Doggett's Coat And Badge: See The Annual Thames River Race

By M@ Last edited 9 months ago
Doggett's Coat And Badge: See The Annual Thames River Race
A badge and coat winner in his boat flanked by two coats

Did you know that the world's oldest river race takes place in London?

We've all heard of the University Boat Races, but there's an even more historic race along the Thames. Each year, up to six apprentice watermen take to the river in sculling boats and race the 7.3km from London Bridge to Cadogan Pier in Chelsea.

The event, called Doggett's Coat and Badge, was first contested in 1715. It's taken place every year since, including during both world wars and the Covid pandemic.

This year's event takes place on 19 July 2023, setting off from London Bridge at 11.30am.

In the river thames, a rower approaches a pier
The winner of the 2015 anniversary race approaches Cadogan Pier to receive the coat and badge

The race is named after Thomas Doggett, a Drury Lane actor who relied heavily on watermen to get from his Chelsea home to the West End. Doggett initiated the race in 1715 and organised it each year until his death in 1721.

Entrants were traditionally working watermen (like cab drivers, but in boats). Still today, the competitors are drawn from the ranks of apprentices at the Company of Watermen and Lightermen. In 1992, the first woman to compete, Claire Burran, came third.

Race winners receive the same prize that was offered in 1715, a red coat with silver arm-badge depicting the horse of Hanover (George I of the House of Hanover had recently become king when the first race was contested.)

A bright red coat with silver badge in twickenham museum
A coat and badge on show at Twickenham Museum

For such an historic event, the race keeps a fairly low profile and has nowhere near the fame of the Oxford and Cambridge race. That makes it much easier to watch the action unfold, as crowds are non-existent. Even at the 300th anniversary event in 2015, we were able to easily find space on Albert Bridge to watch the finish.

The race is perhaps most famous for its namesake pub. The Doggett's Coat and Badge stands prominently beside Blackfriars Bridge. Its upper floors are an excellent place to watch the action row by.

A silver badge with a horse on it
One of the oldest Doggett's badges still in existence, at Watermens' Hall

Doggett's Coat and Badge, London Bridge to Cadogan Pier, 19 July 2023, from 11.30am. All images by Matt Brown

Last Updated 19 July 2023