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These Vintage UK Laws Will Make You Shake Your Head
Some outdated laws still exist in the UK because they’ve never been repealed.
15:46 27 July 2022
In the United Kingdom, there are many laws that date back hundreds of years. Just because a law is no longer enforced, or is no longer relevant, doesn't mean it disappears from the books.
Some outdated laws still exist in the UK because they’ve never been repealed. In other cases, it’s because the law in question is so outdated that no one has ever thought to challenge it. Whatever the reason, these laws are still technically on the books – even if they’re not actually always enforced.
If you’re curious about some of the most bizarre, outdated laws still technically on the books in the UK, software & technology lawyers EM law has compiled a list of some of the best that you can see in full here.
1. Carry a plank of wood along a pavement
In the days before cars, horse-drawn carts were a common sight on London streets. This law was put in place so that people didn’t damage public property or pedestrians when carrying heavy loads.
The Metropolitan Police Act 1839, under Section 54, made it an offence to “carry any plank, pole, or piece of wood along any footway or causeway”. The exception to the rule was if the person carrying the loads could prove the intention to move or unload from or take to a vehicle.
2. It’s illegal to fly a kite in public places
Flying a kite might seem like harmless fun, but it’s actually against the law to do so in public places in the UK. Under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, Section 54, it’s illegal to “fly any kite or play at any game to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers”.
However, it’s not illegal to fly a kite on private property. The public places include parks, streets, and any public thoroughfare. This may seem like a silly law, but it’s actually in place for safety reasons. In the past, there have been accidents where kites have gotten tangled in power lines and caused blackouts.
3. Be drunk in a pub
Pubs and other alcohol-serving businesses are subject to strict licensing regulations, and one of the conditions of the license is that no drunkenness is allowed on the premises. Under the Licensing Act 1872, it’s illegal to be drunk in a pub or restaurant.
The act states that “it shall not be lawful for any person…to be found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or on any licensed premises”.
Public intoxication is often associated with disorderly conduct, which can create a disturbance and cause problems for other patrons of the establishment.
4. Beat or shake carpets or rugs in the street
Beating or shaking carpets and rugs is a common way to clean them, but it’s actually illegal to do so in the street. Under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, Section 60, it’s an offence to “beat or shake any carpet, rug, or mat in any street except for doormats prior to 8 am".
The idea was put in place to keep streets clean and to reduce noise pollution. Beating or shaking carpets and rugs can release dust and debris into the air, which can be a health hazard. It can also be disruptive to people who are trying to sleep or work.
5. Drying clothes across a street
Hanging clothes out to dry is a common sight in many neighbourhoods, but it’s technically against the law to do so across a public street. Under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, it’s an offence to place any “obstruction” on a public highway—and that includes hanging clothes.
This law is rarely enforced, but it’s still technically on the books. If you do want to hang your clothes out to dry, it’s best to do so in your own backyard or on a clothesline that isn’t placed across a public street. Or fines up to £1,000.
There are A Lot of outdated laws still on the books in the UK. However, while they are not always enforced, they are still technically illegal. So, if you want to stay on the right side of the law, it’s best to avoid doing these things in public.