It’s illegal to be drunk in a pub or carry a plank on a pavement but you are NOT allowed to shoot a Welshman dead with a longbow: After straw bale was hung from Millennium Bridge, we reveal weird laws still on the books – and some that never were
This week, the appearance of a straw bale dangling beneath of London’s Millennium Bridge left many scratching their heads.
It soon emerged that the hay was in place in accordance with an ancient by-law stating that passing river traffic has to be warned if the bridge level is lowered.
And, thanks to the fact that the Millennium Bridge is undergoing urgent repairs and had workers dangling beneath it, this was the case.
But this centuries-old stricture is just one of many bizarre laws that are either still on the statute book or used to be in place.
They include the in-force legislation stating it is illegal to be drunk in a pub or to carry a plank on a pavement in London – unless you’re loading it into or unloading it from a vehicle.
However, it has never been legal to shoot a Welshman with a longbow, despite popular belief to the contrary.
Laws that are still on the statute book
Being drunk in a pub
Believe it or not, it is illegal to be drunk in a pub. Section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872 states: ‘Every person found drunk… on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty…’
Believe it or not, it is illegal to be drunk in a pub.
Section 12 of the Licensing Act 1872 states: ‘Every person found drunk… on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty…’
The same law makes it illegal to be drunk while ‘in charge on any highway or other public place of any carriage, horse, cattle, or steam engine, or who is drunk when in possession of any loaded firearms.’
Anyone who breaks the law is liable to a penalty ‘not exceeding 40 shillings’ or even a spell in prison of up to a month.
According to the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, it is also illegal for the keeper of a public house to permit drunkenness or disorderly conduct on the premises.
The much more recent Licensing Act of 2003 makes it an offence to sell alcohol to a person who is drunk, o to obtain alcohol so it can be consumed by someone who is intoxicated.
Carrying a plank on a pavement in London
Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 states that you cannot carry a plank along a pavement in London unless you are loading or unloading it from a vehicle.
The ban also extends to ladders, wheels, hoops, tubs, casks, placards and poles.
The law is in place to stop people creating a nuisance and help ease of passage on public thoroughfares.
Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 states that you cannot carry a plank along a pavement in London unless you are loading or unloading it from a vehicle. Above: Jimmy Edwards, Tommy Cooper and Eric Sykes in 1967 film The Plank
Handling a salmon in suspicious circumstances
According to Section 32 of the Salmon Act 1986, it is illegal to handle salmon – as well as trout, eels, lampreys, smelt and freshwater fish – in suspicious circumstances.
The law is aimed at selling salmon that has been obtained through illegal means.
The imposition of the law led to a five-hour House of Lords debate in February 1986.
It was decided that the wording could protect innocent people from a wider law that was then in place and criminalised ‘possessing salmon which have been illegally taken, killed or landed.’
According to Section 32 of the Salmon Act 1986, it is illegal to handle salmon – as well as trout, eels, lampreys, smelt and freshwater fish – in suspicious circumstances (file photo of a salmon processing facility)
Entering the Houses of Parliament in a suit of armour
The Statute Forbidding Bearing of Armour dates back to 1313 and is technically still in force.
It it makes it illegal to enter Parliament while wearing a suit of armour.
It reads: ‘…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…’
It goes on to assert the royal power to ‘punish them which shall do contrary’.
The law was enacted following a period of political turmoil under the reign of King Edward II.
The law was enacted following a period of political turmoil under the reign of King Edward II
They culminated in a set of regulations imposed against Edward by English lords and clergy to limit his power.
The ban on armour was part of Edward’s efforts to fight back against the nobility’s repeated threats of force as a way of getting their way in Parliament.
However, the statute was defied on more than one occasion by the Earl of Lancaster, who was a critic of the King.
The 1313 law is still in place, so it is still technically illegal to enter Parliament in a suit of armour
Jumping the queue in a Tube ticket hall
Under a by-law enacted by Transport for London, anyone who has been ordered to queue in a station ticket hall on the London Underground must join the back of the line.
