It’s hard to believe that there are still laws in the United Kingdom that date back to medieval times, but it’s true!
In this blog post, we take a look at some of the strangest and most archaic laws still in effect in the UK legal system today. From a law that prohibits the act of gambling in any British public library to one in which killing a swan is an act of treason, these laws will make you scratch your head!
So buckle up and get ready for a weird ride as we explore some of the strange UK laws that are still in effect today. As most are incredibly outdated, you will not find any that require technology lawyers or a corporate lawyers, thankfully. But read on to find out about all the weird UK Laws still in existence.
1. It’s illegal to carry planks of wood along a pavement unless there is the intention of it being unloaded from a vehicle
The Metropolitan Police Act says, “A plank of wood must not be carried along a pavement. It can only be moved if it is being unloaded from a vehicle or taken into a building.”
This law dates back to medieval times when carts were often overloaded and the wood would fall off, posing a danger to pedestrians.
2. Flying a Kite in a public place is technically illegal
In what might be considered a normal activity in the Summer, such as flying a kite in a public place, it may come as a big surprise that this is actually illegal.
This law was brought in to prevent there being common nuisances and danger to local passengers, as mentioned by the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, section 54.
3. You Cannot gamble in a library
Gambling is illegal in any library in the United Kingdom, as it is considered a public place.
The library offences act was put into place as gambling can be a very disruptive activity and it would be difficult for people to concentrate on their studies or reading if there was gambling going on around them.
4. Taxis can’t transport rabid dogs and drivers have an obligation to ask passengers if they have smallpox or the plagues
It’s an absolute no-brainer that rabid dogs or corpses cannot be transported because of health and safety regulations!
The Public Health Act 1936 declares that taxi drivers have an obligation to ask their passengers if they have the plague or smallpox too.
5. It is rumoured that placing a postage stamp bearing the monarch’s head upside down is treason
At number 5 in our list of the UK’s weird laws, Under the Treason Felony Act of 1848, it is an offence to “place any mark upon His Majesty’s coin or currency with intent to deface the same”.
There were rumours that if you placed a stamp upside down, that would be treason because of the perception of dishonouring the monarchy’s image.
However, this myth has been proven not to be true and even via Royal Mail, it is still acceptable to place stamps upside down on letters
6. It is illegal to be found drunk in a pub or on licensed premises in England and Wales.
Section 12 of The Licensing Act of 1872 declares this to be an offence: “Every person found drunk on any highway or other public place, whether a building or not or any licensed premises.”
The act was amended in the Licensing (Amendment) Act 1988 to extend this prohibition to all public places, including pubs, clubs, and even private homes if alcohol is being sold there.
7. You cannot walk cows down the street in daylight in England
According to the Metropolitan Streets Act of 1867, which arises from the Metropolitan Police District, it is illegal to drive any cattle through the streets during the specific hours of 10 am until 7 pm, unless somebody had specific permission from the Police Commissioner.
This law prohibits “any person driving or conducting cattle in contravention of this section shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding ten shillings for each head of cattle so driven or conducted”.
8. Members of Parliament Cannot Wear Any Armour Inside Parliament Quarters
A Statute forbidding Bearing of Armour (1313) Act is still in effect today and makes it illegal in UK law to wear a full suit of armour in the Houses of Parliament.
Edward II put into place the statute to stop the violence that had broken out between the two factions of parliament, the pro-royalist Lancastrians and the anti-royalist Earl of Gloucester’s party.
9. Shaking your rug in the street
You might have a rug or carpet that you need to clean and get rid of some dirt or dust, while you might think that a quick shake down rug will be harmless, it is actually breaking the law.
Section 60 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 says that is illegal for anybody to beat or shake any carpets, rugs or mats, except for doormats prior to 8 am.
10. Whales or sturgeons need to be offered to the reigning monarch when they become beached
This law dates back to 1322 when Edward II decreed that the “head and spermaceti of a whale” should be given to the king, while the rest of the carcass belonged to the finder.
A similar law exists in Iceland where any whale that washes ashore must be reported to the local sheriff, who then decides whether to give it to the King or Queen.
11. Knock knock ginger
This is a frustrating game that people still play and it can be an extremely annoying nuisance for residents.
The Metropolitan Police Act 1839, section 54, part 16 states that it is illegal for “every person who shall wilfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any doorbell or knocking at any door without lawful excuse, or who shall wilfully and unlawfully extinguish the light of any lamp.”
12. It’s prohibited to be drunk while managing cattle
Also, as part of section 12 of The Licensing Act 1872, the legislation of penalties being imposed on people being found drunk also includes those who manage any cattle, horse, carriage or steam engine on any highway or other public places.
This law was put into place in order to prevent accidents from happening and to keep people safe.
13. You cannot queue jump at tube stations ticket halls
Jumping the queue at a tube station ticket hall is an offence under the London Underground byelaws imposed by Transport for London.
This law was put into place as it can cause a lot of frustration for other people who are waiting in line and it can also be dangerous if people are pushing past each other to get on the train.
14. You cannot dress up as a police officer or as a member of the armed forces
These weird laws – The Seamen’s and Soldiers’ False Characters Act 1906 and Police Act 1996 – were put in place to prevent people from impersonating a police officer or army personnel deliberately, as it can be very confusing for members of the public and it could also lead to dangerous situations.
15. It’s against the law to have a pigsty in front of your house
As declared by part F45 of the Town Police Clauses 1847, it’s an offence for “every person who keeps any pigsty to the front of any street, not being shut out from such street by a sufficient wall or fence, or who keeps any swine in or near any street, so as to be a common nuisance.”
16. A pet cannot mate with another from the royal household
While it’s unlikely that you’d be visiting any royal household and letting your dog mate with one of the Queen’s beloved corgis, if that happened, this would break the UK law!
Even until 1965, this would have resulted in the death penalty!
17. You cannot slide on icy streets
While it might be much fun to go sliding down an icy street on a sledge or even just your shoes, it is another of the weird UK Laws that makes this illegal.
Not only is it extremely dangerous, but it is also extremely troublesome and can be a nuisance for residents, which is why this is covered in the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, Section 54.
18. Hanging your clothes across the street
You might think that this is a bit of an old-fashioned UK law as stated in the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, but it’s actually still in place today.
While you might not get arrested for this, you could be fined if a police officer catches you doing it in the amount of £1,000!
19. Killing a Swan
You might think that all birds are fair game, but you would be wrong! It is actually illegal to kill or injure a swan as they belong to the Queen.
This law dates back to the 12th century when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans in order to prevent people from eating them!
20. Bad references from employers are libellous
If you’ve ever given a bad reference to an employee and they’ve taken it badly, then you should know that this is actually libellous.
In order for an employer to give a bad reference and not get into any legal trouble, they need to make sure that the information given is both accurate and fair.
21. Watching TV without a licence
If you think you can get away with watching television without a licence, then you are sadly mistaken!
As mentioned by the Communications Act 2003, Section 363 It is actually a criminal offence to watch TV without a licence and you could be fined up to £1,000 if caught.
22. You cannot sing happy birthday as part of a public performance
You might think that this is a bit of an urban legend and a stupid law, but it is actually true! Last but by no means least in our list of weird UK laws, it is illegal to sing happy birthday as part of a public performance as it is copyright protected.