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Strange and Weird English Laws

Updated on June 25, 2011

The Strangest Laws of Old England

Charles Dickens said: "The law is an ass, an idiot."

England has so many ancient and very strange laws, but in their day, they made absolute sense. Today, those laws of old England may still exist, some are gradually being repealed by the Law Commission.

The Law Commission was formed in 1965 to keep the law under review and to recommend reform where it is needed, it responsible for sifting through the aged and irrelevant laws of England and bring them up-to-date or repeal them, that is to remove them as laws.

Imagine a team of law reformers whose job it is at the Law Commission to wade through them ancient dusty old statute books, looking for strange English laws and then add them to a Repeal Bill. They haven't the authority to cross them out and have to be passed by Parliament every few years.

As an example; a law introduced in 1307 ruled that the head of any dead whale found on the British coast becomes the property of the king and the tail belongs to the queen - should she need the bones for her corset. To provide a snapshot in history of 1307, Edward I died on 7th July 1307 on the way to Scotland to conquer Robert the Bruce. The old King's dying request was that his son should carry his bones with him in battle until Robert was defeated.

By 1800 in England some two hundred crimes were punishable by death. The list included forgery, horse-stealing, sheep-stealing, picking pockets, stealing five shillings (25p/75 cents) from a shop, damaging Westminster Bridge, and impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner not to mention treason, murder, and attempted murder.

Throughout the whole of England it is still illegal to eat mince pies on the 25th of December.

In English law under the UK's Tax Avoidance Schemes Regulations 2006, it is illegal not to tell the taxman anything you don't want him to know, however you don't have to tell him anything you don't mind him knowing.

It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside down.

Archery Law
Archery Law

Archery Law

All English males over the age of14 will carry out 2 hours of longbow practice each weekend; this will be supervised by the local church official. This law dates as far back as the middle ages when there was no regular British army and the local gentry were ordered to train a quota of knights, archers, infantry, etc.

The archery range in each area was set up in a safe area, usually at the bottom of a field, generally called a 'bottom' and many of these sites still exist, such as 'Trotters Bottom' in Hertfordshire.

In the city of York, it is quite legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls of York if he is carrying a bow and arrow. Excluding Sunday.

In Hereford you may shoot a Welsh person all day, but only on Sunday, and only with a Longbow, as long as he is in the Cathedral Close.

In Chester Chester you can only shoot a Welsh person with a bow and arrow inside the city walls and only after midnight.

Weird English Laws

It is illegal for two adult males to have sex in the same house as a third person. However, it is okay for women, this law was introduced to outlaw "molly houses" in the late 16th Century. These were ‘houses of ill repute’ where homosexuals committed acts that were considered a moral threat.

A bed may not be hung out of a window.

It is illegal for a lady to eat chocolates on a public conveyance.

Any boy under the age of 10 may not see a naked mannequin.

It is illegal to leave baggage unattended, and picking up abandoned baggage is an act of terrorism.

Those wishing to use a television must apply for a license.

It is legal for a male to urinate in public, as long it is on the rear wheel of his motor vehicle and his right hand is on the vehicle.

Committing suicide is classified as a capital crime. (Repealed)

IN 1647, the English parliament passed a law that made Christmas illegal. Christmas festivities were banned by Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, who considered feasting and revelry on what was supposed to be a holy day immoral. Anybody caught celebrating Christmas was arrested. The ban was lifted only when the Puritans lost power in 1660.

It is illegal to be drunk on Licensed Premises such as an inn or ale house.

strange taxi laws
strange taxi laws

Taxi law

London Hackney Carriages (taxis/cabs) were required by law carry a bale of hay and a sack of oats. This was because they were originally horse drawn, this was repealed in 1976, even so, until then it was illegal for a taxi not to carry hay and oats.

It is still illegal for cab drivers to carry rabid dogs or indeed corpses and by law they must ask each and every passenger if they have smallpox or 'The Plague', yes, even to this very day!

Strange London Law
Strange London Law

Strange Laws in London

Anyone visiting Westminster in London or the areas around the Royal Hospital Chelsea surely would have encountered "The Men in Scarlet", the Chelsea Pensioners, whose home is the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Founded in 1682 by King Charles II and intended for the 'succour and relief of veterans broken by age and war'.

