The Ancient Ceremony of Swan Upping

For the last nine centuries, during the third week in July, the ancient ceremony of Swan Upping has taken place on the River Thames.


The Flotilla approaches Marlow

Queen Elizabeth II as Sovereign is the official Seigneur of the Swans, which means she is the owner of all unmarked swans on Britain’s open waters.  However this right is now only exercised on the River Thames.


The Queen’s Swan Marker David Barber MVO approaches Marlow

There are now only three other owners of swans in the United Kingdom apart from the Sovereign, the Ilchester Family who own the swan colony at Abbotsbury, Dorset and two City Livery Companies, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers.

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Cllr.Suzanne Brown, former Mayor of Marlow, catches a lift in a Dyers skiff

The Vintners and the Dyers provide crews of Swan Uppers to join the crew representing the Queen under the command of the Queen’s Swan Marker –  David Barber MVO, who has held the appointment since 1993.


The Queens Swan Marker enjoying a well earned pint at the Two Brewers

This year the ceremony commenced at 9am on Monday 18th July at Sunbury Lock and ended at around 5pm  on 20th July at Abingdon Bridge, a distance on the river of around 80 miles. Traditional skiffs are used  each containing a helmsman and a number of oarsman.


The Flotilla in Hurley Lock

The crews are distinguishable by their uniforms. The Queen’s Swan Uppers ware red shirts with the royal crest embroidered on the front, The Vintners where navy blue shirts and the Dyers where white shirts. All have white trousers and white sailing shoes.


The Skiff Crews work together to Corral the Swans

These days the Swan Uppers only check families of swans with cygnets.  These are rounded up  and corralled by the boat crews and once captured taken on shore to be health checked and ringed.  Once this is done they are released back on the river.


Captured Swans are taken on to the River Bank for a  Medical Check and Ringing

On Tuesday evening at around 5.30pm the flotilla moored for the night at Marlow Bridge where the crews enjoyed a well earned glass of ale at the Two Brewers, the pub where Jerome K. Jerome wrote part of his famous book “Three Men in a Boat”.  This evening is always very popular with the people of Marlow and attended by the Mayor of Marlow and Town Councillors.


Family of Swans released back into the River

If you would like to see more images of Marlow, the River Thames or River Wildlife please visit


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