Esoteric London

No. 360: Tower Millennium Pier, EC3

Posted in The Thames and its Tributaries, Theatrical London, Transport by esotericlondon on July 15, 2011

Tower Millennium Pier, Three Quays, London, EC3. Photo © Roger Dean 2010

Thomas Doggett, an Irish actor and comedian, came to London around 1690. Whilst appearing at the Theatre in Drury Lane, he used the services of the Thames Waterman, (the aquatic equivalent of today’s cabbies), to commute between his home in Chelsea and Covent Garden. He came to much admire these boatman and in 1715 held a race for six of them, who were in their first year of their Freedom of The Thames, in order to commemorate the first anniversary of the accession of King George I to the throne. The race started at London Bridge and finished at Chelsea, a distance of four miles and seven furlongs rowed against the tide, although in 1873 they changed to rowing with the tide. He provided a bright red coat and a silver badge for the winner. The race became a yearly event: Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race.

After his death in 1721, he left £300 in his will towards the continuance of the race as a permanent fixture; his executor was reluctant to comply with Doggett’s request, but the event was rescued by the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, who continue to organise the race to this day .

During WW2 the race was suspended but in 1947 nine races were held to allow those that had missed out to compete for the year they would have qualified for had normal circumstances prevailed. This resulted in an unbroken list of winners since 1715 making the race, it is believed, the oldest continuous sporting event in the world. R.D.

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