Perhaps because these are brave men who fought for England, others less brave, or indeed fraudsters dressed and behaved like those heroes to claim undeserved pensions and privileges made it illegal to impersonate a Chelsea pensioner; at one time this was punishable by death.

It is still an offence to beat or shake any carpet rug or mat in any street in the Metropolitan Police District, although you are allowed to shake a doormat before 8am.

Londoners are not allowed to keep a pigsty in the front of their homes.

It is illegal for a Member of Parliament to enter the House of Commons wearing a full suit of armour.

John Hetherington, a London hatter in 1797 proudly showed off his latest creation – the Top Hat, and attracted a massive crowd. Unfortunately a small boy received a broken arm whilst several women fainted among the sound of boos and hisses.

Hetherington was arrested and charged with breaching the King's peace and "appearing on the public highway wearing upon his head a tall structure having a shining lustre and calculated to frighten timid people". He was fined £50 and found guilty.

It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament.

Sunday trading laws
Sunday trading laws

Sunday trading.

Until relatively recent years it was illegal to sell almost anything on a Sunday with the clear exception of carrots. Car showrooms, DIY and furniture warehouses that wished to open their stores on a Sunday began selling carrots for thousands of pounds each, but you got a free car, kitchen or whatever the store sold.

It was legal to buy and sell dirty magazines on a Sunday, but not a Bible.

It was illegal for a British traditional fish and chip shop to open on a Sunday but not for a Chinese take away, and they could sell fish and chips.

Domestic Violence

It is often written that the well used saying "rule of thumb" is derived from an old English law which stated that it was illegal to beat your wife with anything wider than your thumb.

I've search and searched for authentic documentation relating to the 'rule of thumb' and wife beating but failed - however, I have found that the saying comes from a carpenter using his thumb as an accurate measure. Rule - being 'ruler' as in the measuring stick. His rule was his thumb.

Okay, I know this as gone off topic, but I wanted to debunk the 'rule of thumb' in old English law.

STOP PRESS - updates

A pregnant woman in England can legally relieve herself anywhere she feels necessary – even in a policeman’s helmet - it is against the law to refuse ( I wouldn't suggest trying it!!)

A baker cannot refuse to give a pregnant woment breadrumbs.

A Pharmacist cannot refuse a pregnant women the ues of their toilet.

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    • profile image

      me 2 years ago

      its been 2 years since anyone commented

    • ItsTimeToBurn profile image

      ItsTimeToBurn 4 years ago

      Very amusing lens!!

    • profile image

      momsfunny 4 years ago

      These are very interesting laws. "It is legal for a male to urinate in public, as long it is on the rear wheel of his motor vehicle and his right hand is on the vehicle." That's really weird.

    • profile image

      PennyTraition 4 years ago

      I don't know if anyone has mentioned this yet; no doubt they have! In Elizabethan times, it was illegal for anyone who owned five acres-or more-of land not to grow the plant Cannabis Sativa, as it made such fine, strong rope, which was used as rigging on Britain's fleet of fighting ships...(so I was told by someone dressed in 16th Century sailor's clothes)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      As an interesting read, I recommend it to my lenses.

    • Camden1 profile image

      Camden1 5 years ago

      How interesting! Some of them obviously made sense at the time they were written, but for some of these laws I can't understand how they were ever passed!

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 5 years ago

      @Millionairemomma: Absolutely true !! ...and yes, we are highly inteligent, thanks for that too.

    • Millionairemomma profile image

      Millionairemomma 5 years ago

      Are these really true because they seem ridiculous and British people seem highly intelligent. Well....the ones I met.

    • KReneeC profile image

      KReneeC 5 years ago

      And I thought American Laws were weird..........

    • kindoak profile image

      kindoak 5 years ago

      Great lens!! Next time I'm in a London Cabby I'll remind the driver to ask me about the smallpox :)

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 5 years ago from Ohio

      Tributes to weirdness are always welcomed it seems!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Glad Americans aren't the only one with these.

