The UK has had more than its fair share of unusual laws throughout its history. It's hard to believe some of the laws that were enforced in the past, and it's even harder to believe that a number of them are still in effect today. Below we take a look a few of the strangest laws that are still around.

It is an offence to be drunk and in charge of a cow

The Licensing Act 1872 forbids people from being drunk while in charge on any highway or other public place of any carriage, horse, cattle, or steam engine. Sensibly, the act also prohibits people from being drunk when in possession of any loaded fire-arms.

Offenders face a hefty fine or imprisonment for a maximum of one month. If a fine was issued and not paid, then the court may order him to be imprisoned with hard labour. Probably best to leave your cow or steam engine at home if you are going for a night out.

Handling a salmon in suspicious circumstances

This may sound like it is an ancient and forgotten archaic law, but it is actually a fairly recent law under the Salmon Act 1986. It is there to prevent the selling of fish gained through illicit means, such as poaching. The Salmon Act (Scotland) 1862 makes it illegal to fish for salmon and sea trout on a Sunday in Scotland. Traditionally, this rule included all fishing, as puritan beliefs banned any Sunday recreation on God’s day of rest, but was confirmed by the Salmon Fisheries (Scotland) Act of 1862 banning the practice in modern law.

It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing armour

The 1313 act, “A Statute forbidding Bearing of Armour” states: <i>that every Man shall come without all Force and Armour, well and peaceably, to the Honour of Us, and the Peace of Us and our Realm.</i>  The Act was written in Anglo-Norman during the reign of Edward II and is still in force today, some 705 years later.

No Fun and Games At All

The Metropolitan Police Act 1839 prohibits a long list of nuisance behaviours that would incur fines, including:

"Every person who shall wilfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any door-bell or knocking at any door without lawful excuse, or who shall wilfully and unlawfully extinguish the light of any lamp.

"Every person 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.

"Every person who shall turn loose any horse or cattle, or suffer to be at large any unmuzzled ferocious dog, or set on or urge any dog or other animal to attack, worry, or put in fear any person, horse, or other animal.

"Every person who shall, to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers expose for show or sale (except in a market lawfully appointed for that purpose) or feed or fodder any horse or other animal, or show any caravan containing any animal or any other show or public entertainment, or shoe, bleed; or farry any horse or animal (except in cases of accident), or clean, dress, exercise, train, or break any horse or animal, or clean, make, or repair any part of any cart or carriage, except in cases of accident where repair on the spot is necessary.

"Every person who shall roll or carry any cask, tub, hoop, or wheel, or any ladder, plank, pole, showboard, or placard, upon any footway, except for the purpose of loading or unloading any cart or carriage, or of crossing the footway.

"Every person who in any thoroughfare shall burn, dress, or cleanse any cork, or hoop, cleanse, fire, wash, or scald any cask or tub, or hew, saw, bore, or cut any timber or stone, or slack, sift, or screen any lime."

Don’t Bet on Using Abusive Language in a Library

In a library in England, it is illegal to gamble or bet, use violent, abusive or obscene language or behave in a disorderly manner to the annoyance or disturbance of any other person also using the library, under section 2 of the Libraries Offences Act 1898. Anyone convicted of such an offence will be fined a penalty “not exceeding forty shillings” – the average wage of the time was a mere 14 shillings, 1 1/2 pence.

Monarchs enjoy a Whale of a time

All whales and sturgeons found in the United Kingdom belong to the Crown. Prerogativa Regis 1322 states: <i>“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.”</i>

This also included any that were stranded or found dead on a beach that was not exempt from this ruling (for example, private land). Any found whales and sturgeons should first be offered to the Monarch who could then decide what should be done with them. Usually, that decision was passed to the “Receiver of Wreck” to resolve on his or her behalf. In practice, the Receiver of Wreck no longer offers the whale but does still offer all sturgeons to the Monarch.

If you are Scottish, it’s best to avoid visiting Carlisle

In Carlisle, any Scot found wandering around may be whipped or jailed. This probably dates back to 1157, when King Malcolm IV of Scotland surrendered his lands granted to the Scots in 1136 following the Scots invasion of Cumbria led by King David I. In the period directly after this, many Cumbrian castles were fortified as a precaution, so it seems likely that this law is linked to the 12th century battles.

Odd Laws now Repealed

In York, it was legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls on any day except a Sunday, but only if he was carrying a bow and arrow

This is most likely to have been a city ordinance, possibly dating back to the Robert the Bruce’s attempted invasion of York in the Middle Ages. That has since been replaced by criminal law and the ECHR. Therefore, any killings of bow-carrying Scotsmen within the city walls is plain old murder – which carries a life sentence.

Every Englishman from the ages of 17 to 69 was required to keep and practice with a longbow

This was repealed under the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960, which abolished mandatory practice. This is remarkable given that the last recorded use of a longbow used for military purposes in England was in 1642. Until firearms became widely used, longbows were key in providing military support due to the long distance range of the weapon. Longbow archers were pivotal in the English victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt. As it took years of regular practice for an archer to become skilled with the longbow, all men between the ages of 17 and 69 were compelled to practice their archery skills, so that the King could rely on a steady stream of skilled and proficient archers, ready for war. To ensure that men weren’t distracted by other sports, King Edward I banned all other sports on a Sunday and Edward IV banned an early form of cricket as it was interfering with regular archery practice.


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