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The Doggett’s Wager

The Race, which is for single sculls and covers a course of 4 miles 7 furlongs, is said to be the oldest continuous sporting event in the country, if not the world. Yet, it remains relatively unknown today.

The founder of the race, Thomas Doggett, was an Irish comedian who came to London around 1690 where he rose to become Manager of the Drury Lane and Haymarket theatres. Doggett was also a committed Whig and when George I came to the throne following the death of Queen Ann in 1714, he had the brilliant idea of founding the race that now bears his name.

The first mention of the race appears in the books of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the river Thames: ‘On the first day of August 1715, Thomas Doggett, Comedian, a great Whig in Politics, lately joint manager of Drury Lane theatre with Wilks and Cibber, gave a coat and badge to be rowed for by six watermen in the first year of their freedom. It was rowed for on this day, being the first anniversary of the Accession of King George I.’

Doggett himself organised and managed the race each year until his death in 1721. In his will he instructed his executors to endow the race and to hand over the funds in trust to Mr Burt of the Admiralty Office who was to manage the race after his death. However, Mr Burt was not very willing to accept the Trust and in November 1721 entered into a Deed, which effectively passed the Trusteeship of the race to the Fishmongers’ Company. In 1722 the Fishmongers’ Company organised the race for the first time and has faithfully complied with Doggett’s Will ever since.

Throughout its 290 year history the race has remained relatively unchanged. The course, which was originally from the Swan Inn at London Bridge to the Swan Inn at Chelsea, is still the same, although neither of these houses now exists. Up until 1873, competitors rowed against the tide using four-seater passenger wherries, today the race is rowed with the tide and the passenger wherries have been replaced by modern sculling boats. It takes between 25 to 30 minutes to complete the course.

In 1947 nine races were held to allow those Watermen who had missed out during the Second World War years to row for their year. This ensured an unbroken record of winners since the race first started in 1715. The Doggett’s Coat and Badge is still a coveted prize amongst the water community of the river Thames and each year the winner is presented to the Prime Warden of the Fishmongers’ Company at a colourful and triumphant ceremony that dates back many years.

The 297th Race, held on 15th July 2011, was won by Christopher Anness.

For more information please see www.DoggettsRace.org.uk.

Danielarnold2010a

Daniel Arnold, the 2010 winner, and other past winners at Fishmongers’ Hall