They also have to obey the ‘reasonable instructions’ of authorised members of staff who are regulating the queue.
However, many Londoners who travel on the Tube at rush hour would argue that the by-law does not appear to be regularly enforced – given how busy stations can become.
Under a by-law enacted by Transport for London, anyone who has been ordered to queue in a station ticket hall on the London Underground must join the back of the line
Firing a cannon near a home
According to section 55 of the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839, it is illegal to fire a cannon within 300 yards of a house.
The law states: ‘No person, other than persons acting in obedience to lawful authority, shall discharge any cannon or other fire-arm of greater calibre than a common fowling-piece within three hundred yards of any dwelling house within the said district to the annoyance of any inhabitant thereof…’
Whilst the number of people who owned working cannons in the 19th century was likely very small, today the figure will be even smaller.
Cannons are still used by the military during royal celebrations and commemoration events, such as on Remembrance Sunday.
They were also fired after the death of Queen Elizabeth II last September.
Traditional cannons are still used by the military during royal celebrations and commemoration events, such as on Remembrance Sunday. They were also fired after the death of Queen Elizabeth II last September. Above: A gun salute near the Tower of London after the death of the Queen
Bizarre laws that used to be in place but are not anymore
Taxi drivers having to carry a bale of hay
According to the Hackney Carriage Act 1831, cab drivers in London had to carry a bale of hay everywhere they went.
The law was in place to ensure that the horses pulling the taxis had enough food to keep them going.
It stated a taxi had to carry ‘a bale of hay on its roof for horses and nosebags on the side of the cab or a sack of oats…’
Although the statute was repealed in 1976, some black cab drivers still carry a small hay bale in their boot as a tribute to the law.
According to the Hackney Carriage Act 1831, cab drivers in London had to carry a bale of hay everywhere they went
Carrying out longbow practise
The Unlawful Games Act 1541 mandated that every Englishman aged between 17 and 60 had to keep a longbow and practise and archery.
It stated: ‘…that every Man being the King’s Subject, not lame, decrepit nor maimed… shall from the Feast of Pentecost next coming, use and exercise shooting in Long-Rows, and also have a Bow and Arrows ready continually in his House, to use himself…’
The Unlawful Games Act 1541 mandated that every Englishman aged between 17 and 60 had to keep a longbow and practise and archery. Above: A scene from the BBC production of Wolf Hall, depicting the moment Mark Rylance’s Thomas Cromwell fires a long bow in front of Henry VIII, who was portrayed by Damien Lewis
Although it seems bizarre, this was at a time when the the threat of invasion or the need to go to war constantly loomed over the country.
At the time the Act was passed, King Henry VIII was then in the final years of his reign. He died in 1547 at the age of 55.
The act was repealed by the Betting and Gaming Act 1960.
Harbouring a Catholic priest
Under both the 1534 First Act of Supremacy and the Treason Act of the same year, it was illegal to harbour a Catholic priest.
This was at a time of religious and political upheaval in Britain, when Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church in Rome and declared himself supreme head of the Church of England.
With the passing of the 1534 legislation, the status of Catholics in Britain immediately became more precarious.
Henry made a point of executing priests who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy.
Not taking the Oath – and thus accepting Henry as the supreme head of the Church of England – was regarded as high treason.
Rumoured laws which were never laws
Shooting a Welshman with a long bow
In some quarters it is believed that it is legal to shoot a Welshman with a longbow on a Sunday in Hereford, or inside the city walls of Chester after midnight.
However, this has never been the case. It is of course illegal to shoot anyone with any weapon, regardless of the time of day or location.
According to the Law Commission, the idea that shooting a Welshman may once have been allowed in Chester stemmed from an allleged ordinance passed in 1403 in response to a rebellion against the English by Owain Glyndŵr.
But it is unclear if the ordinance ever existe
The Princess of Wales tries archery during a visit to a scout group in Slough in May this year
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