Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Doggett’s Coat and Badge

Immediately before Blackfriars Bridge is a four-storey London Pub with an unusual name; “Doggett’s Coat and Badge”. Where have I seen that before on this walk? It was in Henley Rowing Museum.

Thomas Doggett was an actor and theatre manager. He was manager of both Drury Lane Theatre and Haymarket Theatre. In 1715 he fell overboard while crossing the river in a ferry near Embankment and was rescued by a young Waterman. In gratitude he organised a race for six young watermen who had recently completed their apprenticeships. Doggett was also a local Whig politician, and arranged the race for August 1st 1715 to celebrate the anniversary of the accession of George I. The prize was a red coat with a large silver badge depicting the Hanoverian Horse and the word “Liberty”.

The race was between “The Swan” at London Bridge and “The Swan” at Chelsea, a distance of just over four and a half miles. The event has been held every year since and is the oldest annually held sporting event in the world. Not wanting to make it easy the race would be against the ebbing tide. The old-style heavy wherries that were used in those days required great effort to move against such tides, and the contest could last up to four hours in poor conditions.

When Doggett died in 1721 he left in his will money to buy the coat and badge for future years, and decreed that the event should be held on the 1st August forever. The money in the will was handed over to The Fishmongers Company to carry out his instructions. These days the rowers use modern skulls and the date has changed to July, but otherwise the contest continues as Thomas Doggett intended all those years ago.

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