The Dwan Family

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Nicholas, Ken, Catharine, Robert, Isla & Riva Dwan © Hydar Dewachi

The Dwan family of Rotherhithe, London, have worked on the Thames for over 500 years. From mooring ships to working on passenger boats, tugs and barges, there isn’t much river industry that the family haven’t been involved with.

Ken Dwan was born in 1948 and started rowing as a child. At age 15 Ken became an apprentice lighterman under his grandfather William, enabling him to compete in races with fellow professionals. By age 20, Ken was competing in high profile events such as the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta. Later that year he travelled to Mexico City to compete in the summer Olympics, making it to the final.

Even though Ken competed at Olympic level, it’s Doggett’s that remains the defining race of his career. From a young age, going out on the river and learning the trade, his grandfather would talk to him about the significance of winning the race.

“My grandfather did like a drink every now and then. And they always used to say when he got half-drunk down at the Tilbury, he used to strip off to his vest and pants, turn a bench upside down, be given two broom handles… and he would row his Doggett’s Coat and Badge race!”

The Dwan family have the most living Doggett’s winners. Both Ken’s sons competed in Doggett’s, with Nicholas winning in 2002 and Robert in 2004. His brother, John, won in 1977, as did John’s son, Merlin, in 2012.

Ken is currently training his granddaughter to be the first female Doggett’s winner. When asked when she will be ready to compete, Ken replies, “well she’s only three, but we’re training her early!”