A Hidden History of The Thames on Show

A picture of the three members of the McCarthy family who have won Doggett’s. It is on display outside the Tate Modern in an exhibition telling the story of the race and of the people, past and present, who work and play on London’s River Thames.

29 August 2018

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch crosses to London’s South Bank.

In yesterday’s preview of the 304th Doggett’s Coat and Badge, I noted that the 2018 race is coming under the umbrella of the annual Totally Thames Festival, which runs between 1 and 30 September. The Festival organisers tell us:

As part of Totally Thames 2018, the traditions and stories of the (Doggett’s Coat and Badge) will be explored through a series of outdoor exhibitions. Using recorded oral histories, photographic portraits, and 100 years of archive material made publicly accessible for the first time, ‘The World’s Oldest Boat Race’ exhibition brings to life this hidden history at the heart of London.

The exhibition can be viewed at three locations in London during September, and the first of these, outside the Tate Modern art gallery, already has ‘The World’s Oldest Boat Race’ in place.

‘The World’s Oldest Boat Race’ exhibition (marked ‘x’) outside the Tate Modern art gallery (a former power station) on London’s South Bank, sited between the Millennium Footbridge (left) and Blackfriars Bridge (right).

The three locations for the exhibition are/will be:

Riverside Walkway, Queens Walk, London SE1 (by Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge), Saturday, 18 August- Sunday, 30 September.

Guildhall Yard, Gresham St, London EC2, Saturday, 8 – Monday, 24 September.

Aboard the catamaran, Tornado Clipper, Tuesday, 28 – Saturday, 30 September.

The exhibition consists of 32 panels, together covering 15 aspects of Doggett’s and of the Thames. This is the side facing the Tate Modern.

Using text with archive and specially commissioned images, the topics that the panels cover are: The Women of Doggett’s; Lucy Pocock and Women’s Rowing; London’s Rowing Clubs; Gentlemen Amateurs vs Tradesmen and Professionals; Wagers and Betting; Watermen and Lightermen; Rowing on the River Thames; The Doggett’s Coat and Badge; Doggett’s Families and Traditions; The Dwan Family; Waterman’s Hall and the McCarthy Family; The Spencer Family and Rowing’s Changing Demographic; Life After Doggett’s; The Future of the Doggett’s Race; Watermen of the Thames Today.

The side facing the river, looking towards Blackfriars Bridge.
The side facing the river, looking towards the Millennium Footbridge.

In recent times, the word ’curate’ used as a verb has become very popular, usually applied by the young to any activity that involves selecting a few things and putting them together in the same place. However, those who have produced The World’s Oldest Boat Race exhibition each deserve the title ‘curator’ as used in its traditional, more distinguished sense. I think that the exhibition will be of interest both to passing members of the public (which must be the top priority given the nature of the display) and to those with a more specific interest in the subject matter – even HTBS Types. Credit must go to curators Jen Kavanagh and Eva Tausig, designer Helen Ralli and photographer Hydar Dewachi. I have to declare an interest here, I was consulted about much of the text and I produced the ‘uncurated’ versions of ‘Gentlemen Amateurs vs Tradesmen and Professionals’ and ‘Wagers and Betting’.

The pictures below are a ‘taster’ of the exhibition. When it is over, I will publish more detailed images of the panels for the benefit of those who cannot get to see them in person.

The Women of Doggett’s tells the story of Claire Hayes and Kate Saunders, the only two women that have competed for the Coat and Badge.
Doggett’s winners Sean Collins and Jude McGrane – plus a view of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Footbridge, both forming a backdrop to the South Bank exhibition.
Me with the two boards that I produced the original text for.
Some examples of the wonderful photographs taken for the exhibition by Hydar Dewachi. These show the Dwan and McCarthy families.
Dick Phelps looks out over the Doggett’s course where he raced in 1923. The original painting is by James Dring.
Credits – and a portrait of Frankie Walker, Doggett’s winner in 1964.

The project was made possible by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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