Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720 - 1940

Inspector and subsequently architect and engineer to the Science and Art Department, London, for biography of whom see Oxford DNB, Min. Proc. ICE 30 (1869-70), 468-70, Directory of British Architects 1834-1914 (RIBA 2001), I, 676-7 and DIB. Francis Fowke, the elder son of Lieutenant John Fowke of the 68th Regiment of Foot, was born in Ballysillan, Belfast, on 7 July 1823, and educated at Dungannon College. He had left Ireland at least by the age of sixteen when he entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. In 1842 he obtained a commission in the Royal Engineers. Responsibilities in connection with the British contribution to the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855 led to his being appointed Inspector of the Science and Art Department in London in 1857.(1)

In 1858, Fowke was sent to Dublin by Henry Cole, secretary of the Science and Art Department, ostensibly to report on CHARLES LANYON' CHARLES LANYON' s excessively costly scheme for the proposed new National Gallery and to discover the reasons for the delay in carrying out the project. In fact he had also been directed to prepare his own design for a gallery which could be built for about £11,000.(2) In his design Fowke reproduced exactly the external dimensions of the Natural History Museum, which had been erected to designs by FREDERICK VILLIERS CLARENDON  FREDERICK VILLIERS CLARENDON on the other side of Leinster Lawn in 1856-7, in order to create the appearance of a symmetrical arrangement.(3) Internally he provided a large sculpture hall on the ground floor with a long top-lit gallery above it. Staircases at the far end of these galleries communicated with three floors of galleries and offices in the western portion of the building. The entrance to the building and vestibule were in an unassuming single-storey extension on the north side of the east front.

The gallery, which was begun in January 1859, eventually cost almost £30,000. When it was opened on 30 January 1864 it was generally well-received by the press though not by the slighted Irish architectural establishment. On 18 February 1864 a highly critical paper by WILLIAM GEORGE MURRAY  WILLIAM GEORGE MURRAY was read to a general meeting of the RIAI by THOMAS DREW  THOMAS DREW and subsequently published.(4) For Murray the gallery had no redeeming features; the Irish had been 'saddled with an unfinished monster that can never be removed, and will perpetually stand in the way of any future improvement, both by its being there existing in its ugliness, and also by its having exhausted the fountains of generosity by which it might be replaced.'

In 1860 Fowke had been promoted to the post of Architect and Engineer to the Department and in 1862 to that of Superintendent of Buildings. Other buildings which he designed include the Science & Art (Victoria and Albert) Museum in South Kensington and the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh. His death at the age of forty-two on 4 December 1865 was noted with lofty condescension in the Dublin Builder: 'Surely it is but right, whatever our individual estimate of poor Fowke's pretension to the rank of architect may be, to separate his individual capacity from his public incapacity, and to express sincere regret for a young man who no doubt had some sort of genius in him, snatched away in the prime of life, when he might yet have lived to redeem himself not only from the hard strictures of some people, but from what was even worse, the injudicious adulation of others. Let us give his memory fair play. Which of us, whatever our incapacity, pitchforked into a position to which we were unequal, would have had the virtuous self-denial not to attempt the task such as he had the good or evil luck to secure?'(5)

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(1) In Paris he would have worked closely with Henry Cole, British Commissioner at the Paris exhibitions of 1855 and 1857, who was joint secretary of the Science and Art Department from 1853 and sole secretary from 1858.
(2) For a detailed account of these proceedings and Fowke's design, see Catherine de Courcy, The Foundation of the National Gallery of Ireland (1985), Chapters 2 & 3; a portrait of Fowke is on p.47.
(3) The asymmetry of the site was disguised by lengthening the lawn and lengthening and moving the quadrant wall between the gallery and Leinster House.
(4) Published in DB 6, 1 Mar 1864, 35, and B 22, 27 Feb 1864, 155.
(5) DB 7, 15 Dec 1865, 291.

2 work entries listed in chronological order for FOWKE, FRANCIS #

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Date: 1858-64
Nature: Designed gallery at request of Department of Science, superseding designs by Mulvany and Lanyon. Copied external dimensions of Natural History Museum (designed by F.V. Clarendon) and prepared his own internal arrangements. FS laid 7 Jan 1859. Formally opened 30 Jan 1864. Contractor: Cockburn & Sons.
Refs: 200 drawings in NGI; for an account of the design and building of the gallery, see Catherine de Courcy, The Foundation of the National Gallery of Ireland (National Gallery of Ireland, 1985), Chapters 2 & 3; B 16, 16 Jul,6 Nov 1858, 470,751; 17, 5 Feb 1859, 94; 22, 6,27 Feb 1864, 101,155; DB 1, 1 Mar 1859, 31; 6, 1 Feb,1 Mar 1864, 17,35; RIAI council meeting minutes, 4 Mar 1864, 11; general meeting minutes, 18 Feb,17 Mar 1864, 137,139;  Christine Casey, The Buildings of Ireland: Dublin (2005), 561-3.

Date: 1862
Nature: Assisted Kelk & Lucas, London, with competition entry. (Competition won by Alfred Gresham Jones.)
Refs: DB 4, 15 Oct 1862, 262