Thomas Doggett was an Irish actor who came to London in about 1690. After success on the stage at Drury Lane Theatre he went on to become the manager. He then became the manager of the Haymarket Theatre.
The Watermen of the Thames used to row Doggett back and forth from his place of work to Chelsea, where he lived. Watermen were licensed to row people across and along the river between the various steps and stairs, which were a vital part of London’s transport system at that time.
Thomas Doggett was impressed with these men and gave money for a race to take place each year, in which six Watermen in the first year of their Freedom of the River Thames, compete for a scarlet coat and silver badge. The race starts at London Bridge and ends in Chelsea, close to Cadogan Pier and near to where the Swan hotel once stood.