British laws that seem absurd but actually exist in the UK


British laws that seem absurd but actually exist in the UK

Britain is quite an old country, and has gone through a lot in the past several hundred years. It’s fascinating to look back on history and the way things used to be, and to see how much has changed as the centuries went by.

Of course, we have all come a long way since Britain was a young country, and the way that people are expected to behave has changed too. Ideas of right and wrong have developed over time, and this is reflected in the way the country’s leaders are selected and the laws and legislation that governs the people.

There used to be some pretty odd laws in Britain, and over the years, judges and politicians have had to go through and revoke the ones that don’t seem so just anymore. However, this process takes a long time, so there are still some laws and rules left over from the years gone by that don’t seem to make much sense. Some of them are outdated, some of them are hard to understand, and some of them are just plain strange.

Here are some of the weirdest British laws. It’s hard to believe many of them still exist!

No ringing and running

Many children play the harmless yet annoying game in which they knock on someone’s door or ring the doorbell and then run away. However, this is actually a crime in Britain, according to the Town Police Clauses Act of 1847.

No ringing and running

This law, which is still on the books, makes it illegal to intentionally disturb people by”pulling or ringing any door bell, or knocking at any door”. The punishment for this? Up to 14 days behind bars!

Handling salmon in suspicious circumstances is prohibited

This might sound like one of the older laws, but in fact, it’s part of the Salmon Act of 1986. Yes, that’s a real thing. The wording is fairly unclear, but the idea behind the act is to regulate salmon fisheries and prevent salmon poaching.

Handling salmon in suspicious circumstances is prohibited

The wording of the law, “Handling salmon in suspicious circumstances” was actually intended to clarify the act, and protect people who unwillingly find themselves in possession of salmon that was illegally acquired. However, it ended up sounding even more bizarre, and people like to imagine what exactly these suspicious circumstances might look like. Many people joke about walking down the streets of London wearing dark clothing, hiding salmon in a trench coat.

No carrying a plank across pavement

London is a busy, crowded city, and walking down the sidewalk avoiding all of the other pedestrians trying to get through their daily business is hard enough as it is. That’s why Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act prohibits carrying a plank on pavement in London.

No carrying a plank across pavement

The law doesn’t cover just planks either – you are also forbidden from carrying poles, laddars, tubs, hoops, wheels, and placards while walking down the street. The only time you are allowed to carry such items on pavement is if you are unloading them from your vehicle. So if you’re planning any DIY projects in London, make sure you have another way to get your supplies to your house!

Whales, dolphins, and sturgeons belong to the Queen

Queen Elizabeth owns more dolphins, whales, sturgeons, and porpoises than anyone else in the world. Thanks to a statute that was passed in 1324, these animals are classified as “fishes royal” if they wash up on the shores of the UK or are caught within three miles of land.

Whales, dolphins, and sturgeons belong to the Queen

It may seem like a strange rule, but it is actually still valid today, hundreds of years later. Apparently, when a sturgeon is caught near the UK, it is sold and the buyer “requests the honor” of Queen Elizabeth accepting it. We knew that she was an animal lover, but the fact she has the right to whales, dolphins, and sturgeons is really quite odd.

Taxis must carry a bail of hay

Okay, this law doesn’t exist anymore but it’s definitely still worth mentioning. According to the 1831 London Hackney Carriage Act, horse drawn taxi drivers weren’t allowed to feed their horses except for out of bags of corn or by giving them hay from their hands.

Taxis must carry a bail of hay

It’s certainly a pretty specific requirement. Many people also claim that these taxi drivers also had to carry at least one bale of hay in their carriages, but it’s unclear if that was actually a law or just an urban myth. Either way, this particular law was repealed in 1976, so taxi drivers are now definitely free to drive around London without any hay in their cars.

Don’t dress up like a sailor or soldier

If you’re invited to a costume party, make sure you don’t dress up as a sailor or a soldier. That’s because the Seamen’s and Soldiers’ False Characters Act 1906 makes it illegal for someone to pretend to be in the military when they are not, in fact, in the armed forces.

