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Award winning architect noted church designer

Joseph Charles Fowell may have lost the use of one eye, which stopped him joining the British navy, but it didn't hold him back from designing over 40 churches in New South Wales and Victoria.

Born in Western Australia, Fowell was educated in England. It was in Beccles that he was articled to architect F.E. Banham but then finished his training in London with Travers & Mileham. He became skilled at designing banks and country houses and by 1914 he was an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Fowell married 39 year old Ettie Spong Horne in 1919 when he was 28 years old and they moved to Australia in the same year. He used his architectural skills working for private companies and won a RIBA medal (Royal Institute of British Architects), designing BMA House with Kenneth McConnel. It was the first RIBA medal awarded in Australia.

BMA House which won Joseph Fowell a design award. Photo Paul McCarthy.

In 1935 Fowell and McConnel received the 1935 Sulman designing St Anne's Shrine at Bondi. In 1934 while enlarging St Charles Church, Ryde he was credited with the first significant change of Catholic church design. He planned a free-standing altar which joined the congregation with the celebrant.

In 1939, the same year Ettie died, Fowell married Eileen Stella Hunt at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Neutral Bay.

Fowell was a member of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, holding the position of vice president from 1941-42 and 1946-47 of the New South Wales chapter and was to receive its gold medal in 1962. He was an accomplished draftsman and also studied life drawing under Desiderius Orban in the 1950s. Four of Fowell's watercolours, which were painted in the Mediterranean during World War One, were accepted by the Australian War Memorial.

Joseph Fowell's headstone, buried next to his second wife Eileen at the Macquarie Park Cemetery.

He died in 1970 and is buried in the Catholic lawn section of the Macquarie Park Cemetery, North Ryde, NSW.


  • Pamela Martin and Peter Reynolds, 'Fowell, Joseph Charles (1891–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 2 August 2023.

  • 'Deaths - Ettie Spong Fowell', NSW Births, Deaths, Marriages, accessed 30th August, 2023,

  • 'Joseph Charles Fowell', Wikipedia, accessed 30th August, 2023,

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