FOWKE, Francis
(b. 1823, Ballysillan, Ireland, d. 1865, London)

Biography

Irish engineer and architect, and a Captain in the Corps of Royal Engineers. Most of his architectural work was executed in the Renaissance style, although he made use of relatively new technologies to create iron-framed buildings, with large open galleries and spaces.

Educated at Dungannon College, County Tyrone, he entered the Royal Military College, Woolwich, in 1839 and was commissioned into the Royal Engineers in 1842. He served in Bermuda but came to notice in 1854 in Paris where he was put in charge of machinery at the Exposition Universelle 1855. In that year he became secretary to the British section, for which he was appointed Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur. Fowke was appointed an Inspector in the Department in 1857, subsequently becoming its Architect and Engineer, when the Department created the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum and Science Museum).

Among his projects were the Prince Consort's Library in Aldershot, the Royal Albert Hall and parts of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Industrial Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art) in Edinburgh, and the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.

As Engineer to the Department of Science and Art, Fowke designed an enormous camera (1858) to take the first photographs of the Raphael Cartoons at Hampton Court, on glass plates 1 m square. He is also credited with inventing the camera bellows and a rudimentary vacuum cleaner for museum use.