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British Industrial History

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John Fowler, Junior

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1857. John Fowler, Junior and William Worby's ploughing apparatus.
1859.

John Fowler (1826-1864) of John Fowler and Co, an agricultural engineer who developed the first system of steam ploughing.

1826 July 11th. Born at Melksham, Wiltshire, one of the sons of John Fowler, Senior, merchant, and his wife Rebecca. His father was a leading member of the Quakers in Melksham.

1841 Living with his parents at Corsham, Wiltshire (age 15) [1]

Fowler was at first engaged in the corn trade, but in 1847 he entered the works of Gilkes, Wilson and Co at Middlesbrough.

In 1850 he conducted experiments, with Albert Fry at Bristol, which resulted in a patented drainage plough which was exhibited at the Royal Agricultural Society's show at Exeter that year. This first plough was worked by horses but steam power was used later.

1851 John Fowler, Junior, living at High Street, Uxbridge (age 24 born Melksham), Agricultural Implement Maker. In the home of, and described as the nephew of, Jane Hull (age 42 born Wycombe), widow and her family and servants. [2]

1855 Fowler undertook a contract for the drainage of Hainault Forest, Essex, and started applying steam power to ploughing

1856 of Fowler and Fry

1856 Ransomes and Sims made some experimental ploughs for Fowler.

1857 of 28 Cornhill, London.[3]

1857 Married Elizabeth Lucy Pease, daughter of Joseph Pease[4]

1858 Received prize of £500, for the first steam powered plough, offered by the Royal Agricultural Society; this used a double engine system to drive cables to the plough, using equipment made by Robert Stephenson's works at Newcastle. At the Chester trials Fowler proved the effiency of the steam plough when compared with horses. Detailed article. [5]

1859 Advert. John Fowler Junior of 28 Cornhill, London E.C. Patent Steam Plough.

1860 Fowler entered into an agreement with Kitson and Hewitson of Hunslet, Leeds, for them to manufacture his steam ploughs. Fowler's Steam Plough Works were built on neighbouring land at Hunslet.

1861 Living at Southend, Durham (age 34 born Melksham), Steam Plough Manufacturer. With wife Elizabeth L. (age 28 born Durham) and children Emma (age 3), Edith R. (age 1) and Laura E. (Under 1 year). Also Elizabeth Kender (age 70 born Whitby), described as mother-in-law (MiL of one of the servants?) and three servants. Note: In the next abode (same address) is Joseph Pease (age 61 born Darlington), Coal Owner and Worsted(?) Manufacturer, Widower, with his family [6]

1861 July. Leed's trial of steam ploughing. Fowlers steam cultivator of 12 hp ploughed and scarified four acres in four hours. It is made by Kitson and Hewitson [7]

1863 Fowler set up the company John Fowler and Co

1864 Employed more than 400 men.

Between 1850 and 1864 Fowler was involved in 32 patents for ploughs and ploughing apparatus, reaping machines, seed drills, traction engines, slide valves, the laying of electric telegraph cables, and the making of bricks and tiles.

1864 Death. 'On the 4th Inst. at Askworth, Yorkshire, Mr. John Fowler of Leeds and 28 Cornhill, London and formerly of Melksham, Wilts' [8] as result of fracturing his arm falling from his horse and catching tetanus.

1864 Obituary. Age 38. Fell from his horse three weeks ago and suffered a compound fracture of the arm. Genius in the invention of the steam plough. He left Leeds to live at Ackworth (12 mile distant). He married a daughter of Josh. Pease of Durham, who he leaves with five children. He leaves the business started with Mr. Kitson and the late Mr. Hewitson. [9]

1871. His wife Elizabeth L. is living at Woodside, Durham (age 38 born Darlington), Annuitant, Widow. With children Emma M. (age 12), Edith R. (age 11), Laura E. (age 10), John E. (age 8 born Leeds) and Lucy P. (age 6). Also a Governess and eight servants. [10]

1887 Marriages x2. Emma Mary Fowler married Edmund R. Pelly. Laura Elizabeth Fowler married John Geldard of Capleside, Settle. [11]


Steam Ploughing[12]

