Doggett's Coat and Badge

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The finish of Doggett's Coat and Badge. Painting by Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827).

Doggett's Coat and Badge is the prize and name for the oldest rowing race in the world[citation needed]. Up to six apprentice watermen of the River Thames in England compete for this prestigious honour, which has been held every year since 1715. The 4 miles 5 furlongs (7,400 m) race is held on the Thames between London Bridge and Cadogan Pier, Chelsea, passing under a total of eleven bridges en route. Originally, it was raced every 1 August against the outgoing (falling or ebb) tide, in the boats used by watermen to ferry passengers across the Thames. Today it is raced at a date and time in late July that coincides with the incoming (rising or flood) tide, in contemporary single sculling boats.

The winner's prize is a traditional watermen's red coat with a silver badge added, displaying the horse of the House of Hanover and the word "Liberty", in honour of the accession of George I to the throne.[1] In addition, each competitor to complete the course receives a miniature of a Doggett's Badge for their lapel in a ceremony at Watermen's Hall, in silver for the winner and in bronze for the others. Monetary prizes are also made by the Fishmongers' Company to the rowing clubs of those taking part, with £250 to the winner's club, £150 for second, £100 for third and £50 for fourth.

In addition to the prizes received, winning Doggett's Coat and Badge in the 18th and 19th centuries would help attract more trade to the talented waterman. While this is no longer the case, winning the Doggett's Coat and Badge is still seen as very prestigious to this day.

History[edit]

Three winners of the race. Pictured, left to right, are: J. J. Turferry (winner in 1900), W. H. Campbell (1850), A. H. Brewer (1901)
Twenty winners pictured in 1908
"Liddy, the Winner of Doggett's Coat and Badge" Illustrated London News, 6 August 1842

Thomas Doggett was an Irish actor and comedian who became joint manager of Drury Lane Theatre. He relied heavily upon the watermen of the Thames, who were then the equivalent of the modern taxi driver, to convey him between the various plying stairs near his workplaces in the City of London and his residence in Chelsea. There is a legend that in 1715, Doggett was rescued by a waterman after falling overboard whilst crossing the Thames near Embankment, although this has always been dismissed, along with other myths, by the Fishmongers' Company, the story continues that in gratitude for his rescue, he offered a rowing wager to the fastest of six young watermen in their first year of freedom, over the course between "The Swan" pub at London Bridge and "The Swan" pub at Chelsea. Rowing wagers were common in those days, but this one was unique: Doggett set the wager to be a traditional red watermens' coat, but, being a "great Whig in Politics", Doggett arranged the race for 1 August each year, and had the coat furnished with a silver badge "representing Liberty", to commemorate 1 August 1714 accession of George I of the House of Hanover to the throne. The current badge prominently features both the word "Liberty" and an image of the horse of the House of Hanover.

The race was organised and financed by Doggett each year from 1715 until his death in 1721. In his will, Doggett left specific instructions for the continuation of the race, which is now undertaken by the Fishmongers' Company, a livery company of the City of London. However, over the ages, several particulars have changed, for example:

  • Originally, the race was run against the tide, but since 1873 it has been run with the incoming tide.
  • It was intended to be held each "1st day of August forever", but now occurs on a Friday during July, with the precise date and time depending on the tides.
  • The intention was that competitors should race in the boats of their passenger-ferrying trade. At first these boats were four seater passenger wherries (which could take nearly two hours to row the distance), later "old fashion boats", then "best" boats, then clinker gigs, then modified best boats. Since 1769 the Fishmongers' Company has set regulations, including that all vessels must be "common Scullers Boats" and examined by the Company. Contemporary single sculls are now used and take about 30 minutes to race the course.
  • Lots were originally drawn at Watermen's Hall but are now drawn at Fishmongers' Hall due to unfair practices.
  • As the population of watermen has declined, since 1988 the event has been open to unsuccessful competitors to row again in their second and third years of freedom.

A more complete history is available through the references below.

Timeline[edit]

Badge won by J T Sanson of Kew, in 1890
  • 1 August 1714 – accession of George I of the House of Hanover to the throne
  • 1715 – There is a myth that Doggett fell into the Thames, and was saved by Watermen
  • 1 August 1715 – the first Doggett's Coat and Badge race
  • 1721 – Doggett dies, will leaves specific instructions for race to continue
  • 1730 – race was won by Jack Broughton, a champion pugilist
  • 1769 – Fishmongers' Company established strict regulations to ensure fair competition
  • 1873 – race run with the incoming tide from this year onward
  • 1880 – race was won by William J. Cobb who was so proud of his victory he became known as 'Doggett Cobb'
  • 1887 – race was won by William Giles East who went on to win the Sculling Championship of England in 1891, became a Queen's Watermen in 1898, and Barge Master to the King in 1906.
  • 1973 – The fastest race yet, won by Bobby Prentice in 23 minutes 22 seconds.
  • 1988 – race opened to unsuccessful prior competitors to row in their 2nd and 3rd years of freedom
  • 1992 – Claire Burran was the first woman to compete. Sister of 1988 winner Glen Hayes, she came third in rough conditions.
  • 2005 – 291st race was the closest in recent memory, with first place winning by only a few lengths, and 2nd and 3rd places were given a dead heat.

Related information[edit]

The race has also given its name to two pubs: "Doggetts Coat & Badge" on the southern end of Blackfriars Bridge and "The Coat and Badge", Lacy Road, Putney. There is a pub in Margate named "The Doggett Coat and Badge".

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Race history[edit]

Current race information (date and time)[edit]