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Charles Fox

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Sir Charles Fox (1810–1874) was an English civil engineer and contractor. His work focused on railways, railway stations and bridges.

1810 March 11th. Born in Derby the youngest of four sons of Francis Fox, MD.

1829 Initially trained to follow his father's career, he abandoned medicine at the age of 19 and became articled to John Ericsson of Braithwaite and Ericsson in Liverpool, working with him and J. Braithwaite on the Novelty locomotive, and drove it in the Rainhill Trials on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

In 1830 Fox married Mary, second daughter of Joseph Brookhouse, and had 3 sons and a daughter.

One of his earliest inventions, patented in 1832, was the railway points, which superseded the sliding rail used up to that time.

In 1834 Robert Stephenson appointed him as one of the engineers on the London and Birmingham Railway, where he was responsible for Watford tunnel and the extension from Camden Town to Euston with the whole line being opened in 1838. Fox developed the wrought iron trussed roof for Euston station and then moved to work with Bramah.

He presented an important paper on the correct principles of skew arches to the Royal Institution.

In 1837 Herbert Spencer, whose father George Spencer had been Fox's tutor when young, joined him as an assistant engineer.

1838 Charles Fox, Resident Engineer of the London and Birmingham Railway, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1839 Fox entered into partnership with Francis Bramah to form Bramah, Fox and Co [2].

By 1841, John Henderson had joined the firm.

1845 After Francis Bramah's death in 1840, the company was renamed as Fox, Henderson and Co.

It is not clear what role John Joseph Bramah had in this - he seems to have built up the railway plant business at Pimlico, that was subsequently transferred to Smethwick as the London Works, presumably with Charles Fox and John Henderson as partners[3].

The firm had facilities in London, Smethwick, and Renfrew. The company specialised in railway equipment, including wheels, bridges, roofs, cranes, tanks and permanent way materials. The company was responsible for many important station roofs including Liverpool Tithebarn Street, (1849–50), Bradford Exchange (1850), Paddington and Birmingham New Street. Fox led the design side whilst Henderson handled the manufacturing.

Fox patented a crane, referred to as the Fox and Henderson patent. It was first used by the firm as contractors in the construction of the building for the 1851 Great Exhibition, and afterwards was made in Glasgow by the firm of Forrest and Barr.[4]

1851 Fox and Henderson's expertise with structural ironwork led Joseph Paxton to invite them to build The Crystal Palace for The 1851 Great Exhibition. Due to its innovative modular design and construction techniques, it was ready in nine months. For their work, Fox, Cubitt and Paxton were knighted on 22 October 1851. After the exhibition they were employed by the Crystal Palace Company to move the structure to Sydenham, re-erecting and enlarging it on Sydenham Hill, thereafter known as Crystal Palace.

In 1857 he left the company to practise as a civil and consulting engineer with two of his sons, Charles and Francis, and in 1860 formed a partnership with his two sons, the firm being known as Sir Charles Fox and Sons.

1857 Bankruptcy of Fox, Henderson and Co[5] which caused loss of employment in the area of London Works and displacement of people away from that part of Smethwick[6].

1858 Declaration of first dividend (apparently the outcome of the bankruptcy process) by Sir Charles Fox and John Henderson, Smethwick Staffordshire, New Street Westminster, and Fore Street Limehouse, engineers[7] "on the separate estate of Sir Charles Fox"[8].

Their engineering work included the Medway Bridge at Rochester, three bridges over the Thames, a swing bridge across the Shannon in Ireland, a bridge over the Saône at Lyon and many bridges on the Great Western Railway. Railways upon which Fox worked included the Cork and Bandon, Thames and Medway, Portadown and Dungannon, East Kent, Lyons and Geneva, Macon and Geneva and the Wiesbaden and Zealand lines in Denmark. Fox was also engineer to the Queensland, Cape Town and Wynberg Railway and the Toronto narrow gauge lines.

1865 The company also experimented with components for suspension and girder bridges, with Fox reading a paper before the Royal Society in 1865.

Fox became an expert in narrow-gauge railways and in conjunction with G. Berkley he constructed the first narrow-gauge line in India, and later constructed narrow-gauge lines in other parts of the world.

Fox and Sons engineered the complex scheme of bridges and high-level lines at Battersea for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, London, Chatham and Dover Railway and London and South Western Railway and the approach to Victoria Station, London, including widening the bridge over the Thames.

The Mersey Tunnel was designed by Charles Fox; the design was carried out by his son, Douglas Fox, a Civil Engineer who was joint engineer to the Mersey Tunnel Co (set up in 1866) with James Brunlees. Douglas Fox was later knighted for his work on the project after its official opening by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.

Fox was also a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers from 1838 until his death, a founder member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers from 1856 to 1871 and a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and Royal Geographical Society.

1874 June 14th. Sir Charles Fox died at Blackheath age of sixty-four.


1875 Obituary [9]

SIR CHARLES FOX was born at Derby on the 11th of March, 1810, and was the youngest of the four sons of Dr. Fox, who held a prominent position as a physician in that town.

