Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thomas Doggett Coat and Badge Race

Doggett Coat and Badge Race is the oldest exciting rowing race in the world. The Irish actor and comedian Thomas Doggett instituted the race in 1714 in honour of the accession of George I to the English throne. According to Doggett it was to be an annually race on 1 August that was going to go on ‘for ever’. The first race was in 1715 between London Bridge and Chelsea for six watermen, who were in their ‘first year of freedom’, meaning the first year out of their apprenticeship. Not only were the winner given a cash prize, he would also be given ‘an Orange Livery with a Badge representing Liberty’. The badge shows a ‘Wild Horse (of Hanover)’.

Little is know about Thomas Doggett before he came to London around 1690, but he was an actor at Drury Lane where he later became manager. He was also active in politics as a Whig, and during this time he frequently appeared in The Spectator and The Tatler. After his death in 1721, the Fishmongers' Company has been organizing the race with some modifications.

The famous artist and caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson ((1756–1827) has depicted the race and the watermen a couple of times, and many versifier have tried their hands on illustrating the race:

Let your oars like lightning flog it,
Up the Thames as swiftly jog it,
An you’d win the Prize of Doggett
The glory of the River!
Bending, bowing, straining, rowing,
Perhaps the wind in fury blowing
Or the Tide against you flowing
The Coat and Badge for ever!

In 1908, the well-known rowing authorities Theodore Andrea Cook and Guy Nickalls published Thomas Doggett Deceased – A Famous Comedian, which not only tells the story about Doggett, but also gives a good insight in the London theatre world during the late 1600s and the beginning of 1700s.

Today, the Fishmongers' Company is still organizing the race, although the race is now held varies days in July.

Click here to watch a couple of minutes of the Doggett’s race in 1960, showing some of the members of the famous family of watermen, the Phelps.


  1. Did you know there is a free download of the book "Thomas Doggett Deceased – A Famous Comedian" available at ?

  2. Hélène - no, I did not know that this book was available at nor that some other old, rare, and out-of-print rowing books were available there, too. I did know that Cook's and Nickalls's book would be at least $75.00 (and up), if one would find an original copy at a bookseller. There are cheaper copies around, but these are newly printed copies, probably 'stolen' from internet sites as, etc.