12 Amazing Facts About the Swan Upping

getty images
getty images

Did you know the Queen of England owns all the unclaimed mute swans in all of Britain? Well, she does, and she makes sure to count them every year in the third week of July. It’s called the Swan Upping, and it's just as amazing as you might think.

1. IT STARTED BECAUSE SWANS WERE FOOD.

The ceremony likely began in the 12th century, when the Crown claimed all unclaimed mute swans. At that time, the birds were considered a delicacy reserved for the banquets and feasts of the wealthy; today, the birds aren't on the plate, but the ceremony continues.

2. NOT ALL SWANS ARE OWNED BY THE CROWN.

In the 15th century, the Crown split ownership of the birds with the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the Worshipful Company of Dyers (both livery companies). To differentiate, Vintners Uppers wear white and black, and the Dyers Uppers wear dark blue during the census. The Queen's Swan Uppers wear traditional scarlet uniforms.

3. THE CEREMONY LASTS FIVE DAYS.

Six rowing skiffs—two each for the Crown, the Dyers, and the Vintners—start at Sunbury and head upstream to Abingdon in a 79-mile, 5-day journey. Each boat flies a flag or pennant that indicates which group of Swan Uppers is on board.

4. SWAN UPPERS ONLY CARE ABOUT THE MUTE SWANS.

Mute swans are the birds with white feathers and an orange bill, bordered with black (as juveniles, they have gray feathers). They are less vocal that other swans but are known to hiss at predators entering their territory. Good luck, Swan Uppers!

5. IT TAKES PLACE IN LATE JULY FOR A REASON.

According to the Vintners [PDF], that's when "the parent birds were in moult and the cygnets were too small to fly."

6. THE ORGANIZER OF THE SWAN UPPING IS CALLED THE QUEEN'S SWAN MARKER.

The role dates back to the 12th century ceremonies and was previously known as Master or Keeper. At that time, the person's main job was to find the best swans for eating. In 1993, the role was split into the Swan Warden and the Swan Marker. The Swan Warden is Christopher Perrins, an ornithologist at the University of Oxford, who monitors the health of the swans during the ceremony. The Swan Marker is responsible not just for organizing the event but also keeping tabs on swan welfare across the country, a role David Barber has been performing since 1993.

7. THE SWAN UPPERS HAVE A RALLYING CRY.

When they spot a brood of swans, the Uppers yell "All up!" It indicates they need to get into position and get ready to grab. The birds are then taken to the shore, where they're examined and marked. In the old days, the birds' beaks were nicked—one for a Dyers' bird, two for a Vintners' bird—but today, they snap bands around the birds' legs. The Crown's swans aren't marked at all. Swans that are injured are either treated on the riverbank or taken to facilities to recuperate.

8. THE QUEEN ISN'T THERE.

Only once in her 63-year reign—in 2009—has Queen Elizabeth II participated. But the Uppers find a way to honor her: According to USA Today, "Before the boats push off, the uppers pour themselves a glass of port and raise it toward the castle, in honor of the absent monarch." Still, because she's owner of all the swans, she gets a name befitting her station: Seigneur of the Swans.

9. ONLY ONE SWAN UPPING IN RECENT MEMORY HAS EVER BEEN CANCELED.

In 2012, the ceremony was canceled due to flooding for possibly the first time in 900 years.

10. NOT ALL OF THE THAMES' SWANS ARE PART OF THE UPPING.

The Swan Upping only occurs on select parts of the River Thames and in certain tributaries. Good thing, or the Swan Upping would last more than 5 days.

11. THIS OLD TRADITION SERVES A MODERN PURPOSE.

Since the royal family isn't dining on these birds anymore, the survey is more about analyzing the health of the swan population and the effects of their various predators.

The census has actually led to the discovery of environmental trends. After swan numbers decreased in the 1980s, lead fishing weights, which the swans were eating, were banned, and the population rebounded. This year, it appears that the serious threat against swans is cygnets being shot by air guns.

12. YOU CAN'T EAT THE SWANS NOW.

Unless you're the Queen, one of her guests, or a fellow of St. John's College Cambridge, eating a swan in Britain these days is a crime: Offenders must pay a serious fine or serve time in prison. Not only are mute swans a protected species—you're stealing from the Queen! Though the ban might be for the best: According to the Vintners, swan meat has "not lived up to its medieval reputation—the muscly legs and wings are very tough."

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

11 Masks That Will Keep You Safe and Stylish

Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods
Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods

Face masks are going to be the norm for the foreseeable future, and with that in mind, designers and manufacturers have answered the call by providing options that are tailored for different lifestyles and fashion tastes. Almost every mask below is on sale, so you can find one that fits your needs without overspending.

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The breathable, stretchy fabric in these 3D masks makes them a comfortable option for daily use.

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This cotton mask pack is washable and comfortable. Use the two as a matching set with your best friend or significant other, or keep the spare for laundry day.

