-86207-852-1
* John Rapley, "Thomas Bouch : the builder of the Tay Bridge", Stroud : Tempus, 2006, ISBN 0-7524-3695-3
* PR Lewis, "Disaster on the Dee: Robert Stephenson's Nemesis of 1847", Tempus Publishing (2007) ISBN 978 0 7524 4266 2

External links

* [ 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica article]
* [ Biography]

s-start s-npo|pro s-bef|before=John Robinson McClean s-ttl|title=President of the Institution of Civil Engineers
years=December 1865 – December 1867
s-aft|after=Charles Hutton Gregory end

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