To Mr John Fowler, of Leeds, belongs the credit of introducing the first really practical system of steam ploughing. His first attempt, however, was concerned with land drainage, the plant being designed to draw a mole-draining plough by cable. This system was demonstrated before the Royal Agricultural Society at its Carisle Show in 1855. It was not until 1856, however, that at the Royal Agricultural Show at Chelmsford, Mr. Fowler was able to exhibit a practical steam-ploughing equipment. In 1858 his efforts were rewarded by winning the £500 prize offered by the Royal Agricultural Society of England for the best application of steam power to the land. In all the early steam-ploughing tackles only one engine was used. The method was known as the "Round-about" system, the engine being fitted with double drums, the rope from the one drum being connected direct to the plough, and serving to haul it across the field towards the engine, the rope from the other drum being taken to a snatch block placed in an opposite corner of the field, and thence to a movable anchor carriage positioned on the opposite side of the field to the engine. The rope worked round a pulley on the carriage mentioned, and was attached to the other side of the plough serving to haul it in the direction away from the engine.

The "Round-about" tackles, while doing satisfactory work, were quickly displaced when Mr John Fowler, between 1860 and 1862 introduced his improved double-engine system, in connection with the rope from the drum on each engine is attached to the plough, the engines alternately pulling the plough across the field one way or the other.



1865 Obituary [13]

John Fowler was born at Melksham, Wiltshire, on 11th July 1826.

He was at first engaged in the corn trade, but in 1847 entered the engineering works of Messrs. Gilkes Wilson and Co. of Middlesbrough.

Whilst in Ireland in 1849 he was impressed with the great necessity that existed for drainage in reclaiming the waste lands of that country, and conceived the idea that some mechanical system for executing drainage work could be introduced, by which the great expense of manual labour might be avoided; and in the following year he joined Mr. Albert Fry in some works at Bristol for this purpose, and commenced experiments which resulted in the successful completion of the draining plough. Although horse power was at first used for these draining ploughs, a very short time elapsed before steam was successfully applied to them; and Mr. Fowler, finding that he was then able to lay clay drainage pipes at any required depth, entered into large draining contracts in the south of England, to which he devoted himself for about five years.

During this time he was also studying the application of steam power to the cultivation of the soil, and from 1852 his attention was constantly directed to this subject; the success which attended the application of steam power to draining machinery leading him to the idea of applying the same power to the cultivation of land.

A series of experiments which he conducted at Ipswich in 1856 convinced him that this idea was practicable; and he ultimately exhibited a set of steam ploughing machinery at the Chester meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1858, which gained the £500 prize.

In 1857 he read a paper to the Institution on steam cultivation, in which he gave an account of the progress of the draining plough to maturity, and of the progress then made and the results attained in the application of steam power to the cultivating plough. Although the desideratum of steam cultivation was now practically effected, most serious obstacles presented themselves against bringing the invention to perfection, not only from unforeseen mechanical difficulties owing to the physical peculiarities of the land in different localities, but also from the very general ignorance of the agricultural classes in reference to engineering.

Mr. Fowler's indomitable energy however enabled him to surmount all the obstacles met with, and the practical application of steam power to agriculture became gradually so much extended, both in England and on the Continent, that in 1861, in conjunction with the late Mr. Hewitson and Mr. Kitson, he established works in Leeds especially devoted to the manufacture of his machines.

These works were subsequently extended and carried on by Mr. Fowler up to the time of his death, with his brother Mr. Robert Fowler.

He was elected a Member of the Institution in 1857, and died on 4th December 1864 from the results of an accident, at the age of thirty-eight.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1841 Census
  2. 1851 Census
  3. 1857 Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  4. Dictionary of National Biography
  5. The Leeds Mercury, Tuesday, July 2, 1861
  6. 1861 Census
  7. The Lancaster Gazette, and General Advertiser for Lancashire, Westmorland, Yorkshire, &c., Saturday, July 06, 1861
  8. The Morning Post, Thursday, December 08, 1864
  9. The Leeds Mercury, Tuesday, December 6, 1864
  10. 1871 Census
  11. The Times, Thursday, Jul 14, 1887
  12. The Engineer 1926/06/18
  13. 1865 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  • Biography of John Fowler, ODNB [1]