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Ted Vanner, Model Steamboat Pioneer

January 10, 2017
by the gentle author

Ted with SS Star

This is the earliest photograph of Ted Vanner, taken when when he was twenty-six years old in 1909, cradling one of his cherished creations with barely-concealed pride. Born in 1883 in Deptford as the second of seven children, Ted began his working life as a blacksmith and apparently gained no formal training as an engineer yet became a legendary innovator in model boat design. An early member of Victoria Model Steamboat Club, founded in 1904, Ted remained prominent in the club for more than sixty years until his death in 1955 when his wife Daisy continued to race his boats in her nineties until her death in 1973.

In later life, Ted Vanner recalled that he, along with other Victoria Model Steamboat Club members, took part in the first ever Model Engineer Regatta at Wembley in 1908. They all met at the Club Boat House in Victoria Park at 5:30am where Mr Blaney was busy cooking eggs and bacon over an oil stove for breakfast, and set out for Wembley in a horsedrawn van carrying boats and owners, ‘stopping at a few hurdles on the way.’

Working with the most rudimentary tools, it was his skill working with sheet metal and tinplate that set Ted Vanner apart from other competitors. According to Boat Club President Norman Phelps, Ted started with a ‘buck’ made from orange boxes and plasterer’s laths, which he would ‘plate’ with sections of cocoa tins. In order to create a joint that could be soldered, each plate overlapped the previous one, starting from the stern and working forward. This was Ted’s method to create elegantly stream-lined hulls that enabled him to produce model boats which were faster than his rivals. The refined shapes were achieved by ‘stroking’ the tin over a flat iron before the plates were soldered together with a large iron, heated either in the living room fire or on a gas ring.

In spite of these primitive construction techniques, Ted became an ambitious innovator. The early boats he built were steam driven tugs, such as he would have seen in the London Docks, but he quickly graduated to speed boats with sophisticated multi-cylinder engines. Ted acquired a reputation, competing at regattas all around the country, carrying his boats on the train and representing Victoria Model Steamboat Club in Paris in 1927, winning first prize with Bon-Ami, second prize with Leda III and third prize with Ledaette.

Today, Victoria Model Steamboat Club is one of only a small handful of surviving model boat clubs but you may still see their vessels on the Victoria Park Boating Lake each Sunday in Summer. Many of the boats in the collection are now over a century old and, if you are lucky, you may even get to see one of Ted Vanner’s creations in action. Seven of his elegant craft remain in working order, carrying his reputation into the future. An inspirational creator, making so much out of so little with such astonishing ingenuity, Ted Vanner is an unsung hero and legend in the civilised world of model boat clubs.

Victoria Model Steamboat Club, 1909

Outside the Club House in Victoria Park

Boats inside the Club House

Ted releases Danube III

Ted is second from left

Ted releases Leda III

Ted stands on the right in this photo in Paris in 1927

Ted is fourth from the right in this line up at St Albans

On the Round Pond Kensington, 1954

Ted wins a trophy for Victoria Park Steamboat Club at Forest Gate Regatta, May 10th 1954

Presenting the prizes at the Victoria Park Model Steamboat Regatta, 1955

At this Model Boat club dinner, Ted & Daisy Vanner sit in the middle of the back row

Daisy Vanner in the fifties

Daisy and Ted on the left

In her nineties, Daisy Vanner continued to compete in regattas with Ted’s boats after his death

Leda III and All Alone, two of seven of Ted’s boats still in working order today

With thanks to Tim Westcott for supplying the photographs accompanying this feature

You may also like to read about

Norman Phelps, Boat Club President

Lucinda Douglas Menzies at Victoria Park Steam Model Boat Club

The Boat Club Photographic Collection

10 Responses leave one →
  1. January 10, 2017

    What a lovely world. My Dad was a model boat enthusiast as a boy, I expect it was very common. Not my cup of tea, but how great to see the shared enthusiasm and spirit of endeavour and the social strength of it.

  2. January 10, 2017

    What a wonderful history to read about Ted and Daisy and these clubs. Love hearing “still in working order”. Thanks for the visit down memory lane. Spectacular photos. Thanks Mr. Westcott.

  3. Eddie Johnson permalink
    January 10, 2017

    Lovely photos, my Mum took me over there regularly before the war, she once found a toy submarine under a park bench & it became a treasured possession, but I used to look in wonder at the boats going back & forth across the lake and was curious to know who these men in their big waders were…now I know.

  4. January 10, 2017

    I still have vivid memories of being taken over Vicky park by my elder brother in the 60’s and watching events & competitions on Sunday mornings.The fuel they used had a very distinct smell.wonderful times

  5. Martin Palmer permalink
    January 10, 2017

    I know the Victoria Park Boating Lake well. It was a fairly frequent haunt of mine as a kid. I recall someone bringing a model boat powered by what I was told was a pulse jet: same power unit that the V1’s used. It crossed the pond in seconds and made an awful racket. Probably illegal now!

  6. MITCH BARNES permalink
    January 15, 2017

    What a fascinating article! The Victoria Model Boat Club is still strong – their level of skill in model building is something to admire.

    Speaking generally it is good to see that the concept of making things with one’s hands rather than poking screens and keyboards with them, is still alive and kicking.

    Being a member of any club, no matter what the interest, is a great way of socialising and keeping your mind active, throughout one’s life and especially important in retirement. After a week of stress at work, meeting people of this calibre at the weekend never fails to rebuild my faith in human nature.

    The model engineering society I belong to has given me huge encouragement in my ambitions, enabled me to boost my career with new skills and brings out the best in all its members. This is common among all the clubs and societies I have encountered over the years: long may they all continue.

  7. Donald Reynolds permalink
    January 16, 2017

    The boat above ALL ALONE is still running regulary at Victoria park and other venues in the southern area she is steam driven and runs well.

  8. October 13, 2017

    Hello, what a cracking story and article! absolutely inspiring and there was me thinking I was doing something new. If it wasnt for Englishmen in sheds? the world would still be in the stone age.
    Neil Mclaren.

  9. Heinrich Cornelissen permalink
    July 16, 2019

    I have recently acquired a 1935 Bowman Swallow Steamboat which has piqued my curiosity in all things related to these wonderful craft. While I was doing research on the Victoria Model Boat Club, I stumbled across a number of articles written by The Gentle Author on this subject. Your articles are simply remarkable. As an English teacher, I can only marvel at your uncanny ability of capturing an atmosphere – which most of us can only dream about – so perfectly. Your piety in describing these gentlemen of yesteryear is to be admired and is indicative of a sensitive soul.

  10. Kent Lund permalink
    January 2, 2024

    30 years ago I discovered the steam and tether
    Boat club in the UK. I have tracked down 12
    As raced boats of US origin. 1924 to 1947.
    Flash steam and gasoline all home built
    Motors. 6 16 mm movies and countless
    Stills of the racers. If anyone would like to see pictures of
    The boats drop me a line.

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