    • profile image

      smsr0100451 5 years ago

      Very interesting laws. Thanks for sharing.

    • agoofyidea profile image

      agoofyidea 5 years ago

      Laws, like people, are often crazy. Thanks for sharing these oddities.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 5 years ago

      @ajgodinho: We have a saying in the UK; "pardon my French" - said when a swear word slips out! - I wonder of there is a French connection?

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      LOL, some strange laws indeed. I guess it pays to be pregnant, eh? I'm told, in Quebec, Canada, it's illegal to swear in French! :)

    • belinda342 profile image

      belinda342 5 years ago

      Having at one time been pregnant, I have to say that the pregnant women laws make sense to me. When your baby starts kicking your bladder--you gotta go! Anything that stands in your way should be illegal!

    • randomthings lm profile image

      randomthings lm 5 years ago

      That is amazing. Presumably all these laws made sense when they were passed. Wow.

    • kimark421 profile image

      kimark421 5 years ago

      Great lens. I'm still laughing. Sounds like I should study and know these laws before visiting, And I will stay away from York with my bow and arrow, unless I can get there on Sunday.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      Great stuff. Many LOL's here. Featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012-2. Hugs

    • LynetteBell profile image

      LynetteBell 5 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      Oh dear I'm not allowed to eat chocolate on a public conveyance! That won't do...!

    • Thrinsdream profile image

      Thrinsdream 5 years ago

      I wish the pigsty law were still in place in some places in the uk! Really enjoyed this article. With thanks anda appreciation. Cathi x

    • efriedman profile image

      efriedman 6 years ago

      Yikes, lady eating chocolate on public conveyance. Wonder if I've been in the wrong on that one..? Fun lens!

    • Sniff It Out profile image

      Sniff It Out 6 years ago

      This is a fun read :) I hope I never have to shoot a Welsh man in Chester, isn't any time after midnight also before midnight? Very confusing :)

    • jolou profile image

      jolou 6 years ago

      Some of these are sure funny, like it's illegal to hang a bed from a window!

    • JanezKranjski profile image

      JanezKranjski 6 years ago

      I wish I was pregnant woman that have to pee every time I would met policeman. :)

    • kimbesa2 profile image

      kimbesa 6 years ago from USA

      Very interesting! I'll look for carrots on Sunday next time I visit England...thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is a fun read about the funnier English laws and their source of origin.

    • BlackHeart1 profile image

      BlackHeart1 6 years ago

      You made it!! You submitted this lens for the top Culture & Society Lens section and you made it to the top 5 ... Be sure to go check this page: http://www.squidoo.com/top-5-culture-society on the first of the month to see what your position in the top 5 is and donât forget to tell your friends and visitors about it too

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @lilymom24: Probably death ...looking at some of these laws

    • lilymom24 profile image

      lilymom24 6 years ago

      lol....this one was a fun read. I would like to know the penalty for dying in the Houses of Parliament. lol

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @oktalBlizzard: Many a drunken person has tried this one ... still fined!

    • oktalBlizzard profile image

      oktalBlizzard 6 years ago

      LOL!

      One of the funniest lenses I have ever read!

      LOVED it.

      It is legal for a male to urinate in public, as long it is on the rear wheel of his motor vehicle and his right hand is on the vehicle.

      Epic, simply epic.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @debnet: Eating Mince Pies .... on Christmas day? - Criminal!!

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 6 years ago from England

      Forgive me... I eat mince pies on 25th December LOL! I live in England and know just how werid the law can be :)

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you Chris!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Enjoyed your Squidoo. I like reading and knowing. Chris

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @SweetMarie83 LM: It's hard to believe that a number of people actually would have agreed one these before they became law.

    • SweetMarie83 LM profile image

      SweetMarie83 LM 6 years ago

      This is great! I love reading about strange laws, especially when they make you laugh or just shake your head in wonder like many of these did!

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @tiff0315: So, you want to pee in a bobby's helmut?

    • tiff0315 profile image

      tiff0315 6 years ago

      LOL! I want to be a pregnant woman in England. Sounds like they can get away with anything.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @Krafick: Whilst working on a USA one I discovered that is is illegal to dine in a restaurant whilst it is on fire!

