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Strange Laws in the U.K.

Published by Sylvia Clare in Random
June 8th, 2008

The U.K. definitely has its share of strange and wacky laws.

In 1965, the United Kingdom began to update its legal system. Over two thousand obsolete, outdated and strange laws have been repealed since then, but plenty of funny laws are still on the books today.

Below are some random strange U.K. laws and trivia.

The Library Offences Act of 1898 makes it illegal to gamble in a library.

The law also prohibits obscene or abusive language. Misbehaviour carries a fine of £200.

No cannons or bear-baiting.

The Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 states that no one, “except persons acting in obedience to lawful authority, may discharge any cannon or other firearm of greater calibre than a common fowling-piece, within 300 yards of any dwelling house, to the annoyance of any inhabitant thereof”.

Under the same Act, those who “keep or use or act in the management of any house, room, pit or other place for the purpose of fighting or baiting lions, bears or other animals” can be fined £2,500.

Scolding was illegal for almost 400 years.

A law passed in 1585, making it illegal for women to “cause a nuisance with abusive or argumentative language”. A woman guilty of scolding had to wear a scold’s bridle, or metal cage, enclosing her head. The Criminal Law Act of 1967 finally abolished the punishment, and women may now scold freely.

Trespassing is illegal, except by huers and baulkers.

An Act of 1603 comes from an ancient custom in Cornwall. People known as “huers and baulkers” would stand on the cliffs and shout to fishing boats, directing them toward schools of fish. The Act gives those on the cliffs the right of entry onto the lands of others, and a defence against trespassing.

The Town Police Clauses Act of 1847 threatens a £1,000 fine for hanging washing across the street.

Beating or shaking carpets, rugs or mats is also illegal. Doormats may be beaten, but not after eight in the morning.

This Act also outlaws the singing of profane or obscene songs or ballads, wantonly discharging firearms, making bonfires, flying kites, sliding on ice or snow, extinguishing a lamp, or wilfully and wantonly disturbing residents by ringing their doorbells.

It is illegal for two adult men to have sex in the same house as a third person.

Henry VIII outlawed homosexuality in 1533. “Molly houses” began to appear in England in the late 16th century. These brothels offered gay men a place to have sex, and also catered to sado-masochistic and transvestite tastes.

Lawmakers saw molly houses as a threat to public morality. Police monitored the houses to entrap male prostitutes, especially during the 1840’s, as Victorian moral standards rose.

The Queen’s Corset

From a statute of 1324 called the Prerogativa Regis, any whale or sturgeon found on the United Kingdom coastline, or caught in seas adjoining the coast, must be offered to the Crown.

Traditionally, the head belongs to the King. The tail goes “to furnish the Queen’s wardrobe with whalebone” for her corsets. These days, in practice, the Natural History Museum deals with beached whales.

One may not drive a cow while drunk.

The Licensing Act of 1872 explains that operating a horse, cow or steam engine while intoxicated carries a prison sentence or a £200 fine.

London hackney carriages must carry a bale of hay and a sack of oats.

The London Hackney Carriage Laws have stayed the same for over a hundred years, and still apply to modern-day taxis. The oats and hay were for the horse, of course. Disputes still arise, and some firms have manufactured tiny bales of hay, so taxi drivers can stay within the law.

In London, it is illegal for a person with the Plague to flag down a taxi. No cab may carry corpses or rabid dogs.

These are just a few of the strange laws, still on the books in the U.K.

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9 Comments
  1. louisiisis
    Posted January 1, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    most of these are lies.

  2. barb campbell
    Posted January 10, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    It’s dang true in u.s. silly louisisis where have you been tamed by one book

  3. nannyjoe
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 10:49 am

    you cant drive a cow

  4. Chris
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Drive cattle as in ‘drover’ (cattle herder)

  5. Posted February 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    if you are drunk u probably wouldnt be driving a cow

  6. johnny t
    Posted May 17, 2010 at 9:32 pm

    can th cow drive me if im dunk????

  7. annie
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 5:03 am

    in liverpool it is illegal for a woman to be topless in public unless she works as a clerk in a tropical fish shop (i think its liverpool)

  8. Lisa
    Posted September 3, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Am from liverpool and iv never heard that one ><

  9. Cece
    Posted September 3, 2010 at 12:14 am

    Am from liverpool and iv never heard that one ><

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