Henry Eugene Vandervell (1824-1908) is well-known in skating circles as the “father of English style skating.” He’s remembered for inventing the counter, writing (with T. Maxwell Witham) A System of Figure Skating, and chairing the Ice Figure Committee of the National Skating Association (Hines, 233). But the skating books say little about his personal life. I spent some time going through the records on familysearch.org to see what I could piece together.
Henry was born in 1824 to Francis Vandervell. In 1854, he married Rebecca Batt, who was the same age as him. They don’t seem to have had any children, and she died in 1867.
Henry then became an attractive prospect. A wealthy widower who worked as a stockbroker and lived in a fancy townhouse, he simply had to get married, as Jane Austen noted (Austen 2008). His townhouse, 28 Aldridge Road Villas, is currently worth about 4.5 million pounds, according to zoopla.co.uk.
Just two years after Rebecca’s death, Vandervell married Fanny Thornton, who was 26 years younger than him. In the next decade, they had at least five children: Henry Eugene (aka Harry), Charles Anthony, Percy, Ethel, and Maud. Charles Anthony went on to do important work on the electrical systems in cars, and Ethel worked for the Red Cross during World War I.
Henry died in 1908, and Fanny lived until 1925. The burning question that remains is, did Fanny skate? Given Henry’s involvement in the sport, I’d be surprised if she didn’t. And his (and T. Maxwell Witham’s) remarks on ladies skating in the first edition of A System of Figure Skating—published the year he married her—suggest that if she didn’t already skate, he would have encouraged her:
We can scarcely imagine a more delightful, exhilarating, and health-giving exercise for ladies in winter-time than skating… We rejoice to think that within the last few years the girls of England have been taking to skating in considerable numbers.Vandervell and Witham (1869, p. 230-231)
Jane Austen. 2008. Pride and Prejudice. Urbana, IL: Project Gutenberg.
James R. Hines. 2003. “Henry Eugene Vandervell (1824-1908)” in Historical Dictionary of Figure Skating, p. 233. Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow.
H. E. Vandervell and T. Maxwell Witham. 1869. A System of Figure Skating. London: Macmillan and Co.