Don’t dress up like a sailor or soldier

The offense is punishable with a month-long prison sentence. It sounds like an antiquated rule, but in 2009, a man was actually arrested for wearing a bearskin hat and a red tunic in London.

Polish potatoes aren’t allowed

This very specific law makes it illegal to bring potatoes from Poland into England. The Polish Potatoes Order of 2004 was introduced due to ring rot epidemics in Poland. The British government wanted to try to protect the English potato crop after a poor harvest, so they introduced this rule.

Polish potatoes aren’t allowed

However, if you really want to bring in some Polish potatoes, you can get an exception by writing to an inspector with a whole lot of details at least two days before you plan to cross the border.

Armor is forbidden in Parliament

Perhaps knights in shining armor used to play a large role in how things worked in Britain, but not anymore. In fact, just showing up to the Houses of Parliament is strictly forbidden. x

Armor is forbidden in Parliament

However, if you really want to bring in some Polish potatoes, you can get an exception by writing to an inspector with a whole lot of details at least two days before you plan to cross the border.

Don’t act up in a library

Britain takes their libraries pretty seriously; so seriously, in fact, that they made a law to keep them under control. The UK Libraries Offenses Act of 1898 made it a crime for people to behave “in a disorderly manner” in a library, and it can result in legal punishment.

Don’t act up in a library

This means that avid readers have to watch their use of elicit language. In addition, since gambling is classified as “disorderly conduct,” nobody is permitted to have their poker games in the stacks of books.

Keep your paws to yourself

Just like the Queen, the Royal corgis have always been placed above the commoners, and were even allowed free reign in the Palace. As such, it’s apparently illegal to let a regular pet mate with one of the Queen’s Royal dogs.

Keep your paws to yourself

Queen Elizabeth is notorious for her love of Corgis, and owned more than 30 of them throughout her life. The Queen’s last living Corgi sadly passed away in 2016, but she still has Dorgis, a cross between a Corgi and Dachshund.

No eating chocolate on public transportation

Don’t worry chocoholics, this law is no longer in effect. It is said that it was once illegal for women to eat chocolate on public transportation.

No eating chocolate on public transportation

We’re not sure why such a law would exist in the first place, let alone only apply to women, but it doesn’t seem very fair to us. Good thing they struck this one down, because it’s one of the worst rules we’ve heard. It would also be pretty hard to enforce.

Don’t put the Queen Elizabeth stamp upside down

There is a lot of debate surrounding this strange rule, and some people claim that it is actually just a myth. However, it seems to be a matter of interpretation of the language in the act in question.

Don’t put the Queen Elizabeth stamp upside down

The 1848 Treason Felony Act makes it a crime to “deprive or depose” the Queen of the United Kingdom. Some people interpret that to mean that putting a stamp with a likeness of the Queen on your letter upside down could be seen as an act of treason.

Don’t eat the swans

It’s not just whales, dolphins, and sturgeons that belong to the Queen of England – unmarked mute swans in open water are also considered to be under her jurisdiction, and have been since the 12th century.

Don’t eat the swans

In reality, this law only applies to swans on the River Thames and its tributaries, and she shares her right with a few other companies. Still, if you kill or plan to eat one of those mute swans, you could be subjected to legal punishment.

No lingering at a funeral

A funeral is a sad and solemn event, and we would completely understand if a family member or friend of the deceased individual might want to linger for a little while once the ceremony has come to an end.

No lingering at a funeral

However, if the funeral happens to take place in England, we have one piece of advice to those wishing to hang around for a while: don’t. One man was fined when he stayed at his wife’s funeral for an extra 20 minutes after it ended.

Hanging laundry across the street is prohibited

A lot of these odd laws are intended to keep things orderly in the streets of the city, but they take things a bit too far. The Town Police Clauses Act of 1847 makes hanging your laundry on a clothes line across the street can be punishable by a fine of up to £1,000, or about $1,270.

