This film is part of Free

Swan Upping Starts

A ceremonial swan census takes place on the river Thames.

Non-Fiction 1930 1 mins Silent


The solemn ceremony of a River Thames swan census is captured in this 1930 newsreel. The striped jumpers denote the Worshipful Companies of Vintners or Dyers who, alongside the Crown, claim ownership of Britain's swan population. Taking to their skiffs, the 'uppers' set about their business, surrounding, capturing and marking a feathered family - although one plucky swan almost gets away!

The staunchly patriotic Topical Budget newsreel was invariably protective of British institutions and traditions. The film's intertitle (with its references to 'Father Thames', the 'feathered family' and 'ancient custom') clearly reinforces this message, as does the history of swan upping. Dating to the 12th century, when swans were highly prized for their meat, the custom was decreed to deter poaching and symbolically highlight the power of the Crown. The uppers here appear to use the traditional method of nicking the beak with a knife. This rather brutal approach, by modern standards at least, has since been replaced by identity tagging.