14 Weird British Laws That Everyone Thinks Are True
Is it legal to be drunk in a pub? Can you carry a plank? And when can you shoot a Scotsman? The UK Law Commission has revealed all. (NB This post should not be taken as legal advice.)
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.
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 This law was eventually repealed, but much later than you might think: It was on the statute books until 1960.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.
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.
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.
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?