He was articled to his brother, Mr. Douglas Fox, then practising as a surgeon, and remained with him for some time. During this period he prepared a great deal of apparatus with his own hands for his brother’s lectures at the Mechanics’ Institution, and also aided in working out the process of casting in elastic moulds, for which the silver medal of the Society of Arts was awarded to Mr. D. Fox.

He manifested from the first much mechanical skill, and took the deepest interest, when quite a lad, in manufactures of all kinds. The projection of the Liverpool and Manchester railway gave increased force to his natural bent, and, being released from his medical articles, he was taken as a pupil by Captain Ericsson, then of Liverpool. Whilst with that gentleman, he was engaged in experiments upon rotary engines, and in designing and constructing the 'Novelty' engine, one of the three which competed at Rainhill in October 1829.

Shortly afterwards, through the late Mr. Robert Stephenson, M.P., Past-President Inst. C.E., he obtained an appointment as an Assistant Engineer on the London and Birmingham railway, then in course of construction, being placed first under the late Mr. Buck, M. Inst. C.E., on the Watford section, and afterwards in charge of the Extension Works from Camden Town to Euston Square. Whilst upon this railway he read a Paper before the Royal Institution upon the principle of Skew Arches.

Upon the conclusion of his engagement of five years under Mr. Stephenson, he entered into partnership with the late Mr. Bramah, under the firm of Bramah, Fox and Co., and shortly afterwards, upon the retirement of Mr. Bramah, formed the manufacturing and contracting firm of Fox, Henderson and Co., of London, Smethwick, and Renfrew, who introduced improvements in the design and manufacture of railway plant, and especially of wheels, which they supplied in large quantities.

During his connection with this firm, he was engaged upon some interesting experiments upon links and pins for suspension and girder bridges, the results of which were embodied in a Paper read before the Royal Society on the 30th of March, 1865.

He also introduced the switch into railway practice. The most important work carried out by him and his partner, Mr. John Henderson, was the erection of the building for the Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park. The work was commenced towards the end of September 1850, and the Exhibition was opened by her Majesty the Queen on the 1st of May, 1851. For his connection with this work Sir Charles Fox, together with Sir William Cubitt and Sir Joseph Paxton, received the honour of knighthood.

Subsequently, he was employed to remove the building from Hyde Park, and to re-erect it, with many alterations and additions, at Sydenham, for the Crystal Palace Company.

He also carried out during this period the East Kent, the Cork and Bandon, the Thames and Medway, the Portadown and Dungannon, the Lyons and Geneva (eastern section), the MaGon and Geneva (eastern section), the Wiesbaden, the Zealand (Denmark), and other railways.

Amongst many large bridges, he executed those over the Medway at Rochester, over the Thames at Barnes, Richmond, and Staines, over the Shannon, over the Saone, and over the Newark Dyke. The roofs of the Paddington, Waterloo, and Birmingham (New Street) stations, and also slip-roofs for several of the Royal dockyards .were carried out by him. He also had a considerable share in the construction of the Berlin Waterworks.

From the year 1857, Sir Charles practised in London as a Civil and Consulting Engineer, in partnership with his two elder sons, Mr. Charles Douglas Fox and Mr. Francis Fox, MM. Inst. C.E. During this time he wan Engineer to the comprehensive scheme of high-level lines at Battersea for the London and Brighton, the London, Chatham and Dover, and the London and South-Western railways, with the approach to the Victoria station, and the widening of the Victoria railway bridge over the Thames; to the Queensland, Cape of Good Hope, and Canadian (narrow gauge) railways; and, in conjunction with Mr. George Berkley, M. Inst. C.E., to the Indian tramway, the first narrow-gauge railway in India.

In the course of his professional duties Sir Charles met with a severe accident, which seriously impaired his health, and to this may, in a great measure, be traced his decease, which occurred at Blackheath on the 14th of June, 1871, at the age of sixty-four.

Sir Charles was elected a Member of the Institution on the 13th of January, 1838, having been proposed by Mr. George Lowe, and seconded by Mr. Robert Stephenson and Mr. Joshua Field. He was also a Member of various scientific societies. Until within the last few years, he was a frequent attendant at the meetings of the Institution, where his acknowledged professional standing, combined with a genial presence and the almost courtly deference with which he enunciated his opinions, always secured him an attentive hearing. Of his private life it will suffice to say that it was such as to claim the lore and respect of all who knew him, whilst he performed all his duties as a man and a citizen with the most praiseworthy exactitude. It may indeed be said of him that rarely has there been a more generous man or a more tender and affectionate parent.


1874 Obituary [10]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1838 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. Charles Fox by Robert Thorne, ODNB[1]
  3. Glasgow Herald 25 October 1862
  4. The Engineer 1900/03/09
  5. The Times, 28 April 1857
  6. Birmingham Daily Post 3 October 1881
  7. Birmingham Daily Post 6 December 1858
  8. The Morning Chronicle 22 January 1859
  9. 1875 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  10. Engineering 1874 Jul-Dec: Index: General Index