In the wake of a potentially new age of Press regulation and media practice the changing times of the everyday are fast and furious. So it is comforting to be able to look to The Crown and its ever so reliable hands of time that tick tock in military precision to the same beat today as they have in centuries past. I’ve been looking forward to today for some time since I have always tried to witness one of the country’s oldest events and responsibilities; when historical necessity meets contemporary curiosity and the British Monarchy celebrates natural conservation. I am of course talking about Swan Upping, the annual census of the swan population on the River Thames that dates from the twelfth-century when The Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans in the land to provide a food source for court banquets and feasts.
The Queen's Swan Marker, David Barber
While the Royal chefs no longer require swan on a golden plate, the duty of the Sovereign to ensure the swan population is maintained continues through the division of The Queen’s Swan Marker and Swan Uppers. Every year during the third week of July a fleet of six traditional Thames rowing skiffs embark on a five-day journey on the Thames River and row upstream from Sunbury to Abingdon in order to count young cygnets and monitor injury or disease.
Early this morning in the Royal County of Berkshire at the foothills of Windsor Castle, Eton marked the second leg of the ceremony where The Queen’s Swan Marker and Swan Uppers – in their traditional scarlet and blue uniforms respectively - begin their journey to Marlow in the flotilla adorned with Royal flags and pennants.
Swan Uppers of the Vintners' and Dyers' Livery Companies
While the sun was lacking at Eton Bridge, the splendour of the ceremony led by The Queen’s Swan Marker, David Barber, was a glorious and intimate affair witnessed by locals and a press party to a cygnet and its Mother being measured and weighed. Beautiful and necessary for swan welfare across the River Thames, Swan Upping is as intricate in skill as its style and is a wonderful example in contemporary culture of pageantry with purpose.
For further information about the role of The Queen’s Swan Marker and next year’s annual census visit The British Monarchy or download an official Swan Upping brochure here.