    • Krafick profile image

      Krafick 6 years ago

      I always thought English laws were very rigorous. Good to know they are not too much behind the many other countries which have stupid laws.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @Bill Armstrong: At least you and yours are safe in York non Sundays Billy!

    • Bill Armstrong profile image

      Bill Armstrong 6 years ago from Valencia, California

      Were weird huh :-)

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @jvsper63: Thanks Joni, I've just published a new lens, I think you'll enjoy!

      https://hubpages.com/autos/strange-american-laws-a...

    • jvsper63 profile image

      jvsper63 6 years ago

      HI, Thank you for sharing all this important information..Great lens and topic!! Joni

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @mahimattphoto: Thanks for visiting, I've just published this lens, I think you'll enjoy!

      https://hubpages.com/autos/strange-american-laws-a...

    • mahimattphoto profile image

      mahimattphoto 6 years ago

      Love this stuff! great trivia information. Thanks

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @SusannaDuffy: Watch this space Susanna, the Aussies are next.....!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      These laws, of course, were carried to the colonies and in Australia we suffer from ancient English legislation to this day.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @jvsper63: thank you!! the blessings mean a lot, I'm delighted.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @MarianaFargasch: Cheers! -congratulations on yours too!!

    • jvsper63 profile image

      jvsper63 6 years ago

      Nice lens, congratulations on the Blessing!!!

    • MarianaFargasch profile image

      MarianaFargasch 6 years ago

      congratz again for the blessing :)

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @dc64 lm: I'll keep adding them as I find them - thanks for dropping by!

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @Psycho-Gamer: Sales in archery equipment has gone through the sky!

    • Psycho-Gamer profile image

      MasterPsycho 6 years ago from Earth

      the archery law still exists?????????/

      king henry who was a n excellent archer....made that law so he would never run out of his beloved longbow men........and it still exists?

      the only good thing about those laws is that i can kill freely some scots and then plant on their bodies some bows and arrows.....and i was searching for a legal way......god bless those law makers........i will pray this night so god(just any god will do) give us some more of those intelligent people

    • dc64 lm profile image

      dc64 lm 6 years ago

      So funny. To think these laws were actually taken seriously at one time. Who knows what people in the future will think of some of our laws today.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @I-sparkle: Oh yes! - I'm on it already!!

    • I-sparkle profile image

      I-sparkle 6 years ago

      You had me at strange! Great lens. Whenever I come across any article about old laws I know that it is going to be a great hoot. Hope there's a part II in the works.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @PastorSam LM: I certainly will! - many thanks!!

    • PastorSam LM profile image

      PastorSam LM 6 years ago

      Very Nice - keep adding to this if you can!!!!

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @chezchazz: Wild Bill probably upset the local Motel manager!

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @Everyday-Miracles: Fantastic! ... thanks for your feedback. Thank you too for visiting.

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 6 years ago from New York

      What a great lens! Yes, the US has crazy and obsolete laws too. In Texas, for example, it is illegal to shoot a buffalo from a second story hotel window.

    • Everyday-Miracles profile image

      Everyday-Miracles 6 years ago

      I *love* archaic laws. There are some really crazy ones here in the United States. I can't remember which state it is, but there's a law that says that if you are driving a car and a horse drawn carriage comes up, you have to pull over to the side of the road. If the horse appears skittish, then you must dismantle your car piece by piece until the horse is able to pass. There's more to it than that, but it's hilarious!

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @Mix Mafra: I think I'll dig out more!

    • Mix Mafra profile image

      Michelle Mafra 6 years ago from Corona CA

      Such a great lens and some of those laws are truly hilarious:) great job!

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @anonymous: Thank you! that is so encouraging!

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      I love this lens .. UK Ghostrwriter. So enjoyable, but great strange laws information. I would like this of yours to get LOTD trophy. 5 stars for you :)

    • UKGhostwriter profile image
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      UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

      @CruiseReady: .....that's debatable! LOL!! - thanks for reading my lens, I hope it raised a smile!

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 6 years ago from East Central Florida

      LOL.

      I am very glad to learn I won't be seeing a pigsty by anyone's front steps in London!