Doggett's Families & Traditions

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The Phelps family have ten Doggett’s wins between them to date and have been celebrated in the media for their achievements. © Fishmongers’ Company

Thames watermen are often from families who say they have the river running through their blood. The tradition of training as an apprentice and then competing for Doggett’s Coat and Badge is passed down through generations. Families such as the Phelps, with ten wins, are famous for their long and successful relationship with the race.

Chris Livett, a seventh-generation waterman, describes its importance:

“I believe that it’s your duty, if you’re to be a waterman, to row in Doggett’s Coat and Badge. So long as you can row then you should participate. A lot of people have rowed Doggett’s under that premise, not necessarily enjoying rowing, not necessarily wanting to be part of that rowing scene, but just wanting to keep the culture and the heritage in place.”

Each year the winner of the race, wearing their new red coat and badge, is presented to the Prime Warden of the Fishmongers’ Company, who hold a celebratory Presentation Dinner at Fishmonger’s Hall in honour of this ancient tradition. Living victors line the staircase to receive the winner and trumpets play a fanfare ‘Hail the Conquering Hero’. Prize money is also awarded to the rowing clubs of those taking part.

Doggett’s is a hugely important event to everyone who participates. Historically, when rowers were only eligible to enter once, stakes were incredibly high. Intense family rivalries led to stories of sabotage and fighting between favoured competitors desperate to win the title. Losers of the race have gone so far as to say that the defeat has ruined their lives, showing how treasured the title is.