The Women of Doggett's

Lucy Pocock & Women's Racing

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Lucy Pocock © River & Rowing Museum, Henley on Thames

Rowing on the river has traditionally been a male-dominated pastime, but women have played an important role both as competitors and active members of established rowing families. Although not well documented, women played significant roles in their family’s trade, and men’s and women’s lives and work on the river would overlap.

Lucy Pocock was born in 1887 in Kingston-upon-Thames into a family of established watermen and boat builders. Growing up around boats, Lucy started rowing from a young age and began winning competitive races around age 18. In 1906, Lucy won the Mixed Double Sculls at Henley Town and Visitors’ Regatta. Her brother Dick had competed and won Doggett’s race in 1910.

Then in 1912, the Daily Mirror Sculling Championship of the Thames was held. A rowing race between female family members of previous Doggett’s winners, the race was a revival of an event held in 1833 and proved extremely popular. Over 25,000 people lined the banks of the Thames to watch Lucy beat her 32 rivals and be named champion.

Lucy used her prize money to relocate to Seattle with her father and brothers. She worked as a cook for the men’s rowing team at University of Washington where her brothers also worked. Lucy then became a rowing and swimming coach for the University. She continued to row for pleasure.

Lucy represents a community of women who have remained largely unrecognised by history. Although women’s rowing is now more visible, there is still no women’s race equivalent to Doggett’s. To date only two women have competed in Doggett’s Race for Coat and Badge.

The Women of Doggett's

In 1992, a 287-year tradition in the world of Thames rowing was broken. Claire Hayes, a 24-year-old bank clerk from London, became the first woman to compete in the Race for Doggett’s Coat and Badge. Rowing alongside four men, Claire finished a very respectable third and changed rowing history books forever.

Claire was born into a family of watermen. Her father, John Hayes, transported cargo to barges on the Thames and offered Claire an apprenticeship. When she completed her training, Claire worked on river barges for five years before moving to a career in finance. Having rowed from a young age, Claire was determined to compete in Doggett’s in tribute to her grandmother, also a keen rower, who was not allowed to participate in the race during her lifetime.

Claire’s participation in the race didn’t lead to a surge of women competitors, however. Kate Saunders is the only other woman to race in Doggett’s, taking part three times in 1998, 1999 and 2000.

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Claire Hayes was the first woman to compete in Doggett's Coat and Badge in 1992. Courtesy of Claire Hayes

HD_180711_0004-Hydar-Dewachi.jpg#asset:3013Claire Hayes © Hydar Dewachi

Kate’s family also have a long tradition of working on the Thames, and she is a fourth-generation Freeman of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen. Her father Len held the prestigious ceremonial post of Queen’s Waterman, and her brother Leonard competed alongside Kate in the Doggett’s races of 1998 and 1999. She finished third in her final race in 2000.

Some might regard trying to compete with men on a level playing field as foolhardy, but Kate viewed Doggett’s as a race where anything can happen. Elated and never disappointed at not winning, Kate says it really was about being part of something completely unique.

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Kate Saunders has to date been the only other woman to row for Doggett's Coat and Badge. She first competed in 1998. Courtesy of Kate Saunders

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Kate Saunders © Hydar Dewachi

Special thanks to Lisa Taylor