On Wednesday 17th July, Marketors and their guests boarded the Hibernia at Henley to watch the annual Swan upping carried out on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen and the Vintners’ and Dyers’ Livery Companies.
The weather was glorious, hot and dry, with just enough cloud and a river breeze to make it comfortable. No sooner were we under way, cruising the course of the Henley Regatta, than a crown of spectators by a lock signified activity taking place. Soon, the rowing skiffs of Her Majesty the Queen and the Vintners’ and Dyers’ Companies came into view, all flying their appropriate flags and pennants. The Queen's Swan Warden and Swan Upper in particular stood out in their traditional scarlet uniforms. We then followed them as their rowed down the river looking for more swans.
The colourful ceremony of Swan Upping dates from medieval times, when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans at a time when swans were considered an important part of a banquet or feast. Then, in the 15th century, the Vintners and Dyers were allowed to share this right. Nowadays, the main purpose of Swan Upping is to count and mark the swans and monitor their health, rather than catch them to be eaten.
We were lucky enough to watch an entire process of Swan Upping: once a swan family was sighted, the skiffs converged to guide them towards the river bank; the two adult swans were then caught by two very brave (we thought!) swan uppers and held in their arms, while others caught their two cygnets. They were then all placed carefully in the bottom of a small motor launch, with the cygnets close up to their parents for reassurance, and transferred to a tent on shore, to be weighed and inspected to make sure they are healthy. They would then have been ringed with individual identity tags before being released back onto the river. We saw them later glide away majestically in single file, one parent at the front and one bringing up the rear.
As the Swan Uppers retired to the famous Leander Club for their lunch, we also sat down to a delicious 3-course lunch on board, while cruising along the river and enjoying the beautiful views.
It was a relaxed and convivial day, with plenty of wine and chat. We were especially delighted to welcome several recently joined members as well as some new members who will be admitted to the Company at the forthcoming Mansion House event. We hope the day gave them a good insight into the fellowship that Marketors enjoy.