The race for Doggett’s Coat and Badge is the longest continuing annual sporting event in the world. It traces its origin back to 1715 when Thomas Doggett – an actor from Dublin – funded the prize in honour of the House of Hanover in commemoration of the succession of King George I to the throne on 1 August 1714. Since 1721 the Fishmongers’ Company has organised the race, faithfully complying with the requirements of Doggett’s will, and each year presenting the winner of the race with his new Coat and Badge.
The race is rowed by Thames watermen. Traditionally, a waterman is a river worker who transfers passengers across and along the Thames. Originally, newly-qualified watermen had only one attempt at the race, but since the 1980s Thames watermen have been allowed three attempts, which reflect their overall falling numbers.
The Doggett’s race is held each July on the Thames, originally between “The Swan” at London Bridge and “The Swan” pub in Chelsea – both pubs have gone and it is now between London Bridge and Cadogan Pier. Up to six watermen who have just finished their apprenticeship row under eleven bridges on the four mile seven furlong course. Currently contemporary single race sculls are used and the scullers take about thirty minutes to race the course.
In recent years (thanks particularly to the hard work of Arnold Stevenson), the Society has welcomed the competitors to the Borough of Chelsea as they land at Cadogan Pier following the finish of the race. Members of the Society have been able to watch the finish of the race and the celebrations that have followed. As usual the Chelsea Society’s involvement was organised immaculately by Paulette Craxford.
This year the race was held on 12 July 2013. It was particularly special because HRH The Princess Royal was the guest of the Fishmongers’ Company and came ashore at Cadogan Pier. She was greeted by the Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Councillor Charles Williams, who escorted her to the entrance of Cadogan Pier where she presented the bottles of champagne to the six contestants. The current chairman of the Society and Mrs Greenish, together with the past chairman David Le Lay and also Arnold Stevenson, had the honour of being presented to Her Royal Highness.
We were delighted to have four In Pensioners from the Royal Hospital, Chelsea led by Marjorie Cole Ex-SSGT WRAC, who mounted a Guard of Honour for our Royal Guest. Seeing the Chelsea Pensioners in their famous scarlet uniforms alongside the Doggett’s men in their scarlet livery was a wonderful sight.