What Weird British Laws You Should Be Aware Of?

As we have already mentioned, the United Kingdom is one of the oldest countries in the world, and as such, has a long legal history. Therefore, it should not surprise us that it still features some century-old laws that no longer make sense but are still in power. Trying to stay on the good side of the law? So do we, that is why we have selected a number of weird British laws that all locals and tourists should be aware of.

#1. Do Not Handle Salmon… Suspiciously

We are warning you! Do not handle your salmon suspiciously, or you might get into trouble. Now, you do not need to panic. Technically speaking, you can still clutch your favourite fish in dark corners, although we would not recommend such behaviour. As odd as it sounds, this law could actually be found under Section 32 of the Salmon Act 1986. Although it actually refers to selling salmon gained through illicit means, it sounds crazy enough to become a part of our list of strange UK laws.

#2. Do Not Play Knock Knock Ginger

UK Law Doorbell

Do you think it is fun to ring on someone’s doorbell and then run away? Even though all kids think it is, and most of us have probably done it, we must warn you that according to the Metropolitan Police Act 1854, such behaviour is actually illegal. To be exact, you should never “wilfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any doorbell or knocking at any door without lawful excuse”. If you cannot help but misbehave, you may face a fine of up to £500. Even though it makes our list of crazy UK laws, we advise you to follow the no knock-down ginger rule accordingly.

#3. Do Not Shake Your Rug Before 8 a.m

As outrageous as it sounds, you should never shake or in any way clean your rug before 8 a.m. According to section 60, subsection 3 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1854, it is an offence to beat or shake any carpet, rug, or mat before 8 in the morning. On the bright side, you can engage into all these actions at 8:01 a.m.! Though, you should also keep in mind that you should avoid throwing any dirt, litter or ashes, or any carrion, fish, offal, or rubbish into “any sewer, pipe, or drain, or into any well, stream, or watercourse, pond, or reservoir for water …”. The penalty? A fine of up to £500 should be enough motivation to keep your urge to clean under control.

#4. Do Not Get Drunk in a Pub

Shocking, yet apparently true one of the weird UK laws claims that you should not get drunk in a pub. In fact, according to Section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872, “every person found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises” could be penalised. In other words, if you drink 3 or 5 ciders outside your house, you could be facing a fine of up to £200. Our advice? A night out could be pricey enough, so keep a count on those drinks.

#5. Do Not Wear a Suit of Armour in Parliament

No Suit of Armour Law Parliament

Talking about crazy UK laws, how about the one that states that you cannot enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour. Were planning to dress up? Sorry to burst your bubble, but you cannot show off by wearing your suit of armour in Parliament. The law dates back from 1313 when times were different, and probably someone did try to get into Parliament wearing inappropriate clothing. Even though the law is not relevant nowadays, it is still applicable. Nevertheless, we cannot tell what would be the actual punishment for breaking it, though we assume that such actions would get a lot of media coverage.

#6. In Scotland Strangers Are Welcome to Use Your Toilet

Did you know that if a stranger knocks on your door and asks to use your toilet, you are legally obliged to let them? Neither did we, but according to an old Scottish law, hospitality must be shown to all guests even if they are uninvited. Surprisingly, even though the law has not been officially authorised by parliament, it is enforceable. Wondering where it comes from? One of the strange UK laws first came into power back in the days when travellers on foot would cross the land of hard-working clansmen. Even though it is not a common practice, nowadays, you can still expect strangers to knock on your door every once in a while. Still, as you will not be fined, it is completely up to you to decide whether to let them use your toilet or not.

#7. Do Not Walk Around Carrying Wood Planks in London

Do you live in London? If you are planning a home improvement project, remember that you cannot carry planks across the pavement. Wondering why? Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 says it all. It is an offence to carry planks across the pavement in London and offenders could be fined up to £500.While we cannot tell you if anyone has actually been charged for violating this particular law, we advise to stay out trouble and find another way to transport your wood planks home.

#8. Do Not Hang Out Your Washing

The law about Hanged Washing

According to one of the weird British laws, residents of Beverley, East Yorkshire are not allowed to hang their washing outside. In fact, residents of a luxury complex in the city are asked to “to refrain from hanging washing in a manner that may detract from the visual enjoyment of the building or otherwise cause offence to fellow residents”. While we are not certain where you could actually be fined for breaking the law, we advise you to get a tumble drier or make sure you have sufficient space to dry your clothing inside your house and to do your best to avoid getting fined for… washing your clothes and hanging them to dry.

#9. Do Not Gamble in Libraries

Were you planning to play a friendly poker game at the local library? We are sorry to inform you that you will have to look for another place to play. An old British law states that it is illegal to gamble in a library.Wondering why? As we have already mentioned, the law is quite outdated, so we suppose that back in time, some people loved to assemble in libraries and cause disturbances to the otherwise peaceful environment. The law used to be a part of the Library Offences Act of 1998 until it was eventually repealed in 2005. Nevertheless, we decided to include it on our list as it certainly deserves your attention.

