Tim Koch writes:
With temperatures dropping in the UK, any reminders of warmer days are very welcome. Memories of this summer’s Doggett’s Coat and Badge were revived on 11 November when the 301st winner, Louis Pettipher, first appeared in public wearing his prize, the tailor made scarlet costume and all important silver badge. This was at the grand dinner in the magnificent Fishmongers’ Hall, an event held every year to receive the latest member of this exclusive club. Film of the 2012 dinner runs from 7 minutes and 30 seconds on this video. The 1971 winner, Ken Dwan, calls the occasion ‘a prize in its own right’.
Interestingly, and perhaps strangely to outsiders, the dinner is only for the members of the Fishmongers’ Company and their guests, so the Doggett’s men dine separately in another part of the building. At the end of the meal they process into the Banqueting Hall to the sounds of a fanfare and their newest number is presented to the Prime Warden (the head of the governing body of the Fishmongers’ Company). The Fishmongers’ Clerk (the CEO) then describes the race in Homeric style and the Prime Warden congratulates the winner and drinks his health in the winner’s cup. The young waterman is then is escorted out to the strains of the Trumpet Voluntary.
Two excellent pictures of Pettipher in his new Coat and Badge have appeared on Twitter, one is reproduced at the top of this piece and the other appears below. I would like to name the photographer, but he or she has not been credited.
The historical origins of the Doggett’s prize are that the coat is descended from a servant’s livery and the silver badge is an ornate version of the waterman’s licence badge. In the past such things were not unusual rewards for winning a tradesman’s sculling race. As one example, for many years London Rowing Club ran a race for watermen apprentices, and offered their own coat and badge, one of which can be viewed here. It is popularly supposed that Doggett’s is the last test of speed and watermanship to offer a coat and badge – but, strictly speaking, this is not true. As the picture below shows, there have been three ‘one off’ races in recent times in which the Waterman’s Company has given splendid suits of archaic clothing to the victors.
The above picture shows, from left to right, Mark Hunter in the Millennium Coat and Badge (one each were given to the pair who won the double sculls event held to mark the year 2000), Scott Neicho in the Waterman’s Bargemaster’s uniform, Jeremy Randall (the Master of the Company), Alfie Anderson in the coat and badge from the 2015 Waterman’s 500th Anniversary race, Harry McCarthy winner of the 2014 Doggett’s, and Chris Anness in the 2012 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee race prize costume. The other coat and badge that could have been included is that of the Fishmongers’ Bargemaster.
To spite these welcome modern ‘one offs’, the awarding of coats and badges for all but Doggett’s died out in the 1920s. Two of the last non-Waterman’s Company examples that were won are pictured below.
A prize of a pewter tankard or a medal of base metal is just not the same as knee britches and a frock coat. Many years ago, an unknown waterman wrote this piece of doggerel:
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!
I was the pride of the Thames,
My name was Natty Jerry.
The best of smart and flashy dames,
I’ve carried in my Wherry.
In Coat and Badge so neat and spruce,
I rowed all blithe and merry,
And every Waterman did use
To call me Happy Jerry.