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generations of unpretentious, solid working men, are very happy to be seen in public wearing a costume that was first out of date over two hundred years ago.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…
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.
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?
*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.