To celebrate our 175th anniversary, we present 175 strange laws from the past and present. Some laws are funny. Some are surreal. Some make no sense no matter which way you look at them. But they all share one thing in common: they’re all real.
We’ll start with our top 25 strange laws from the UK and move on to crazy laws from across the pond.
Things you can’t do in the UK
Strictly One Nut Per Hutch - Madhouses Act 1774
The Madhouses Act of 1774 restricted property owners to one “lunatic” per residence. You had to apply for a licence if you wanted to start a collection.
Detonating Nukes Is Banned - Prohibition & Inspections Act, 1998
Atomic blasts aren’t just a bad idea, they’re illegal. In fairness, you’d assume the local constabulary would want a word following any surprise mushroom clouds.
Being Homeless Is Technically Illegal (Blame Napoleon) - Vagrancy Act, 1824
Napoleon lost. We won. And the soldiers came home - but many troops had no prospects. Fearing an influx of beggars, vagrancy was banned. That’s sorted, then.
Fashionable Law Breaking - Uniforms Act, 1894
Impersonating military personnel can land you in trouble. You may have to rethink your snazzy replica military garments if you want to avoid the stockade.
Firing Cannons In Residential Areas - Metropolitan Police Act, 1839
This law prohibits cannon fire within 300 yards of residential properties. Top tip: you’ll need to pace out 301 yards and place your cannon accordingly. Just to be safe.
Leaving Your Car On A Pavement - Highway Code, Rule 145
This one makes no sense. Parking on the pavement outside London isn’t illegal but driving on the pavement is. Perhaps tow a handy crane and park where you like.
You Can’t Ride The Tube In The 21st Century And Have The Plaque In The 17th Century At The Same Time - Section 33, Public Health (Control of Disease) Act, 1985
The plague was eradicated almost entirely. Nevertheless, if you do feel a bit plague-y, avoid sneaking onto public transport or risk a fine (that’d be all you need!).
Returning Library Books While Clenching With Cholera - Section 25, Public Health (Control of Disease) Act, 1985
If you’re in a spot of bother with cholera, the library would prefer you to keep hold of your books and stay away. That’s a useful excuse to help swerve any overdue fees!
Being Annoying Is Legal (Unless You’re In A Library) - Library Offences Act, 1898 & 2005
The law banning gambling in libraries was changed to ban being annoying in libraries - someone must have lost a bet and been super irritating about it in the fiction aisle.
You Can’t Be Drunk In A Pub - Licensing Act, 1872
Yeah. Bummer. Looks like we’re all limited to a swift half, then? What’s more, since 2003, bar staff cannot legally serve drunk people. Time to practice your sober face.
Switching On Your Burglar Alarm (And Keeping It To Yourself) - Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act, 2005
Loud alarms at 3 AM aren’t great. That’s why we’re meant to recruit a backup alarm switcher-offer, give them the code, and tell them the alarm is set. EVERY TIME.
Asking A Friend For Small Change Isn’t Advised - Vagrancy Act, 1824
The shrapnel in our pockets always falls just short at the pay and display machine, doesn’t it? But asking a friend for the extra cash is deemed illegal begging. Wow.
It’s DIY Not CIY (Carry It Yourself), So Don’t - Section 54, Metropolitan Police Act, 1839
Paths are for people. And people prefer to walk unobstructed. This law states you cannot take ladders or planks of wood for a walk on paths without risking a £500 fine.
Knock And Run (Into Trouble With The Law) - Metropolitan Police Act, 1854
Knock-and-run delivery drivers aren’t breaking the law. They have a valid excuse. But anyone knocking and scarpering for fun could land themselves in £500 of upset.
Politicians Reject Heavy Metal - Statute Forbidding Bearing Of Armour, 1313
Order! Order! Politicians may not wear suits of armour whilst attending the Houses of Parliament. Rapier wit will have to suffice in place of actual swords.
Beat It! No, Wait, Actually, Better Not... - Section 60, Metropolitan Police Act, 1839
Dusty rugs must not be beaten in the street. Smog from Victorian factory pollution is fine. But no dusty rugs, please. It’ll give your neighbour a tickly throat.
Better Google Those Lyrics First - Section 60, Metropolitan Police Act, 1839
Singing obscene songs in the street is an offence. Looks like the man from Nantucket had better be on his best behaviour. If in doubt, perhaps hum any dodgy parts.
Look Out Below! - Section 28, Town Police Clauses Act, 1847
Have you ever wondered if it’s illegal to place heavy and unsecured objects in open windows, posing a threat to people below? No? Well, it is. Better clear your sills.
Christmas Is Cancelled - Ordinance Of The Long Parliament Of The Interregnum, 1647
The Long Parliament banned everything. Including Christmas. Following the Restoration of the Monarchy, Charles II lifted the ban in 1660. Cheers, Charlie.
Don’t Be Welsh After Dark In Chester - City Ordinance, 1403 (Response To The Glyndŵr Rising)
1403. Chester. The Welsh revolted against the English and lost. A curfew on the Welsh was imposed (because being tucked up in bed by 7 PM prevents revolutions).
