Saturday, 28 March 2009

Doggett's Coat and Badge; the light blues and the dark blues ..

Old contests .. this is to remind us to watch - it's on Sunday this year is it? oh! ok we will definitely have a look .. are you a dark blue or a light blue? We have both in the family .. so we can always win!!

We have such idiosyncratic customs and names here in England and it's great just occasionally to bring them to the forefront - so dear Readers I hope that you enjoy these tales....

Doggett's Coat and Badge - what a lovely name for what is believed to be the oldest rowing race in the world, and also is believed to be the oldest sporting contest in continued existence. I found this out when I lived in Notting Hill from a Guide to the street names where reference is made to Swan Walk, SW3. In the 1600s Chelsea was a fashionable resort with the Swan Tavern hostelry nearby in Swan Walk. It's mentioned in Pepys' Diary and was the finishing post for this race.

Doggett was an Irish actor and comedian who became joint owner of Drury Lane Theatre, and he relied heavily on the Watermen to ferry (taxi) him up and down the Thames to his various appointments and to his Chelsea home. In 1715 he was rescued from drowning by one of the Watermen and established a 4 mile 5 furlongs race between the Swan pub at London Bridge to the Swan Tavern in Chelsea. Six of the youngest Watermen in their first year of freedom competed for the prize; and when Doggett died in 1721 he left instructions that the race be continued each year .. and so it has since 1715!

The blues - refer to sporting awards for Cambridge (light blue) or Oxford (dark blue) University students representing their university at the highest level in each sport, which must include a Varsity match. The first one ever held in June 1827 was a cricket match ..

.. with the tradition of the Boat Race starting two years later in 1829 when two friends challenged each other to a rowing race - the first being held at Henley-on-Thames .. where the Royal Henley Regatta takes place .. before transferring to London. The race for heavyweight eights and a cox has become an annual event held in Spring and is timed to start on the incoming flood tide, so the crews are rowing upstream in the fastest possible current.

The race can be very quick, ie 16 mins 41 secs or take decidedly longer 20 mins 52 secs - but it all depends on the weather conditions .. tomorrow's race (29 March 2009) starts at 15.40 GMT [7.30 am PST!]). If the wind blows from the west the waters can become very rough (against the incoming tide) and the conditions can be amazingly difficult .. so much so that if it was an international race it would be called off - not this race! Occasionally sinkings do occur - very infra dig for elite sportsmen (to be found on youtube, if you wish to look) ! The blustery wintery weather tomorrow could make the race quite exciting ..

It is a little shorter in length than Doggett's - being 4 miles 374 yards long .. whether that takes into account the oxbow like 'S' bends or not - I am completely unsure .. but I expect Pi would have been used in that calculation .. see my post.

Interest in The Boat Race has always been huge .. with crowds lining the banks of the Thames, people hanging out of windows, standing on roof terraces, an international audience listening or watching on tv. There are a couple of interesting film snippets .... the race on 30 March 1895 became one of the world's first motion pictures; while the BBC first showed the race in 1938!!

Mr Postman - once again .. you've brought us some really interesting snippets and we will definitely watch The Boat Race tomorrow - who are you supporting ..? Ah Oxford like us .. I do enjoy this annual race - it is so British and reminds us of our customs and tradtions .. so many here that I see aren't mentioned in this post .. perhaps you'll be able to bring us some of these heraldic traditions in due course .... you will - oh excellent! Thank you once again for bringing our positive letter ....
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Peter Baca said...


Super post today! It recalled my memory about watching the race on ABC The Wide World of Sports some years back! The race is such a classic rivalry between two great academic universities!

You bring such rich English history to your blog! Much of the world history here in the U.S. is filtered with American views.

Many Regards

Pete Baca
The Car Entusiast Online

Unknown said...

Hello Hilary,

It is interesting to learn background of these world famous universities colors which we have known for facts for years. Thank you for your information. Please keep updating England histories.

Thank you again,
Shaw Funami
Fill the Missing Link

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Shaw .. thanks for your interest .. it's wonderful to know that a Japanese American has an interest in our traditions and customs.

Thank you for visiting and enjoying the post.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Thank you Pete for such an enthusiastic post .. I love our traditions and customs and have always liked the annual Boat Race.

I'm really interested to see that you've actually watched the race! It's always interesting to learn of others' rich tapestries of history ..

Thanks for your post and I look forward to many more informed comments from you .. it's great

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters