Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race
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The 2020 Doggett’s Coat & Badge Wager, a historic sculling race on the Thames for recently qualified watermen, first contested in 1715, has been delayed by COVID-19.
The event organiser, the Company of Watermen and Lightermen, is planning two races next year instead, on 16 March and 7 September.
Only the second world war has previously led to the postponement of the annual challenge, from London Bridge to Cadogan Pier, Chelsea, which is thought to be the oldest continuing sporting contest in the world. It’s a gruelling test of the participants’ knowledge of the river and sporting prowess.
The seven furlong (7,400 metre) race was founded by Thomas Doggett, an Irish actor, in tribute to the skill and bravery of newly-licensed watermen, the London cabbies of their time, who rowed him home along the course route late one night in bad weather, when he would have otherwise been left stranded in the City.
The race was held on 1 August 1715 to commemorate the first anniversary of the accession of King George I to the British throne.
When he died in 1721, Doggett left instructions in his will that the race should continue each 1st August “for ever.”
Nine races were held in 1947, for those who missed their chance to row during the war years. This means that the list of winners has remained unbroken since 1715.
Now a regular of the annual Totally Thames festival, the race has been rowed with the tide since 1873.
The race record of 22 minutes and 23 seconds was set in 1973 by Bobby Prentice, who is now race umpire.
The 2019 race, won by Chiswick Tideway sculler Patrick Keech, from Hextable, near Dartford, after a close fight to the finish with James Berry of Thames Clippers, who is training hard for the re-arranged March 2021 contest.