Letter of the Law

Letter of the Law

Every country has a history of bizarre laws enacted at one time or another. Some were perhaps initiated for a semi-logical reason at the time, at least according to someone’s point of view. Most, however, were stupid from the get-go! And it is surprising how many of these illogical and/or outdated laws are never specifically repealed, meaning they are technically still enforceable. Below are a few strange laws from England’s past.



Under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, section 60, and for other districts the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, section 28, it was an offence to beat or shake any carpet rug or mat in any street in the Metropolitan Police District.  Shaking a doormat before 8am was allowable, however! According to this same act, in section 28, it was also illegal to 1) keep a pigsty in front of your house, unless duly hidden, 2) to erect a washing line across any street, 3) to sing a profane or obscene song in any street, 4) to willfully and wantonly disturb people by ringing their doorbells or knocking at their doors, and 5) to order or permit any servant to stand on the sill of a window to clean or paint it. None of these laws have been repealed.

mince piesIn the early 1600s, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell banned the eating of mince pies on Christmas day, as they were insufficiently Puritan. The belief was that the ingredients of mince pies and plum puddings were pagan in origin, and their consumption part of ancient fertility rituals. During this same time, Puritan leaders also outlawed dancing in church, maypoles, and holly and ivy decorations. The laws were never officially repealed because upon the restoration of the monarchy — in the form of Charles II — all laws formed under the protectorate were ignored as invalid.

Technically all drivers of hackney cabs/taxis are required to carry a bale of hay and bucket of water in their vehicle. Yep! Why? To feed the horses, of course! 

stampAccording to the Treason Felony Act 1848, it is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside-down on an envelope. Also one time considered illegal and possibly an act of treason: to stand within one hundred yards of the reigning monarch when not wearing socks (enacted by Edward VI); sleeping with the consort of the Queen (carried a maximum penalty of death); and a commoner’s animal having “carnal knowledge” of a pet of the Royal House (enacted by George I).

A statute in 1313 forbids the wearing of armour in Parliament. This one is still enforced, not that it comes up too often!

Kissing was banned in England on the 16th of July in 1439. The stated purpose was to stop the spread of disease and pestilence. According to various sources, the people only paid lip service to the banning order…..

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.

cowWeird but true, driving cattle whilst drunk was a criminal offense. Presumably a law made to prevent bored, lonely cattlemen from getting too drunk and not taking proper care of their stock, The Licensing Act of 1872 imposed a then very hefty £200 fine and a potential prison sentence for being caught.

The English Law Commission was formed in 1965 to review ancient laws and recommend reform where needed. The Commission is responsible for sifting through the aged and irrelevant laws of England, however, they do not have the authority to simply cross them out. Their job is add them to a Repeal Bill which then must be passed by Parliament every few years. It is a slow process ongoing to this day.



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Tom Williams

My wife actually works for the Law Commission. Most of their work is technical stuff more closely related to the modern world, but they do, indeed, have a team getting rid of old statutes. The bales of hay in taxis went a while ago.

Stephanie L

The old ridiculous laws always crack me up, no matter what country they are for. Oklahoma (the state I live in has some kickers. In Oklahoma:
Females are forbidden from doing their own hair without being licensed by the state (soooo I break the law every day *gasp*)
Dogs must have a permit signed by the mayor in order to congregate in groups of three or more on private property. (Really?)
Oklahoma will not tolerate anyone taking a bite out of another’s hamburger. (No sharing people!!)
It is illegal to have the hind legs of farm animals in your boots. (okay…um…is this a problem? I mean, even in the Territory days?)
Thanks for sharing the stuff you find in your research. Just so fun. I want to hang #4 on my front door.
Illegal to willfully and wantonly disturb people by ringing their doorbells or knocking at their doors. Go away, I’m reading! O:-)


Thank you for the information! I also live in Oklahoma and some of these are new to me even though my professor in government actually taught idiotic laws of Oklahoma as part of the class, I guess Okie’s need a lot of laws to keep us in line. Please forgive me if these are not worded exactly the way they are in the law books after all it has been 20 years since I was in government.
These are a few of my favorites are:
1. It is illegal to have pink flamingo lawn ornaments in the front yard.
2. It is illegal in Oklahoma to be involved in or observe any “marital relations” in any position other than missionary.
oh any can’t forget the one law that gets me every time…
3. Men in Oklahoma can not have sex with a Bison. The way I was told any other animal was free game…

Hope you enjoy these little gems! Have a good week!

Joy Dawn King

I loved “paying lip service” to the no kissing law. Thanks for the information and for generously sharing your research. Job well done, Sharon.


I thought Americans had a law about not putting US flag postage stamps upside down?

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