Test of rowing skills
Informal racing between watermen has always been a river tradition. Success in races helped to build a reputation for superior rowing skills, which would lead to more passengers for the waterman.
|The Contest for Doggett’s coat & badge. © NMM|
Thomas Doggett, an Irish comic actor, regularly used water transport to get to the London theatres where he was working. In 1715 he proposed a rowing race or wager between newly qualified watermen. The racers were known as the wagermen. This first race celebrated the anniversary of the accession of George I and it was rowed over a course of 'four miles and five furlongs' (7.5 kilometres) from London Bridge to Chelsea.
|Twenty winners of Doggett’s Coat and Badge. © NMM|
Doggett's annual race
Doggett left money in his will for the Company of Fishmongers to organize the race annually. Doggett’s Coat and Badge still remains an annual Thames event every July. The race is claimed to be the oldest annual sporting event in continuous existence in the world.
|Doggett's coat and badge, 1920. © NMM|
Part of the prize is traditionally a red waterman’s coat based on 18th-century watermen’s costume. The silver arm badge still shows the white horse of Hanover and is engraved with the date and name of the winner.
A national sport
The early Doggett’s races were the first beginnings of competitive rowing, which has now become a national sport. Today, we celebrate annual events such as the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race, first rowed in 1829, and the Henley Regatta, as well as honouring famous Olympic rowers.
|Waterman's uniform of Henry Hayes. © NMM|