Finger Food For Hungry Horses - The London Hackney Carriage Act, 1831
Fearing a hay-bale takeover of London, carriage drivers were restricted to feeding hungry horses from their hands. Probably why they’re always champing at the bit.
Don’t Chat To The Postal Service For Too Long - Postal Services Act, 2000
Most people know you can’t open someone else’s mail. You also may not delay the mail. Perhaps save your inane morning chit-chat for the message group or your cat.
Excuse Me, You Forgot Your Oak Bureau And Gooseneck Lamp - Town Police Clauses Act, 1847
Strolling with a chez lounge must have been briefly popular. This law specifically bans furniture on pathways (banning fly-tipping wasn’t enough, apparently).
Deer Oh Deer, That’s The Death Penalty - Criminal Law Act, 1722
King George III (the “Mad King” who lost America - or the King in Bridgerton) had few marbles to lose. He imposed the death penalty for killing a deer in any Royal forest.
Henry VIII’s Mysterious Beard Tax...
We’ve saved the best for last. There’s no proof, but the legend goes that in 1535 Henry VIII introduced a beard tax. The richer you were, the more you had to pay.
Then, in 1698, Emperor Peter I of Russia noted that the European elite had taken to a clean-shaven look, and so introduced a beard tax to help modernise his country.
Why is any of this interesting? All Russian men who paid the beard tax were given a metal token with a picture of a beard on it as proof of purchase. You can’t make it up.
Strange laws about animals
The Pony Express To Prison - Licensing Act, 1872
If you fall off the wagon, don’t land on a cow. A fine of 40 shillings or a one month stay at her majesty’s pleasure awaits intoxicated revellers riding animals on roads.
“Rover acted alone, officer, I swear!” - 1907 Rule Book for Morecambe & Heysham (Bylaw)
The bylaw prohibits owners from inciting their dogs to bark. Makes you wonder if an off-duty judge was tired of a neighbour teaching their dog to “speak” for treats.
You Can’t Leave That There - Animal By-Products Regulations, 2013
Pets that meet untimely ends away from home risk a fine. While the law will kindly permit their death, burial outside a pet cemetery or their registered address is illegal.
Pigs In The Petunias - Town Police Clauses Act, 1847
Pigsties are notoriously messy affairs. That’s why they’re not allowed in plain view on your lawn (unless you build a big wall … which is also dodgy legal territory).
The King And Queen Of Whales - Prerogativa Regis, 1322
The UK has whales. Who knew? And any whales, quote, “taken in the sea”, belong to the crown. Pond whales, though elusive, are presumably up for grabs.
Looking Shifty Isn’t Illegal (Unless You’re Holding A Fish) - Section 32 of the Salmon Act, 1986
Sweating with panic isn’t illegal. But looking guilty while holding a salmon is pushing your luck. This law is meant to prevent poaching. But it just sounds ridiculous.
Dog Walkers Must Carry An Empty Poo Bag At All Times - Daventry District Council, 2015 (Bylaw)
Your dog’s poorly stomach could cost you a fortune. £100 fines are in place if you cannot produce spare - empty - poo bags when challenged. Easier to carry a cork.
No Trespassing (Unless You’ve Climbed A Tree To Point At A Fish) - Cornwall, 1603 (Bylaw)
“No Trespassing” signs don’t apply to people employed by trawler crews to climb high and point at shoals of fish. Now there’s a job that lacks ambition.
Is That Hamster Wearing A Seatbelt? It Better Be - Highway Code, Rule 57
This law makes sense. Unrestrained pets (such as dogs) can distract you while driving. Still, you’d feel aggrieved at a fine for not buckling up your guinea pig.
Fido Better Not Worry A Chicken - Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act, 1953
Again, we’ve saved the best for last. This law makes sense on some levels. It states pet dogs must not terrorise livestock. That’s fine. But the wording is a little strange…
The law prohibits your pet dog from so much as “worrying” a farmer’s animals. Better keep Rover away from any nervous-looking goats or you risk a fine.
Weird laws in America
Now we turn our attention to our American cousins. Be sure to check out onlyinyourstate.com for even more crazy facts and laws by state!
Here are some of the wackiest laws in the USA.
