Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fox, Charles (1810-1874)
FOX, Sir CHARLES (1810–1874), engineer, youngest of four sons of Francis Fox, M.D., was born at Derby 11 March 1810. He was originally destined for his father's profession, but abandoned this intention as his taste for mechanics developed. He was deeply interested in the projected scheme for the Liverpool and Manchester railway, and at the age of nineteen he was articled to Captain Ericsson. With Ericsson he was engaged in designing and constructing the ‘Novelty’ engine, one of the three which competed at Rainhill in October 1829. He was also employed with Ericsson in experimenting with rotary engines. His mechanical talents having attracted the attention of Robert Stephenson, he was appointed by him one of the constructing engineers of the London and Birmingham railway. He designed the tunnel at Watford, and afterwards carried out the extension of the line from Camden Town to Euston Square. These works were wholly constructed within a covered way and retaining walls, thus realising for the first time the idea of a metropolitan railway. While engaged on this line Fox read a paper before the Royal Institution upon the correct principles of skew arches, which he had carried out in the works. The new mechanical departure was the development of these arches, not from the intrados or the extrados, but from a line midway between the two. Fox now entered into partnership with the contractor Bramah, and upon the retirement of the senior partner the firm assumed the title of Fox, Henderson, & Co. of London, Smethwick, and Renfrew. This firm was the first to carry out the manufacture of railway plant and stock upon a complete and systematic plan. Great improvements were effected in bridges, roofs, cranes, tanks, and railway wheels. Fox was the inventor of the system of four feet plates for tanks, combined with a very simple formula for calculating weight and contents. He also introduced the switch into railway practice, thus superseding the old sliding rail. Many improvements in iron structures were due to him, and in connection with his experiments upon links he read a paper before the Royal Society (March 1865) ‘On the Size of Pins for connecting Flat Links in the Chains of Suspension Bridges.’ From 1857 Fox practised in London as a civil and consulting engineer, with his two eldest sons, the firm still being known under the style of Sir Charles Fox & Sons.
During the forty-five years of his professional life Fox was engaged in works of magnitude in all parts of the world. His chief undertaking was the building in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition of 1851, designed by Paxton. This work was begun towards the end of September 1850, and finished before the close of April 1851, Fox having been engaged exclusively upon it for eighteen hours a day during a period of seven weeks. Together with Cubitt and Paxton he received the honour of knighthood (22 Oct. 1851) in connection with the exhibition. Fox's firm afterwards removed the building from Hyde Park and re-erected it, with many alterations and improvements, at Sydenham for the Crystal Palace Company. Fox was a consistent advocate for economy in railway construction, and it was through his exertions that the ‘light railway’ clauses were inserted in the Railway Facilities Act. In conjunction with G. Berkley he constructed the first narrow-gauge line in India. He made a special study of the narrow-gauge system, and eventually constructed lines upon this principle in various parts of the world. While strenuously advocating the narrow-gauge system, however, Fox was strongly opposed to break of gauge, except under special circumstances. His main principle was ‘to retain the gauge of the country, and to reduce the weight on the engine wheels to the same as that on the wheels of the stock, to limit the speed, and then to reduce the weight of the permanent way and other works.’ He was also in favour of vertical rails and cylindrical tyres.
The works executed by Fox as a manufacturer and contractor include the bridge over the Medway at Rochester; three bridges over the Thames, at Barnes, Richmond, and Staines; the swing bridge over the Shannon; a bridge over the Saône at Lyons; and the Great Western railway bridges. In roofs he executed those at the Paddington station, at the Waterloo station, and at the New Street station, Birmingham, and slip roofs for several of the royal dockyards. The railways upon which he was engaged included the Cork and Bandon, the Thames and Medway, the Portadown and Dungannon, the East Kent, the Lyons and Geneva (eastern section), the Mâcon and Geneva (eastern section), and the Wiesbaden and the Zealand (Denmark). He was also one of the constructors of the Berlin waterworks. Fox was engineer to the Queensland railways, the Cape Town railways, the Wynberg railway (Cape of Good Hope), the Toronto narrow-gauge railway, and (with Berkley) the Indian Tramway Company. Fox & Sons were engineers to the comprehensive scheme of high-level lines at Battersea for the London and Brighton, Chatham and Dover, and London and South-Western companies, with the approach to the Victoria station, Pimlico, including the widening of the Victoria railway bridge over the Thames. Fox was a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and for many years a member of the council of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was an original life member of the British Association, a member of the Society of Arts, and a fellow of the Royal Asiatic and Royal Geographical Societies. Early in his career he took an active part in the affairs of the Society of Arts, and, in conjunction with his elder brother Douglas, who was well known as a medical practitioner at Derby, he elaborated the process of casting in elastic moulds, for which the society's silver medal was awarded.
Fox married in 1830 Mary, second daughter of Joseph Brookhouse, by whom he had three sons and one daughter. The two elder sons, Charles and Francis Fox, constitute the firm of Sir Charles Fox & Sons, civil and consulting engineers. Fox was of a most urbane and generous disposition. He died at Blackheath 14 June 1874.
[Engineering, 17 July 1874; Ann. Reg. 1874.]