Railroad History

Its all about the rails


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Sir Charles Fox

Sir Charles Fox (1810–1874) was an English civil engineer and contractor. His work focused on railways, railway stations and bridges. One of his earliest inventions, patented in 1832, was the railway points, which superseded the sliding rail used up to that time.

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

In 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.

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.

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

In 1839, Fox entered into partnership with Francis Bramah to form Bramah, Fox and Co.

By 1841, John Henderson had joined the firm.

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.

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.

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.

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

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 "on the separate estate of Sir Charles Fox".

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.

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.

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

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