Doggett Coat and Badge Race is the oldest exciting rowing race in the world. The Irish actor and comedian Thomas Doggett instituted the race in 1714 in honour of the accession of George I to the English throne. According to Doggett it was to be an annually race on 1 August that was going to go on ‘for ever’. The first race was in 1715 between London Bridge and Chelsea for six watermen, who were in their ‘first year of freedom’, meaning the first year out of their apprenticeship. Not only were the winner given a cash prize, he would also be given ‘an Orange Livery with a Badge representing Liberty’. The badge shows a ‘Wild Horse (of Hanover)’.
Little is know about Thomas Doggett before he came to London around 1690, but he was an actor at Drury Lane where he later became manager. He was also active in politics as a Whig, and during this time he frequently appeared in The Spectator and The Tatler. After his death in 1721, the Fishmongers’ Company has been organizing the race with some modifications.
Let your oars like lightning flog it,
Up the Thames as swiftly jog it,
An you’d win the Prize of Doggett
The glory of the River!
Bending, bowing, straining, rowing,
Perhaps the wind in fury blowing
Or the Tide against you flowing
The Coat and Badge for ever!
In 1908, the well-known rowing authorities Theodore Andrea Cook and Guy Nickalls published Thomas Doggett Deceased – A Famous Comedian, which not only tells the story about Doggett, but also gives a good insight in the London theatre world during the late 1600s and the beginning of 1700s.
Today, the Fishmongers’ Company is still organizing the race, although the race is now held varies days in July.
Click here to watch a couple of minutes of the Doggett’s race in 1960, showing some of the members of the famous family of watermen, the Phelps.