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London’s top ten weird laws

Posted at 10:00 am, March 11, 2013 in Fun London

1. Drink-riding laws

The UK Licensing Act of 1872 went to great lengths to cover all bases, including the mishandling of livestock and wheeled vehicles while under the influence. Anyone found ‘drunk while in charge of any horse, cattle, carriage or steam engine’ could be banged up. The law is still in effect – so bear it in mind next time you have a couple of sherries, announce you’re ‘fine’ and clamber aboard your trusty steamroller.

2. Chocolate

An outrageous but now obsolete nineteenth-century English law made it illegal for ladies to eat chocolate on public transport. First they were given the vote, then Dairy Milk on the District Line: is there no end to this women’s liberation madness?

3. Salmon

Under the Salmon Act of 1986, (yes, the Salmon Act, you know the one) it was made ‘illegal to handle salmon under suspicious circumstances’. UK legislation also contains strict decrees against illegal possession of salmon and trading in salmon. Sounds a little fishy to us – yes, we went there!

4. Sheep

Here’s one you may be familiar with. Since 1835, if you’re granted the freedom of the City of London, you are permitted to ‘herd a flock of sheep across London Bridge’. In 2009, some 500 freemen led a flock of ewes over the Thames in aid of

charity, and certainly not as some sarky comment on commuter life.

5. Planks

Relaying your floorboards, building a treehouse or simply playing pirates? Bizarrely, under Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, it’s illegal to carry planks along a pavement. And it doesn’t stop there – Section 54 also prohibits ‘flying kites, playing annoying games or sliding in snow’. Too bloody right, there’s nothing more borderline criminal than kids having fun!

6. Dying

It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament: the building is considered a royal palace, therefore the deceased would be entitled to a state funeral. Also, having spare dead people lying around the place can be confusing, especially during voting in the House of Lords.

7. Bell-ringing

Depending on your velocipedean viewpoint, you either love or hate the fact that Auntie Boris has plugged the gaps in our threadbare public transport system by buying London some shiny bicycles. But in 1888, all cyclists were legally obliged to ring their bells continuously while in motion. You’re well within your rights to point this out to the next cycle courier who almost runs you over on a pedestrian crossing.

8. Cab fare

Until 1976, all hackney carriages (ie black cabs) were required to carry ‘a bale of hay and a sack of oats’ for the horse, even though the nags were long gone. There’s more: by law, councils had to supply ‘a water trough at all hackney taxi ranks’. In case Hackneyites needed to bathe a pug or give their moustache a rinse.

9. Sex in the saddle

Dogging may still be legal (it’s up to ‘innocent passers-by’ – hem hem – to take offence and call the cops) but don’t get any ideas about taking your two-wheeler to that lay-by. After WWII, the motorcycle emerged as a thrilling new vehicle for sport and pleasure, and red-blooded speedfreaks started getting frisky on them (tight leather, throbbing engines and shiny helmets will do that). So the powers that be passed a law making it illegal to have sex on one in London. Not sure about Essex.

10. Being drunk

Whoa, there! Cancel the Jägerbombs, get down off that table and break up the conga line. Since 1839, it’s been illegal to be drunk on ‘licensed premises’: in other words, the pub. Luckily for modern-day drinkers, very few people are arrested for this offence unless they’re considered to be disorderly. Who’s up for a limbo competition?

Compiled by Danielle Goldstein and Luke Holloway

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