Born in 1826, John Fowler was the third son of Henry – a wealthy Quaker merchant – and Lucy Fowler. They lived at Elm Grove Gastard and John attended school in Corsham, probably the Quaker run school at Pickwick.
During his journeys from Gastard to Corsham to attend school, his attention was probably much taken by the building of the Great Western Railway between 1836 and 1841.
The building of the cutting and the bridge at Pound Pill would have enabled young John to watch the progress of the line and become well-versed in the working of stationary and moving steam engines.
In 1847 he joined Gilkes, Wilkes, Hopkins & Co – a firm of engineers in Middlesborough. Here, Fowler might well have remained had it not been for a chance visit to Ireland in 1849 during the time of the Irish potato famine. Irish agriculture was dependant on the potato crop whilst much of the land was uncultivated due to poor drainage.
Fowler was convinced that there must be a way of bringing more land into production. Land was normally drained using a mole plough to dig a subterranean drainage channel. However, the considerable tractive power required was limited by the strength of the teams of horses that pulled it.
When Fowler returned to England he devoted his energies over the next 15 years to developing and patenting a system of mole draining and ploughing which completely changed aspects of farming in the UK and other parts of the world.
The name of John Fowler and his products are now known all over the world, and his steam engines are considered to be some of the finest ever made in Great Britain. His legacy has lasted following his tragic early death in 1864 following a hunting accident. The ingenuity of this young man born near Corsham gave agriculture the opportunity to blossom in the 19th and 20th centuries.