Francis Fowke, engineer, architect, and a Captain in the Corps of Royal Engineers, is born in Ballysillan, Belfast, on July 7, 1823. Most of his architectural work is executed in the Renaissance style, although he makes use of relatively new technologies to create iron framed buildings, with large open galleries and spaces.
Fowke studies at The Royal School Dungannon, County Tyrone, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He obtains a commission in the Royal Engineers, and serves with distinction in Bermuda and Paris. On his return to England, he is appointed architect and engineer in charge of the construction of several government buildings.
Among his projects are the Prince Consort’s Library in Aldershot, the Royal Albert Hall and parts of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, and the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. He is also responsible for planning the 1862 International Exhibition in London. The Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851 being a hard act to follow, the International Exhibition building is described as “a wretched shed” by The Art Journal. Parliament declines the Government’s proposal to purchase the building. The materials are sold and used for the construction of Alexandra Palace.
Before his sudden death from a burst blood vessel on December 4, 1865, Fowke wins the competition for the design of the Natural History Museum, although he does not live to see it executed. His renaissance designs for the museum are altered and realised in the 1870s by Alfred Waterhouse, on the site of Fowke’s Exhibition building.
Francis Fowke is buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.
A medal is issued by the Royal Engineers in 1865, as a memorial prize for architectural works carried out by members of the corps. With the demise of great architectural works, the prize has transformed into the prize awarded to the top student on the Royal Engineers Clerks of Works course.