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Doggett's Coat and Badge Wager

Annual Race on The River Thames

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Doggett's Coat and Badge Wager

The River Thames

Image: © rudi@kudos-konsulting.com
I have to admit, I hadn't heard of this annual event but when I discovered it, the name had me intrigued and I wanted to know more. Doggett's Coat and Badge Wager is an annual rowing race on The River Thames in London. It takes place in the last two week of July each year. The race is organized by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers - a group steeped in history.

The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames

The River Thames was once the main route for moving people and goods around London and beyond. Before we had bridges, watermen made a fine living transporting us across The Thames. In a survey in 1598, it was reported that forty thousand men earned a living working on or about the river! There came a time when regulations were needed, so parliament passed an Act in 1514 to regulate the fares for transporting goods, and another Act in 1555 to regulate those who carried passengers. This was when The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames was founded, and introduced an apprectice scheme for watermen. In 1700, the lightermen (those who carried cargo) had to follow the same regulations as the watermen. Today, The Company still operates an apprenticeship scheme, providing training opportunities in watermanship in general, and rowing in particular.

Which brings us back to the Doggett's Coat and Badge Race. Six young watermen freemen of The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames take part in this rowing race. The race is for single sculls and covers a course of 4 miles and 7 furlongs. It is the oldest continuous sporting event in England, and maybe the world.

Who was Thomas Doggett?

Thomas Doggett was an Irish comedian who came to London in 1690. He became a theater manager and was a very strong Whig in politics. When George I became King of England in 1714, Doggett had the idea of founding a rowing race as a tribute to the Hanoverians. Doggett donated the winner's prizes: a scarlet coat and a silver badge, hence the name of the race.

When Did The Race Start?

The first Doggett's Coat and Badge Race was in 1715, and Doggett himself organized the race each year right up to his death in 1721.

Where Does The Race Take Place?

The race originally started at the Swan Inn at London Bridge and finished at the Swan Inn at Chelsea, but even though these two buildings are no longer there, the race route remains the same. You can watch the race anywhere from London Bridge to Chelsea.

With The Tide or Against The Tide?

Up until 1873, the race was rowed against the tide and there are tales of it taking over two hours to complete. Nowadays, the race is rowed with the tide and it takes about 25 to 30 minutes. The fastest race was in 1973 when Bobby Prentice sped to the finish in only 23 minutes 22 seconds.

Who Can Compete?

Doggett wrote that only young waterman "in the first year of their Freedom of the Watermen's Company" could compete, which meant that a waterman only had one attempt at winning. In Doggett's days there were plenty of watermen, but numbers have obviously declined so in 1988 it was decided to extend the entry qualification to allow three attempts at the race. Doggett's Coat and Badge is still a coveted prize amongst the water community of the River Thames.

More Information

For more information, contact The Clerk of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen.
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