#10. Flying a Kite May Not Be the Best Idea

Do not get us wrong – flying a kite is perfectly legal in the United Kingdom. You are free to engage in your favourite activity as much as you please. We must warn you, however, that if your kite happens to annoy any inhabitants or passengers, you might be fined. Yes, you understood correctly. An odd British law claims that “who shall fly any kite or play at any game to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers, or who shall make or use any slide upon ice or snow in any street or other thoroughfare, to the common danger of the passengers”, could be asked to pay a fine of up to £500. While we are not certain whether this law is still applicable, we strongly advise you to be careful where and when you fly your kite.

#11. You Cannot Import Polish Potatoes to Britain

Weird UK Law About Polish Potatoes

One of the weird British laws that we encountered claims that no one can import Polish potatoes to Britain without first notifying the authorities. Wondering why the UK Government came up with such an odd law in the first place? In a nutshell, the authorities were concerned because back in 2004 there was a massive outbreak of a potato disease called ring rot. While it does not seem to be dangerous for human consumers, the condition seriously affects yield and the quality of the potato crops. Even though the threat is no longer relevant, the law remains valid.

#12. If You Catch a Sturgeon, You Should Offer It to the Reigning Monarch

Yes, that is right. One of our favourite strange UK laws claims that “All beached whales and sturgeons must be offered to the Reigning Monarch”. The Prerogativa Regis 1322 is clear enough and still valid nowadays. While we cannot tell you what are the exact reasons behind this rule, a theory claims that King Edward II probably wanted to control the levels of overly conspicuous consumption in the realm. Believe it or not, this law was actually tested in modern times.

Back in 2004, Mr Robert Davies caught a 9lb sturgeon off the coast of Wales and offered it to the Queen. He soon received a note from Her Majesty, informing him that she was happy for him to dispose of the fish as he saw fit. After that, though, Mr Davis became a subject of a short criminal investigation based on the fact that sturgeons are protected species, and catching or killing them is considered illegal. The particular sturgeon now resides at the Natural History Museum in London.

#13. You Should Not Sing Profane or Indecent Ballads

Listening to the newest hip hop tracks on your way to work? We know how catchy the new Kanye West or Jay-Z’s tunes could be, but we strongly recommend you to fight your urges to sing along. According to the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839, no one should “sing any profane, indecent, or obscene song or ballad, or use any profane, indecent or obscene language to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers.” If you love singing in public, however, just make sure your favourite track does not include any offensive lyrics. Breaking one of the weirdest UK laws could lead to a possible fine, that could certainly affect your budget.

#14. It Is Legal to Shoot a Scotsman Under Certain Circumstances

Yes, as bizarre as it may sound, according to an outdated English law, it is perfectly legal to shoot a Scotsman under specific circumstances. Still, there are certain factors that must be present. To begin with, you must be located in York. One of the strange UK laws claims that only in York if they happen to cross paths with a Scotsman, people are allowed to shoot him with a crossbow. Please note, however, that shooting Scots on Sundays remains forbidden. Or at least with a bow and an arrow… The same law claims that any Scotsman caught drunk or armed on Sunday, can still be shot, just not with a crossbow.

Scotsmen Waking Law York

Interestingly, a similar law claims that in Chester, it is also allowed to shoot a Welsh person with a bow and an arrow, as long as it happens within the city walls and after midnight. We remind you, however, that all mentioned regulations are outdated and no longer apply. Nevertheless, we found them weird enough to include in our list of crazy UK laws.

#15. Do Not Jump the Queue at a Subway in London

Have you ever felt tempted to jump the queue while waiting for a subway in London? If so, we sincerely hope that you have managed to wait your turn, otherwise you could have committed a crime. That is right. Jumping the queue at a subway is not only rude but also illegal. At least if you are in London. While we could not find proof that the law is still in power, we strongly recommend you to obey it. Though it is unlikely to get arrested for jumping the queue, such behaviour could lead to unpleasant confrontations with the rest of the people.

Gambling Is Not a Part of the Weird Laws in the UK

Did you enjoy our list of strange laws in the UK? If so, you may also enjoy our article about UK Gambling Law. Worried that you may not be able to try your luck on your favourite slot games? Fear not as all forms of gambling, including online and land-based are perfectly legal in the United Kingdom. In fact, you may pick the right operator for you from our list of the best gambling sites. We remind you, however, to gamble responsibly and choose your preferred games carefully.

14 Weird British Laws That Everyone Thinks Are True

James Ross / Getty Image

1. It is illegal to carry a plank along a pavement.

True. This has been illegal since 1839. The Act also bans you from sliding on snow, playing “annoying games”, and flying kites in the street. No fun please, we’re British.