Hanging laundry across the street is prohibited

That’s a pretty steep price to pay for trying to dry your laundry, and some people are calling to have this one repealed as soon as possible.

No cutting in line

In some countries, not cutting in line is just good etiquette, but in England, it’s a law. Well, it’s a law when lining up to ride the Tube, or the London Underground.

No cutting in line

According to the TfL Railway Byelaws, a person is required to join the line at the back, and not jump in front of anyone who is already waiting. They also must follow all instructions given to them by the authorities, as long as they are reasonable.

No mince pies on Christmas day

No one is going to be fined or sent to prison for eating a mince pie on Christmas Day, but this legend is based in fact. Many people, including at least one historian, claim that it is illegal to eat these treats on Christmas ever since Oliver Cromwell banned them in the 1650s.

No mince pies on Christmas day

He was trying to cut back on gluttony in England, so he prohibited people from eating mince pies and several other treats on Christmas in 1657. Needless to say, in didn’t go over so well.

The Queen can drive without a driver’s license

It’s standard practice that people need a driver’s license in order to operate a vehicle, but there is one British citizen who is an exception to this rule – The Queen.

The Queen can drive without a driver’s license

Queen Elizabeth is permitted to drive around as she wishes, without a valid license. She has never had to go through the pains of taking a driving test, and she is also allowed to drive around without license plates. It’s a good thing she’s a notoriously good driver!

No beating or shaking carpets, mats, or rugs

This is another strange law that comes as part of the Metropolitan Police Act of 1854. A particular section in this act makes it illegal to beat carpets, mats, and rugs in the streets of London.

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So if you want to clean your carpets and rugs, you better find another, less public way to get it done. There is one exception made for doormats, but those are only allowed to be beaten before 8:00 in the morning.

Don’t ask a stranger for change

It might seem perfectly normal to ask a stranger for some parking money or some extra coins for public transportation, but according to the Vagrancy Act of 1824, that is classified as begging.

Don’t ask a stranger for change

So if you forget to bring enough change for the parking meter, don’t start asking around for it or you could be “deemed an idle and disorderly person”. The punishment for such an offense is to be sent to a “house of correction” for up to a month.

No cows on the roadway

Not many people try to drive cows down the streets of London in this day and age, and it’s a good thing too, because it’s strictly prohibited. According to the good old Metropolitan Streets Act of 1867, you are not allowed to drive cattle in the roads between 10am and 7pm.

No cows on the roadway

However, you can get around this rule if you get the permission of the Commissioner of Police beforehand. We’ll keep this in mind next time we’re trying to get our cows around the city.

Taxis can’t carry rabid dogs

Even though that law about carrying bales of hay is not actually on the books today, there is another interesting rule that taxi drivers must abide by. It is illegal for taxis in London to carry rabid dogs or corpses.

Taxis can’t carry rabid dogs

We’re not quite sure why a cabbie would want to transport either of those things in their vehicle, but on the off chance that someone tries to hop in with their very ill pet or on their way to a funeral, the driver must politely refuse.

Don’t go fly a kite

Yet another thing that you’re not allowed to do in London is fly a kite if there is any chance that it could cause annoyance. If your kite is found to bother the city’s inhabitants or transportation passengers, it could cost you a fine of £500 or about $635.

Don’t go fly a kite

It’s a pretty big risk to take, so you might want to keep your kite flying to the countryside, where there are plenty of open spaces and fields that are a much better bet.

No operating a horse under the influence

In most cities, everyone is aware that operating a vehicle under the influence is illegal and also dangerous, but England takes this rule a step further.

No operating a horse under the influence

The 1972 Licensing Act makes it a crime to drive a carriage, horse, steam engine, or even a cow while under the influence of adult beverages. Not many people are still riding around the streets on horseback, but the law makes sense in theory, because we would imagine that such behavior would be quite unsafe.