Doggett’s 2021: In the Wake of John Opey

Lucas Britton, the new boy taking part in the 2021 Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race on 8 September. He will be against the three who failed to beat James Berry in the race for the 2020 Coat and Badge: George Gilbert, Max Carter-Miller and Coran Cherry. Britton is pictured at Watermen’s Hall under the gaze of the man who won the first Doggett’s race in 1715, John Opey.

26 August 2021

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch witnesses the luck of the draw.

On 24 August, I attended a charming little ceremony at Watermen’s Hall to witness the draw for stations for the 2021 Doggett’s Coat and Badge. The 2021 contest will be the 307th annual race from London Bridge to Chelsea for up to six men or women who have recently finished their apprenticeship to be allowed to carry goods and people on the River Thames. The 2020 race was delayed because of the pandemic and was held on 25 June 2021.

The draw was held in the early afternoon, but this nighttime picture shows Watermen’s Hall at its best. Dating from 1780 and originally a ‘small but beautiful’ Georgian building by William Blackburn comprising a Court Room, Parlour and offices, in 1983 it was extended to adapt to modern requirements and included a more substantial dining and meeting facility, the Freemen’s Room. Picture: @CompanyWatermenLightermen.
This print shows the start of a Doggetts race held sometime between 1822 and 1824. The pre-1825 Old London Bridge and the pre-1827 Fishmongers’ Hall are shown. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
In 2013, the start of the 4.59 mile/7,400 metre course was less chaotic than those in the 1820s.
Assembled in the Court Room and watched by Company members and officials, friends and family, the four competitors (left to right, Cherry, Gilbert, Britton and Carter-Miller) are addressed by the current Master of the Watermen’s Company, Derek Mann, the 195th person to hold the office.
Race Umpire, Bobby Prentice, supervises the draw for stations. The result was, Coran Cherry: Station 1, red; Lucas Britton: Station: 2, white; Max Carter-Miller: Station 3, light blue; George Gilbert: Station 4, black. Station 1 is on the North bank and station 4 on the South.
The Clerk of the Fishmongers’ Company, Toby Williamson, goes through some of the formalities of the contest. For historical reasons, the Fishmongers ran the race for most of its existence. However, three years ago the Watermen took over organising Doggett’s – though the Fishmongers still provide vital support.
The Rules of the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager.
Included was a little piece of ceremony that had been held over because of COVID. Previously, when Max Carter-Miller attained his “Freedom” after completing his apprenticeship, he could not carry out the custom of drinking beer from the communal “Bachelor’s Bowl” – but this was rectified at the draw.

The “Bachelor’s Bowl” (actually a large silver cup) originated because, historically, apprentices signed indentures agreeing that:

..…the said Apprentice his said Master faithfully shall serve……, his Secrets keep, his lawful Commandments every where gladly do; He shall do no damage to his said master nor see it done by others……. He shall not waste the goods of his Master, nor lend them unlawfully to any; He shall not commit Fornication nor contract Matrimony within the said Term; He shall not play at Cards, Dice, Tables, nor any unlawful games…. He shall not haunt Taverns nor Play-Houses, nor absent himself from his Master’s Service Day nor Night….

Thus, the drinking of beer from the Bachelor’s Bowl was the first alcohol that the newly made Waterman should have tasted (presumably they made their own arrangements for their introduction to fornication and the rest).

Britton, Carter-Miller, Gilbert and Cherry pose with the Master, Derek Mann.
A close-up for a better view of the splendid Master’s Chair.
The boys and the Master in front of the Company’s arms.
The winner of Doggett’s on 8 September will receive a tailor-made scarlet costume modelled on the dress of an 18th-century waterman – complete with a large and elaborate arm badge of solid silver. This shows Terry Enever, winner in 2008, pictured in his prize outfit in 2013.
Louis Pettipher, the 2015 winner pictured in 2016, gives a rare full sight of the breeches that accompany the more famous Coat.

A well-made 2019 documentary on the race is on YouTube.

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