FREDERICK THOMAS TURK RVO
1881 – 1965
For over 40 years, Frederick Turk was the Royal Swan Master, playing a key role in the annual ceremony of Swan Upping on the Thames at Maidenhead.
Since the first Royal Swan Master, Gerveys Thomas, marked the first swan on the Thames, the ceremony of Swan Upping has provided an exciting pageant on the river every summer. This is the process of rounding up the swans to put a mark on the beaks of the cygnets, a painless process, and check the marks of the older birds.
Originally called swan hopping, it was initiated in the 12thcentury when the mute swans on the Thames were given royal status. The charm and eccentricity of the custom attracts tourists from all over the world, as well as local people. It is enacted over five days in the third week of July. The flotilla consists of six ornately decorated skiffs, each flying a standard – two for the Queen, two for the Dyers and two for the Vintners.
The boatmen wear traditional scarlet uniforms and, as they pass Windsor Castle, their loyal toast echoes across the river – “Her Majesty, the Queen, Seigneur of the Swans”.
The Turk family has been recorded as boatbuilders on the Thames as far back as 1195, and Cookham artist Stanley Spencer immortalised them in his paintings, including ‘Swan Upping at Cookham’, ‘View from Cookham Bridge’, ‘The Boat Builder’ and ‘Turks Boatyard, Cookham’. Frederick Thomas Turk was appointed as the Royal Swan Master in 1922.
Prior to this, he was a barge master to the Worshipful Company of Dyers, and in 1911 established Turk & Sons boatyard in Cookham. He served in the Royal Engineers (Inland Waterways) in World War 1.
When Frederick retired in 1963, the honour of serving Queen Elizabeth II as the Royal Swan Master was granted to his son, John Turk RVO MBE, who carried on the tradition for thirty years.
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