When Thomas Doggett instituted his eponymous race in celebration of the accession of King George I, he stated that it was to be held ‘on the first day of August forever’. More than 300 years later, the exact date has proved to be something of a movable feast but the ‘forever’ part has been held true to the founder’s wishes – even if a little manipulation has been required. The race was run annually from 1715 until the First World War intervened. There were no races 1915 – 1919 but, in 1920, six races were run over two days for those who had finished their apprenticeships in the missing years.
Predictably, 2020 will see the first peacetime postponement of Doggett’s. Originally scheduled for 3 September 2020, the pandemic and consequent restrictions have meant that the competitors cannot train sufficiently. The proposed date for the 2020 Doggett’s is now 16 March 2021, with a second race held on 8 September 2021 for that year’s contest. The Watermen’s Company says that ‘Apprentices will be invited to enter the appropriate race or may qualify to compete in both’.
The Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames was founded in 1514 when the earliest Act of Parliament for regulating watermen, wherrymen and bargemen was passed. The Company is governed by a Court of Assistants, led by the Master and four Wardens, who are elected annually by the Court.
The Company installed its 194th Master on 8 July 2020 at Watermen’s Hall, an occasion that made two pieces of history. For the first time the ceremony was held partly with the Master and some Wardens physically present and observing social distancing but with the rest of the Court watching on Zoom. Further, the new Master is Gina Blair, the first woman to be elected to the post in the Company’s 506 years.
Here are a few more interesting Watermen related items that I have recently gathered from the Internet.
Finally, eBay currently holds a Doggett’s mystery. There is for sale a competent oil on canvas painting by James Dring (who painted the Dick Phelps picture above) of what is described as a ‘portrait of a man in uniform’ but which is clearly of a Doggett’s winner.
As Dring died in 1985, I suspect that the painting is post-1945 and the background looks like it is ‘upriver’ on the non-tidal Thames. Does anyone know who the sitter could be?