2. It is illegal to die in parliament.

False. There’s a longstanding myth that you’re not “allowed” to die in parliament, because the government would have to give you a state funeral. They wouldn’t. At least four people have died in parliament, including Guy Fawkes, who was executed on site.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

3. It is illegal not to carry out at least two hours of longbow practice a week.

Not any more. Englishmen aged between 17 and 60 were required to own a longbow and practise using it regularly by a law enacted in 1541. This law was eventually repealed, but much later than you might think: It was on the statute books until 1960.

4. It is illegal to beat or shake any carpet or rug in any street.

True. This has been illegal since 1839, but you are allowed to beat a doormat, provided you do it before 8am. It’s also illegal to keep a pigsty in front of your house, slaughter cattle in the street, sing rude songs in the street, or to ring your neighbour’s doorbell and run away. So don’t do that.

Matt Cardy / Getty Images

5. It is illegal to be drunk on licensed premises (i.e. in a pub).

True. This one is enforced under at least three separate laws. Under the 1872 Licensing Act, there’s a penalty for “every person found drunk” in a licensed premises, while 1839’s Policing Act forbids landlords from permitting drunkenness. The 2003 Licensing Act also makes it an offence to sell alcohol to a drunk person, or to buy a drunk person a drink.

Everyone who has been to the UK knows these laws are, of course, unfailingly obeyed.

6. It is illegal to be drunk in charge of a horse.

True. This dates back to 1872, and you’re also not allowed to be drunk in charge of a cow, or while you’re carrying a loaded firearm, which seems… pretty sensible, actually.

7. It is legal to shoot a Welshman with a longbow on Sunday in the Cathedral Close in Hereford; or inside the city walls of Chester after midnight; or a Scotsman within the city walls of York, other than on a Sunday.

All of these are FALSE. Please do not do any of these. The Law Commission couldn’t find any evidence any of these laws ever existed. 

“It is illegal to shoot a Welsh or Scottish (or any other) person regardless of the day, location, or choice of weaponry,” they state.

PS Please do not shoot or otherwise kill any people. This is definitely illegal.

Matt Cardy / Getty Images

8. It is illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day.

This happened one time. Christmas Day in 1644 fell on a legally mandated fast day, so it would have been illegal to eat a mince pie, even though they weren’t specifically mentioned. The UK did, under Oliver Cromwell, ban Christmas itself for a while, but those laws were invalidated when the monarchy was restored.

9. It is illegal to jump the queue in the tube ticket hall.

True. So long as there’s a sign telling you to queue (or a member of staff), queue-jumping is illegal under TfL byelaws: You have to join from the back. This is possibly the most British law in existence.

10. It is illegal to destroy or deface money.

Mostly true. If you want to destroy a banknote for some reason, that’s actually legal. But under the Currency and Banknotes Act of 1928, it’s illegal to deface a banknote by drawing, stamping, or printing on it. It’s also illegal to destroy coins.

Richard Stonehouse / Getty Images

11. It is illegal to place a stamp of the Queen upside down on a letter.

False. It’s illegal to do anything with the intention of deposing the Queen (sorry, republicans), but this is fine. The Royal Mail will deliver the letter as normal.

12. It is illegal to stand within 100 yards of the reigning monarch without wearing socks.

False. Fear not, you can go sockless near royals. Queen Elizabeth I did make it illegal to be in her presence wearing shirts with “outrageous double ruffs”, or hose of “monstrous and outrageous greatness” — which seems fair enough — but these laws were repealed by James I.

13. It is illegal to handle salmon in suspicious circumstances.

True. This is illegal under the Salmon Act of 1986, apparently. Alas, the Law Commission did not elaborate on what counts as a suspicious way to handle salmon. You can check the original law here, but it won’t help all that much.

14. All swans are the property of the Queen, and killing one is an act of treason.

Not ALL swans. The Queen has first dibs on all “wild, unmarked mute swans in open water”, and has since the 12th century, but only actually claims ones on the Thames and some tributaries. It’s illegal to kill one of those, but it isn’t actually treason.

And the Queen has no claim on tame swans, or other types of swan. Who knew

Witty Prankster Tries to Break as Many Ancient British Laws as Possible While in the Presence of Police

Prankster Oobah Butler (previously), who also works as a freelance writer for Vicehilariously tried to break as many seemingly ridiculous, ancient British laws while in the presence of police, military and other forms of official security.

Some of the laws that Butler broke include handling a salmon suspiciously, gambling in a library, shaking a dirty rug in public, wearing an outrageous ruff, being sockless within 100 yards of the queen and singing a lewd ballad in public. Despite his illegal actions, Butler remained arrest-free.

Britain is an old-fashioned, weird place, and its esoteric laws are among the most ridiculous things about the place. From it being illegal to handle a salmon suspiciously, to the threat of having your head chopped off for wearing a suit of armour in Parliament, VICE’s Oobah Butler sees if anyone takes any of these laws seriously by trying to break as many as he can—in front of policemen.



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