Doggett's Coat & Badge

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Painting of Thomas Doggett by an unknown artist circa 1700

Begun in 1715, The Race for Doggett’s Coat and Badge involves up to six apprentice watermen of the Thames. The young competitors row between London Bridge and Cadogan Pier in Chelsea over a distance of four miles.

Thomas Doggett, born in Ireland, came to London in around 1690 to make his career as an actor and comedian, eventually becoming manager of the Drury Lane Theatre. One stormy night in 1715, Doggett was rowed home by a newly licensed young waterman. The skills of the rower impressed Doggett to such an extent that he used the experience to set the rules for his now legendary race.

Doggett decided that the prize for winning his race would be a red coat featuring a large silver badge on the arm. The prize remains much the same today. Doggett limited the race to young watermen in the first year of freedom from their apprenticeship. This meant that the men known as ‘wagermen’, who specialised in rowing for prize money, could not take part. Fresh new blood would always ensure that Doggett’s race was an exciting challenge. Winning the prestigious Coat and Badge requires great strength and determination, and those who succeed still maintain a privileged status as Thames watermen.

After Doggett’s death in 1722, the Fishmongers Livery Company took over the responsibility of the race, and they have ensured that it has been raced annually ever since. The coat is still being tailored in the style worn by the watermen of the early 18th century, and the silver badge remains the same design and dimensions as that designed by Doggett himself.

Let your oars like lightening flog it
Up the Thames as swiftly jog it
And you’d win the prize of Doggett
The Glory of the river

Anonymous Waterman

Click on the images to enlarge

Special thanks to Bob Crouch.