Confetti is illegal
No driving blindfolded
No wearing fake moustaches to church
Moose aren’t allowed on the sidewalk
Dogs cannot travel in the back of open-top vehicles
You may not spot moose from a plane and hunt them on the same day
No spitting (it’s a public nuisance)
Donkeys may not sleep in bathtubs
No “Bat Signals” (or any other beacon) allowed in the sky
You must pronounce Arkansas correctly
No car horns outside sandwich shops after 9 PM
The Arkansas River is forbidden from rising above the level of the Main Street Bridge
No kissing if you have a moustache
No whistling to find your escaped pet bird before 7 AM
No hunting from a moving vehicle (except when hunting whales, which is also illegal)
No sofas allowed on your porch
No letting garden weeds grow longer than 10 inches
You may not own chickens (but owning up to three turkeys is permissible)
No cycling over 65 mph
Pickles must “bounce” (to be declared fit for humans)
You may not cross the street while walking on your hands
No pretending to sleep on a bench
Hunting on Sundays is restricted to fox hunting
Annulments are granted for weddings that were held as a dare
No selling your kids
No selling oranges on the street
Elephants left at parking meters must pay the same fee as a car
Mules may not roam unattended
No living on a boat for more than 30 days
No carrying ice cream cones in your back pocket on a Sunday
No billboards allowed
You may not place coins in a person’s ear
No leaving home without a destination in mind (this is an outdated law)
No living in a dog kennel
No riding a merry-go-round on Sundays
You need a permit to buy onions after dark
No smelly dogs
No pulling faces at dogs
Roosters may not crow within 300 feet of a residential property
No throwing your sofa at your neighbour
No taking baths between October and March
You may not attend a movie theatre within four hours of eating garlic
No palm reading
Kissing may not last longer than five minutes
One-armed piano players cannot charge for their performance
No catching fish with your hands
No shooting rabbits from speed boats
Assistance from a mule while duck hunting is prohibited
You cannot handle a snake in church
No throwing flowers at public speakers
No selling dyed blue baby chicks in groups fewer than six
No stealing crawfish
No fake wrestling matches
Spectators may not mock boxers during a match
No biting your landlord
No blowing your nose in public
No tickling with a feather duster
No use of profanity while driving
No taking a pet lion to the movies
Wives may not go through their sleeping husband’s pockets
Gorillas may not ride in the back seat of a car
Mourners are limited to three sandwiches each at a wake
As long as the Governor is present, duels to the death are allowed on Sundays
No serenading a loved one
No killing dogs in decompression chambers
Dentists must technically classify themselves as mechanics
No sleeping without any clothes on
Men riding motorcycles are required to wear a shirt
No entering Wisconsin while balancing a chicken on your head
No shaving in the centre of Mainstreet in Tylertown
No explaining the meaning of polygamy to other people
No bribing athletes to rig the outcome of a sporting event
Single men must pay a $1 annual tax
Shaving while driving is legal if you have a permit
Clotheslines are banned (clothes may be dried on a fence)
You are not permitted to raise pet rats
You cannot show movies that depict felonies
Married women may not go fishing on their own on Sundays
Barbers may not shave chest hair
Hotels must provide cotton nightshirts
No sneezing or burping during a church service
No lying on the sidewalk
You cannot pawn your dentures
No purchasing drinks for more than three people
No getting drunk in a cemetery
No gathering seaweed at the beach
The opening in a sugar shaker must not exceed ⅜ of an inch
No frowning at cops
No slurping soup while in a public place
You may not annoy people of the opposite sex
You cannot trip up a horse
You cannot spell somebody’s name incorrectly
You cannot carry a lunchbox down the main street in Las Cruces
No taking selfies with tigers
You cannot sell cat hair or dog hair
You cannot throw a ball at someone’s face
You cannot sing off-key
You cannot borrow your neighbour’s dog
Stealing more than $1000 of grease is a felony
No wearing a hat while dancing
No falling asleep with your shoes on
You cannot serve beer and pretzels together in bars
No catching mice without a hunting license
No roller skating without first informing the police
You can only kill a housefly within 160 ft of a church if you have a licence
No reading comics while driving
No whaling (NOTE: Oklahoma is landlocked)
Dogs need a permit to gather in groups of three or more on private property
You are not permitted to whistle underwater
You cannot get married on an ice-skating rink
Your shoelaces must be tied when walking on public streets
You cannot sleep on a refrigerator outdoors
You can only buy one pack of beer at a time
You can’t catch a fish using your body (unless you use your mouth)
You cannot bite a person’s arm off
You cannot test the speed of a horse on a highway
Rope can only be strung across a highway at a height in excess of 14 ft
You cannot tattoo a person’s neck or face
Children must be supervised on pinball machines
Seduction by means of promising marriage is prohibited
No falling asleep in a cheese factory
You cannot arm-wrestle a pacifist into changing their views
The sale of hollow logs is prohibited
You can’t take a skunk across state borders
You cannot own the Encyclopaedia Britannica
You cannot eat from your neighbour’s garbage without permission
Restaurants must provide a wine list before serving wine
Motorists must concede the right of way to all birds on highways
You may not keep doves in your freezer
You cannot undress in public (but you can leave home without clothes)
You cannot use indecent language on the phone
You cannot flip a coin to decide who picks up the bill in a coffee shop
You may not use an x-ray machine to check if shoes fit
You may not damage another person’s beer bottle without consent
You can take roadkill home and eat it
Railroads must build a station if passing a community of 100+ people
You may not wear red in public
All cheese produced in Wisconsin is required to be “highly pleasing”
Buildings over $100K must invest 1% of their value in building artwork
You may not wear a hat that obstructs the public’s view inside theatres