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Ted Vanner, Model Steamboat Genius

July 16, 2019
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

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Claire permalink
    July 16, 2019

    What a clever man, and to create like that out of just what was available. How fortunate Ted and Daisy found each other as well.
    Thank you Gentle Author for another great story.

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    July 16, 2019

    Brilliant to see someone so skilled and dedicated to his passion in life – and even better that his wife obviously shared his passion!

    Great uplifting story – thank you.

  3. Peter Metaxas permalink
    July 16, 2019

    What a lovely life Mr. Venner and Daisy must have lived. Wonderful that Daisy continued his legacy as long as her heart was beating. I am touched by the lives of such persons.
    Photo 1744657 really shows the interest people had is this hobby. I love the expressions and stance of persons on the bank. Exceptional story.

  4. Virginia Heaven permalink
    July 16, 2019

    Wonderful and inspiring story. The photographs are a window into a world of skilled creative craftsmen. Nice way to start a Tuesday morning. Thank you.

  5. Gary Arber permalink
    July 16, 2019

    My father took me over to Vicky Park on many Sunday mornings to see the boats before the war. Many of them were big enough for me to have sat on, but nobody let me. Another of my treats was to be taken over the West End on a Saturday evening to look into the windows of the big shipping companies where they all had huge models of their liners on display. These ships were huge, over fifteen feet long with lights all over them.

  6. David Tarrant permalink
    July 16, 2019

    Inspirational! I can’t help thinking that smart phones and social media must have stifled that kind of creativity. On the other hand there are many videos on YouTube of talented individuals constructing all kinds of incredible stuff. For instance, there’s the guy who designed and built a working model of a twelve cylinder Ferrari engine! I invite you to check it out and be amazed.

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