In the third week of July each year the Thames in Surrey witnesses the ancient ceremony of Swan Upping. Three skiffs take part; one crewed by men appointed by the monarch, one by the Dyers’ Company and one by the Vintners Company - these last two being Livery Companies of the City of London. The skiffs head slowly upstream over the course of several days, each crew seeking to capture swans as they go. The Dyers mark their swans with a single leg ring, the Vintners mark theirs with a ring on each leg and the royal swans are left unringed. In former times the birds were marked by having their bills nicked with a sharp knife, but such a practice is deemed unnecessary these days. The ceremony has been going on since the 15th century, before that time all swans on the Thames were deemed to belong to the monarch. Swans on other rivers generally belonged to the landowner through whose land the river flowed, though it was possible to rent out the right to take swans - or other waterfowl or fish - from the landowner. In 2009 Queen Elizabeth attended the Swan Upping for the first time - prompting a vigorous search of the records which revealed that no monarch had attended the ceremony for over 350 years.
From "The Little Book of Surrey" by Rupert Matthews.
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