John Mowlem was born at Swanage, Dorset where he was baptised on November 9, 1788 the son of John & Hannah Mowlam, and worked in the stone quarries of the Isle of Purbeck with his father and three brothers.
In 1807 he moved to London to join the Government Mason’s Department and in 1816 he was promoted to general foreman. His work included Nelson’s Tomb in the crypt of St Paul’s Somerset House and the King’s Mews, Charing Cross. He lived at several addresses in London, all close to canals, the industrial highways of the time.
In 1822 he established himself in business as a mason first near Pimlico Basin and shortly afterwards and Paddington Wharf (now known as Little Venice) which became the head office during his lifetime. Pimlico Basin was demolished to make way for Victoria Station which Mowlem extensively enlarged in 1907.
Later he enlisted two partners, George Burt and Joseph Freeman to form Mowlem, Burt and Freeman.
In 1840 Messrs Mowlem, Burt and Freeman secured their first major contract to repave Blackfriars Bridge with a Telford pavement of granite setts – the first of its kind. The contract contained a heavy penalty for late completion with no stage payments. After this success the firm later went on to repave London Bridge and the Strand.
Anticipating a steady demand for stone material in Victorian London, Mowlem bought a granite quarry in Guernsey and a fleet of ships specifically to service the expansion of the construction industry.
In 1861 the first tramways appeared in the outskirts of London and in 1878 Mowlem built the Northumberland Avenue tramway, so beginning Mowlem’s long association with public transport which has lasted to the present day. Mowlem was later heavily involved in replacing these early horse drawn trams with electrified tramways. John Mowlem himself sadly did not live to see these developments as he died aged 80 in 1868.