Wednesday, June 18, 2008

John Fowke...makes constant-stream'd engines for extinguishing fires, 1726

In my quest to trace everything back to the Renaissance, I have once again discovered the antecedent of a popular rap lyric (here is the last one I did). I found this one in none other than Shakespeare. Although he doesn't quite capture the simple exuberance and delicate lyricism of Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three's "the roof (x3) is on fire!", this speech Hamlet gives is pretty okay too I guess. In the 1603 quarto, Rosencrantz actually interjects to tell Hamlet to "let the motherfucker burn" in an effort to restore his mirth, but being the "bad quarto" scholars have largely ignored it.

I can't find much out about the John Fowke this publication mentions, but he made a super awesome water pump and apparently everyone was very impressed. The text read like an advertisement for the pump, but the illustrator gains bonus points for accurately representing the "
foul and pestilent congregation of vapours."


robert said...

I'm researching early fire engines in the UK and I was fascinated to find this woodcut of John Fowke on your site. I've never seen it before, in fact I'm not aware of any illustrations (or surviving examples) of Fowke's engines, and I wonder if you have any other information on its whereabouts and the text you mentioned goes with it or where I might be able to get hold of a copy. Also, does it have a date?

Fowke was London based and built and maintained 'water engines' used for putting out fires and for pumping water out of (leaking) ships. He was certainly active in c.1715 and during the 1730s did much work making and repairing engines for the navy. He died in 1734 and his wife Ann continued the business which passed through many hands over the next 70 years or so before it eventually morphed into Merryweathers, one of the best known C19th and C20th fire engine manufacturers.

Interestingly the engine it shows is a type normally ascribed to a Samuel Phillips and dated a little later than Fowke. Fascinating that Phillips may have based his design on Fowkes.

Thanks for any information you might be able to supply.


Sarah Redmond said...

Hi Robert -- as indicated in the title the publication is from 1726. I got the image from the academic research database EEBO (Early English Books Online) which is scanned in from the original in the British Library. It's a single page sheet that reads sort of like an ad, with details on how the machine worked and how much water it pumped, etc. I can email you the full pdf if you like.

robert said...


Thanks very much for the information. In my excitement I hadn't even seen the date on your post!!

I do know of EEBO by I'm not on it so if you did have a PDF I'd be most grateful to have a copy. If there is a BL reference with it I can go and have a look at the original as I live just outside London. Your right, it is an advertisement for his engines. Do you know if it's an individual broadsheet or has it been bound with others ? I'm just wondering if it's a one off in the collection or whether there may be other similar broadsheets with it.

Thanks again for your help.


Sarah Redmond said...

Looking at EEBO you can just see the single sheet, so I'm not sure about how it's presented or stored. If you send me an email (view my Blogger profile to get that) I'll send you the PDF I have so you can have a look for yourself. The quality is pretty good for a scan.