Monday, June 23, 2014

Rolling down the River!

The River Thames has an interesting story. Named in Middle English "Temese", the word comes from the Celtic meaning "dark", "darkness", "dark grey". The longest river in England, it is 215 miles long, beginning in Glocestershire about 40 miles north and west of London, and flows through the Thames Valley, on through London in a west to east direction,  and eventually leading out the Thames Estuary. At this point, large ships make their way from the ocean and Channel between France and England all the way to London.
The Thames provided the major route from City of London (the original walled roman encampment) to Westminster during the 16th and 17th Centuries. At that time, the exclusive guild of watermen ferried Londoners back and forth to landings along the way. In 1715, Thomas Doggett was so grateful to the watermen for assisting him after a fall into the river, that he offered a rowing wager, a race between London Bridge and Cadogan Pier in Chelsea. Doggett was a famous Irish stage actor, well known by the ferry men for carting him up and down the river to various theatres, like taxi drivers of today, and to his home in Chelsea. 
The race he founded, still raced to this day, is called the Doggett's Coat and Badge, the oldest rowing race in the world. Up to six watermen compete for the honor, in a 4 miles / 5 furlong race passing under eleven bridges en route. The winning prize is the traditional watermen's orange coat with a silver badge added to the sleeve, which displays the white horse of the House of Hanover and Brunswich, along with the word "Liberty". The race always takes place at the beginning of August.
When Doggett died, in 1721, he left specific instructions for the race to continue until 1730, but by 1769 the Fishmonger's Company established further rules to ensure a fair competition. And so, the holding of the race continued to this day!

By the way, by the 18th century, the Thames was one of the world's busiest water highways, with London becoming a huge mercantile center, the biggest of the British Empire. All the traffic on the river began creating a problem for navigation upstream. Locks were created to help solve the problem. And another problem was the freezing of the river, especially at low tide, which was improved by 1825 with bridges like the famed London Bridge, spanning the river with fewer piers, allowing the river to flow more freely during the Winter months.

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