Unknown to the majority of people in UK’s capitol, let alone the outside world, London is the host to the oldest rowing race in the world. Started in 1715, the Doggetts Coat and Badge race is as historic as it is ceromonial.

Each year up to six Apprentice Waterman of the River Thames compete for a rather plush Red Waterman’s Coat and a silver badge.

As part of an ongoing project to document the life around the River Thames, the Port of London Authority asked me to photograph the preparations and start of the race at London Bridge.

The start occurs adjacent to Fishmongers Hall on the north side of London Bridge which is where the competitors prepare their sculls (the small one person rowing boats).

It was quite popular this year with a photographer from the New York Times and Channel 4 film crews around to film the event. I can only imagine what it will be like when the race hist 300 years old in a couple of years time.

I worked in Black & White to capture the event as a small story.  It’s hard to capture the 298 years of history when essentially you are dealing with a modern scull race, so I opted to record the moment for what it was rather than what it stood for.

The day was fairly cloudy and the light was pretty flat, which suited monochrome. Occasionally we got a blip of sunlight, but also quite a few rain showers, but the build up was calm and light -hearted.

Passers by on the river must have wondered what was going on though as Fishmongers Hall, the home to the Fishmongers Company, one of London’s 12 great Livery Companies, put on a bit of a show and delighted the public with free fish and chips and London Youth Rowing held their own static Thames race on rowing machines. It was a great spectacle that even attracted the Lord Major of London (Not Boris, but the other fella who can trace his job back to Dick Whittington and beyond).

The race started pretty quickly and in a couple of blinks of an eye the competitors were gone. It takes a mere 20 minutes to row the four mile course from London Bridge to Cadogan Pier in Chelsea, but it would have taken me a lot longer by road, so I didn’t get to the finish. However the race was won by the brilliantly named Merlin Dwan.

Advertisements