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Ted Vanner, Model Steamboat Pioneer

July 20, 2023
by the gentle author

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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

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Susan permalink
    July 20, 2023

    I love the fact that, prior to TV and smartphones, people actually DID things.

  2. July 20, 2023

    Having lived opposite Victoria Park throughout my childhood in the 1950’s, I used to watch those model boats being launched into the boating lake and must have seen Ted and Daisy during that time.
    It was a real treat to watch them whilst eating an ice cream served by my mum, who worked in the cafe adjacent to the club house. Happy days and happy memories.

  3. dar permalink
    July 20, 2023

    ‘magnifique’ post, TGA! manyThanks ?️

  4. July 20, 2023

    I will enjoy forwarding this post to my husband, who always “thinks” he wants to build ship models. We have the makings of dozens of such things in our home — and not ONE of the
    models have ever, ever been assembled. Or even taken out of the box. Hmmmm.

    I especially enjoyed seeing the garb of all the gents. Regardless of standing knee-deep in water (!?), there they are, wearing pinstripe suits, high collars, hats, proper neckties, etc. Probably a tribute to the significance of the competition, or maybe just a reflection of an earlier age — but nowadays nothing seems to warrant dress-up clothes. How I miss the sight of a man in shirt-and-tie!

    Thank you, GA.

  5. Richard Cleaver permalink
    July 21, 2023

    Given that meat rationing in the UK was yet to end I can’t help but think the ‘trophy’ presented in 1954 looks suspiciously like 1/2 lb of pork chops?

    What a gloriously innocent pastime.

  6. Bernie permalink
    July 21, 2023

    !Ah that takes me back to my schooldays! Parmiter’s grammar school was in
    Approach Road, just a short walk from the Victoria Park ponds where these magnificent boats sailed and where we often spent our lunch-hours (1944-1949) sculling around. Sadly, I was never there at weekends to see the steamboats, but some sailboats ventured out during our summer lunch hours. It used to cost three pence to hire a boat for an hour. Never was the money better spent.

  7. February 1, 2024

    As a prolific builder here in the States, I would try to get as much material on British modelers as possible during my early years. These individuals inspired me and it’s good to read this account of Ted Vanner and his supportive wife Daisy. He truly left a legacy to be admired.

    Another modeler whom I had the opportunity to exhibit with was Donald McNarry whom built beautiful miniatures. His skill also encouraged my profession. To both, the glass is raised.

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