(B.19) Sir Charles Fox (1810 - 1874) - notes

see LINKS below

Sir Charles Fox was born in The Wardwick, Derby (England) to a leading physician and surgeon in that town. Around 1840 he formed the firm of Fox, Henderson and Co. primarily concerned with railway construction, but which went on to build the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Although the original idea for the building came from Joseph Paxton, such an innovative and radical design could not be built without the partnership of an innovative engineering company prepared to take on the undoubted challenge it was. Francis Fox (his son, see links below) wrote:

"My father had great confidence in cast iron if properly designed, and he became known as the "Cast-iron Man". No one but he was able to design the building as regards its details, and therefore upon him, personally, devolved the duty of drawing everything, even to the most minute particulars."

Sir Charles practiced as both a civil and mechanical engineer - the distinction between various branches of engineering then was not as clear cut as it is today. His membership to the Institution of Civil Engineers was proposed by Geo. Lowe and countersigned Rob Stephenson and Joshua Field. He signed his form of acceptance on 15th February 1838 and remained a member until his death. He was a founder member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and served on its council from 1856 until 1871 when a note in the membership book simply says "Resigned 27th March 1871".

The John G James collection* at the Institution of Civil Engineers reveals an interesting start to the construction works of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in an extract quoted from the speech of the Earl Granville delivered at Birmingham on 19th June 1851:

"At the moment when the order for the building was required to be given, it was found that the Royal Commission was not by law that sort of incorporated body which could give such an order.... Under the circumstances, I was directed by his Royal Highness and the Royal Commission to make this proposal to Messrs. Fox and Henderson. I wrote on a piece of paper which I read to them, that the Royal Commission was in no condition to give any order for a building but, if these contributors chose at their own risk and peril to erect a building which was defined by drawings and specifications which were exhibited on the table, then it was probable that when the Commission became an incorporated body they would order such a building. Messrs Fox and Henderson said, 'That is enough for us' and I believe a very few hours afterwards they gave orders for the immense mass of materials which were required for the purpose."

from The Exposition 1851, 2(28 June)147

The work in Hyde Park was begun in July 1851 and was ready some nine months later well in time for the official opening by Queen Victoria on 1st May 1851. The remarkable speed of the construction was due to the innovative modular design, novel assembly methods (like the glazing trolleys) and tough management of the whole project**.

When the Great Exhibition ended Fox, Cubitt and Paxton were awarded knighthoods.


There now remained the problem of what to do with the exhibition building. Its continuation in Hyde Park as a 'Winter Park and Garden under Glass' was finally prevented by a vote in Parliament in April 1852. Paxton, while the arguments about the future of the Palace raged, gathered sufficient finance to buy the building from Fox & Henderson and, in August 1852 rebuilding on a much grander scale began on Sydenham Hill. The recently formed Crystal Palace Company was easily able to raise the additional money necessary to complete the new building - a total cost (then) of £1.3 million.

Another great engineer of the times, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), designed the water towers, necessary to service the magnificent fountains in the Park, after some other attempts failed.

Queen Victoria once again presided over the opening of the Crystal Palace and gardens which took place on 10th June 1854.

On the 30th November 1936 the entire structure was destroyed by fire.

Ray Sacks, March 2002

*John G James left a card index to the Institution of Civil Engineers (currently kept in their archive library) which contains extracts and references to a host of material about Sir Charles Fox, Fox & Henderson and related matters.

**An excellent account is given in The Crystal Palace by Patrick Beaver, Phillimore(1986)

Acknowledgement - thanks to the Libraries of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for their help in locating and allowing reproduction of information on Sir Charles Fox.


(B.18) Sir Francis Fox - reminiscences (1 min download time)
Death of Sir Charles Fox - The Engineer
Sir Charles Fox - memoir, Institution of Civil Engineers
Sir Charles Fox - Dictionary of National Biography (1921)
THE CRYSTAL PALACE THAT FOX BUILT (2 1/2min time to full download)

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23/03/02 Last Updated 23/03/02