Badges of Honour

This picture from November 2014 shows most of the current ‘Coats and Badges’*. Apart from the Doggett’s, they are all ‘one offs’ given by the Watermen’s Company to mark a particular event. Absentees are the Bargemasters of the Fishmongers and the Vintners, also the Queen’s Bargemaster and a representative of the Queen’s Watermen. The Dyers are the other ancient trade guild to have a bargemaster, but they do not, I think, have a traditional coat and badge.

7 September 2017

Tim Koch notes that Doggett’s was not – and is not – the only race with a ‘Coat and Badge’ prize.

If I may plagiarise myself, in my report on the 2012 Doggett’s Coat and Badge, I wrote:

The strangest events and customs are given credibility simply by the fact that they have gone on for a long time… Doggett’s winners are not usually the sort of blokes who wear knee breeches and white stockings… but, possibly because there has been two hundred and ninety-eight Doggett’s Coat and Badge Races, today’s past winners, all unpretentious, solid working men descended from generations of unpretentious, solid working men, are very happy to be seen in public wearing a costume that was first out of date over two hundred years ago. Even the fact that it is bright scarlet and carries a silver arm badge the size of a dinner plate does not deter them…

Not every watermen’s livery is earned as a prize. The outfits worn by the existing bargemasters, and also by the Queen’s Watermen,are more uniforms of office. Here, Bob Prentice, who won Doggett’s in 1973, sports the livery of the Fishmongers’ Company Bargemaster (who is, ex officio, the Doggett’s race umpire).
The Queen’s Watermen. The Royal Bargemaster is in the middle wearing white stockings. Picture: Malcolm Knight.

The prize of a ‘coat and badge’ was once a common one in boat races for watermen (no race for ‘gentlemen amateurs’ ever offered such a token of victory). The origins of the coat are presumably from the livery worn by the men who were retained by the wealthy and aristocratic to row their personal barges in the days when traveling by water was safer, quicker, and more comfortable than journeys on what passed for roads. In a time when most people possessed only one or perhaps two suits of clothing (possibly inherited), the prize of a new, well-made, colourful outfit was a fabulous thing. The arm badge must have started as the simple base metal licence (‘brassard’) used to show that the bearer was an apprentice served and free waterman or lighterman, allowed to carry people or goods on the river. From this prosaic beginning, the badge developed into a piece of art, fashioned from silver or some other precious metal. In effect, it was a wearable trophy. Coats and Badges were often presented and paid for by ‘gentlemen’ but, apart from Doggett’s, all races offering such an expensive prize had died out by the late 1930s.

A licence badge or ‘brassard’ of base metal worn by Henry Scarlett of Edward Street, Limehouse, East London, who became a Free Waterman in 1824, after being apprenticed to Thomas Platt since 1814. Picture: National Maritime Museum, London (Creative Commons Licence).

While coats made of wool are fairly ephemeral, fortunately the precious badges tend to survive better. Here is a random selection of these wonderful objects, culled from various sources. How many more have been lost?

A prize for Deptford Regatta, 1830. It would be interesting to know what the significance of the figure of Justice is. Picture: National Maritime Museum, London (Creative Commons Licence).
This silver-gilt arm badge was won at Greenwich Regatta by AE Gobbett in 1934, so is a late example. Picture: National Maritime Museum, London (Creative Commons Licence).
Badge won by RF Cornish at Deptford Apprentices Regatta in 1862. Picture: National Maritime Museum, London (Creative Commons Licence).
In 1902, a coat and badge was given at the Eastern Thames Regatta to mark the Coronation of Edward VII. It was won by M. J. Mears of Catford (b. 1875), who worked on the Thames for 61 years as a waterman and lighterman. Picture: National Maritime Museum, London (Creative Commons Licence).
Another coat and badge given to commemorate a Royal event, this the coming of age of Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred, in 1865. It was won by William Taylor. Picture: National Maritime Museum, London (Creative Commons Licence).
A badge in the possession of Auriol Kensington Rowing Club, won in 1880 at the Watermen and Lightermen Apprentices Annual Regatta.
A ‘Watermans Apprentices Coat and Badge’ from the Richmond Royal Regatta of 1921, won by J Cole, also held by Auriol Kensington RC.
This badge was won by John Henry Bushnell (father of 1948 Olympic Gold Medalist, Bert) on the 16 September 1903 Richmond Waterman’s Regatta. It was presented to the regatta by ‘R Franckliss of Putney’. Picture: River and Rowing Museum.
Another of John Bushnell’s wins, the Kingston silver badge from the 1905 Borough of Kingston Regatta, presented by Thomas Skewes-Cox MP. Picture: River and Rowing Museum.
The Borough of Hammersmith Regatta Watermans Apprentices Badge, presented by the Borough Council and won by John Leslie Phelps in 1924.
John Phelps’s Hammersmith prize. He also won a Doggett’s and a Kingston coat and badge.
The London Rowing Club Coat, Badge and Freedom, won by Charles R (‘Wag’) Harding  in 1885. Although London RC was strictly for gentlemen amateurs, it was perfectly acceptable for them to offer a prize for a professionals’ race. Picture: River and Rowing Museum.
The London RC Coat and Badge won by Ernest Barry in 1912. The Hammersmith coat seems to be exactly the same. Picture: Thames Pilot.
Two badges on display at London’s Guildhall. The one on the left is engraved ‘Tradesmens Regatta The Watermans Apprentices of Greenwich’. It was won in 1881 by Chris S. Cobb. On the right is the more familiar Doggett’s badge, this one won by Thomas Taylor in 1878. There are slight variations in the design of Doggett’s badges over the years.
At first sight, this would appear to be another Doggett’s badge with the White Horse of Hanover and the legend ‘Liberty’. However, it is marked ‘The Gravesend and Milton Apprentices Regatta Sept 2nd 1873. Won by E Pattison’. Presumably, it was cheaper to buy a ready-made badge and have it engraved, perhaps leaving more money for refreshments for the Race Committee. Picture: River and Rowing Museum.

*From left to right they are: 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 (then Master of the Company), Alfie Anderson in the Watermen’s 500th Anniversary race livery, Harry McCarthy winner of the 2014 Doggett’s, and Chris Anness in the 2012 Queen’s Diamond Jubilee race prize coat and badge. Picture: Susan Fenwick.

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