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Don’t let masks get in the way of staying active. These double-layer cotton masks are breathable but still protect against those airborne particles.

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Prices subject to change.

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15 Facts About Babe On Its 25th Anniversary

James Cromwell in Babe (1995).
James Cromwell in Babe (1995).
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

It's hard to believe that it has been 25 years since a tiny pink piglet named Babe stole the heart of audiences around the world, and turned many of them into lifelong vegetarians (more on that later). What’s almost even harder to believe is that the heartwarming story of a pig who wants to be a sheepdog was partially ushered into existence by George Miller, the same man who brought us the Mad Max franchise. Here are 15 things you might not know about the little piggy that could.

1. James Cromwell thought the original idea for Babe was silly.

When actor James Cromwell first heard about Babe, which is based on Dick King-Smith's novel, “I thought it sounded silly,” he told Vegetarian Times. “I was mostly counting the lines to see how much of a role the farmer had.”

2. Farmer Hoggett has just 16 lines in Babe.

But by that point, Cromwell was already sold on the script, intrigued by what he called the “sophisticated yet pure-of-heart piglet.” And he clearly made the right call: The part earned Cromwell an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

3. It took 48 different pigs to play the role of Babe.

Because pigs grow quickly, the crew utilized four dozen Large White Yorkshire piglets throughout the course of filming, shooting six at a time over a three-week period. A total of 48 pigs were filmed, though only 46 of them made it to the screen.

4. Babe also featured one animatronic pig.

Animal trainer Karl Lewis Miller seemed almost embarrassed to admit that they did have one animatronic pig play Babe, too. This is the pig they used for wide shots—when there was at least 15 feet surrounding Babe all the way around, and no place for Miller to hide.

5. Babe is a girl.

While this is never explicitly stated in the movie, because a male pig’s private parts would have been visible on film, all of the pigs used for filming were females.

6. In all, there were 970 animals on the set of Babe.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Karl Lewis Miller—who had 59 people assisting him—said that, all told, there were 970 animals used for the film, though only 500 of them actually made it into the movie. This included pigs and dogs, of course, plus cats, cows, horses, ducks, goats, mice, pigeons, and sheep, too. Baa-ram-ewe indeed!

7. Babe is also Dexter from Dexter's Laboratory.

In addition to voicing Babe, voice actor Christine Cavanaugh—who passed away in December 2014—lent her vocal chords to more than 75 projects over the years, including the title role in Dexter’s Laboratory, Chuckie Finster on Rugrats, and Gosalyn Mallard on Darkwing Duck.

8. Babe was banned in Malaysia.

Not wanting to upset its Muslim community, to whom pigs are haram, Malaysia banned the family flick from screening in its theaters. But its proscription didn’t stick; the film was released on VHS about a year later.

9. Pork product sales dropped in 1995.

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In December 1995, just four months after Babe hit theaters, Vegetarian Times ran a story about the problems facing the pork industry. Among the factors contributing to the industry’s slump, according to writer Amy O’Connor, was “the motion picture Babe, featuring an adorable porcine protagonist and a strong vegetarian message.” She went on to note that, “This year, the U.S. Department Agriculture showed stagnant demand for pork, while retail sales of canned meats such as Spam hit a five-year low.”

10. Sales of pet pigs increased following the release of Babe.

In The Apocalyptic Animal of Late Capitalism, author Laura Elaine Hudson is unable to substantiate claims that pork sales dropped a full 25 percent in the U.S. following the release of Babe, as some sources claimed, but she did find that sales of pet pigs increased—as did, eventually, the number of abandoned pigs.

11. Babe turned many viewers into vegetarians.

Babe’s popularity—and its main character’s adorableness—led to many fans of the movie (particularly young viewers) adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. The practice became so widespread that it was dubbed “The Babe Effect,” and fans of the film who went meatless became known as “Babe vegetarians.”

12. James Cromwell is a "Babe vegan."

Among those individuals whose eating habits were altered by Babe was the movie’s human star. Though he had been a vegetarian decades before, Cromwell “decided that to be able to speak about this [movie] with conviction, I needed to become a vegetarian again.”

13. Mrs. Hoggett was aged up for Babe.

Magda Szubanski stars in Babe (1995).Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Magda Szubanski, who plays the farmer’s wife Esme, was only 34 years old at the time of the film’s release. She logged lots of time in the makeup chair in order to pass as the wife of her then-55-year-old co-star.

14. Jerry Goldsmith was hired to score Babe, but was replaced.

Jerry Goldsmith wrote a good deal of the music for Babe, but he and George Miller’s ideas for what it should sound like did not mesh. So Goldsmith was replaced by Nigel Westlake.

15. Babe earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

Among Babe's seven Academy Award nominations (yes, seven) was a nod for Best Picture, which pit the pig film against an impressive lineup that included Sense and Sensibility, Il Postino, Apollo 13, and Braveheart (which took home the award). The film did win one Oscar: it beat out Apollo 13 for Best Visual Effects.

This story has been updated for 2020.