Did you know it’s illegal to handle a salmon suspiciously in the UK? Well, we’re sure you aren’t at risk of breaking this, which is one of many weird UK laws, but it’s certainly good to know that it exists (however bizarre it is).
England, Ireland, and Wales all have a rich history, and with that rich history comes a massive backlog of legislation that is outdated, or just outright strange. However, many of these laws have been taken massively out of context and have been re-imagined to levels where they don’t even reflect the original legislation.
We decided to delve into the many acts that have been passed over the past few hundred years to see which other weird UK laws we could uncover, and which ones are actually true.
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1. You can’t be drunk in a pub – TRUE
“Every person found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty […]” Licensing Act, 1872
That’s right, you are liable to be fined up to £200 if you are found drunk in any public place, including inside a pub. This is one piece of old British law that most people over 18 in the UK are guilty of breaking on the regular. Though thankfully, this weird UK law isn’t something that is strictly enforced, but gives the police more leverage to deal with drunk and disorderly behaviour.
2. You can’t carry planks of wood down the road – ALMOST TRUE
“Every person who shall roll or carry any cask, tub, hoop, or wheel, or any ladder, plank, pole, showboard, or placard, upon any footway […]” – Metropolitan Police Act, 1839
A caution for all tradies and DIYers. This oddly specific bit of legislation from past years forbids people from carrying planks of wood down public roads and pathways. Although this law is often taken out of context because you are allowed to carry planks, ladders, wheels and casks across footways to put them in a car (or carriage, as the act states).
This falls under section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, “Prohibition of nuisances by persons in the thoroughfares”, so essentially it is in place to stop people annoying or disrupting pedestrians, which is something I think we can all get behind.
3. You can’t fly a kite in public – TRUE
“Every person who shall fly any kite or play at any game to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers […]” – Metropolitan Police Act, 1839
This is another law straight from the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839, instructing the public that they shouldn’t fly kites on public thoroughfares. It seems they didn’t want the public having any fun at all in the 1800s, because the act also bans sledging! This is one that the majority of us will have broken at a young age, though I don’t remember being arrested for it.
4. You can’t play knock and run – TRUE
“Every person who shall wilfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any doorbell or knocking at any door without lawful excuse […]” – Metropolitan Police Act, 1839
Knock and run, knock a door run, ding dong dash, knock down ginger… whatever you called this game in your youth, it didn’t just annoy your neighbours – it was actually illegal. Yet another bit of legislation from the Metropolitan Police Act, you aren’t allowed to knock on someone’s door or ring their doorbell without a lawful excuse. I don’t think “I did it for a laugh” falls under that description, unfortunately.
5. Hackney cab (taxi) drivers have to carry a bale of hay – FALSE
“[…} any such Proprietor or Driver, or any Waterman or other Person, shall feed the Horses of or belonging to any Hackney Carriage in any Street, Road, or common Passage, save only with Corn out of a Bag, or with Hay which he shall hold or deliver with his Hands […]” – London Hackney Carriages Act, 1831
This is one of many laws that have been taken out of context and re-imagined. This legislation comes from the times of horse-drawn hackney carriages. It was put to bed many years ago, and it never actually said that drivers had to carry a bale of hay!
The law actually states that the driver can only feed their horse hay or corn from their hands whilst on duty; they weren’t allowed to put the food down on the road for the horses to eat it.
6. Boys under 10 (in Scotland) can’t look at naked mannequins – FALSE
It sounds fake because it is. Despite being widely reported in newspapers, young Scottish boys aren’t banned from looking at naked mannequins. According to the Law Commission, this weird legislation was cited by a Swansea law firm in 2006, but there is absolutely 0 evidence behind it.
The closest piece of Scottish law we could find pertaining to this is under Section 23 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 which outlaws causing a young child to look at a sexual image. But applying this to shop mannequins is a bit of a reach.
7. The monarch has a right to claim any beached whales – TRUE
“Also the King shall have […] throughout the Realm, Whales and […] great Sturgeons[…] taken in the Sea or elsewhere within the Realm, except in certain Places privileged by the King.” – Prerogativa Regis. Of the King’s Prerogative 1322
Queen Elizabeth owns a lot of interesting things across the UK, from swans to whales (and sturgeons). According to a centuries old piece of legislation, Prerogativa Regis, the crown has a claim to any whales or sturgeon that wash up on British shores.
But there’s only so much you can do with a whale corpse, so they are usually rejected. The last time a sturgeon was offered to the queen, it was rejected and donated to the Natural History Museum to be admired by all residents of the UK.
8. Pregnant women can urinate in policemen’s hats – FALSE
“No person shall urinate or defecate in any street or public place.” Byelaws for Good Rule and Government
This has always been a fascinating conversation piece in UK pubs and bars, but it isn’t true. Urinating in public is an offence according to local bye-laws, and it would be pretty strange to ask a policeman if you could wee in their helmet. Although, if you are pregnant and need to urinate desperately, most policemen would likely exercise discretion and let you go on your way (as long as it wasn’t in their hat).