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 And it is surprising how many of these illogical and/or outdated laws are never specifically repealed, meaning they are technically still enforceable.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 None of these laws have been repealed.
In 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 The laws were never officially repealed because upon the restoration of the monarchy — in the form of Charles II — all laws formed under the protectorate were ignored as invalid.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!
According 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.
Weird 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.