It’s easier to be a lawbreaker than you’d think.

The British have some strange laws that you’ve probably never heard of, and might have broken without realising it:

Inside a London Pub

Pub Inside by trombone65

It is Against the Law to be Drunk in a Pub

According to the Metropolitan Act 1839, it is against the law for the “keeper of a public house to permit drunkenness on premises’”. Under the Licensing Act 2003, it is also illegal to serve alcoholic beverages to patrons who are already intoxicated. It is even against the law to purchase alcohol for people who are already drunk.

Singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in a Public Place Could be Considered a Breach of Copyright

Despite being sung by billions of people around the world, ‘Happy Birthday’ is actually under copyright if used for commercial purposes. Warner/Chappell Music claims to own the copyright to what is widely regarded as the most famous song in the English language, which brings in around £1.2m a year in copyright fees. Because singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in a commercial venue could be classed as a performance of the song, many restaurants instruct their staff to sing alternative songs in order to avoid paying royalties.

Wollaton Hall and Sledders by Mike Fay

Wollaton Hall and Sledders by Mike Fay

It is Illegal to Make or Use a Slide on Snow and Ice

It is illegal for any person “who shall make or use any slide upon ice and snow in any street or thoroughfare, to the common danger of the passengers” under the Metropolitan Act 1839. Any person guilty of such an offence could be liable to receive a fine of up to £500.

Sounding Your Horn Because You are Annoyed Is Against the Law

Sounding a horn aggressively because you are annoyed or frustrated could land you with a fine – even if a pedestrian or driver acts dangerously or is at fault in some way. It is also against the law to sound a horn whilst the vehicle is stationary or while in a built-up area between 11.30pm and 7.00am.

You Could be Prosecuted for Asking to Borrow Money

In response to the huge volume of war veterans and Irish and Scottish migrants who travelled to London in search of work after the Napoleonic Wars, the Vagrancy Act 1824 made it illegal for people to sleep rough or beg. However, as it is still an offence to beg in a public place, you could be in breach of the law if you are caught short of cash and ask to borrow money from a stranger.

British Sailors circa 1900

All of the HMS Drott’s crew on deck. by Tekniska museet

It is an Offence to Go to a Party Dressed as a Sailor

Under the Seamen’s and Soldiers’ False Characters Act of 1906, if you attend a party dressed as a sailor you could be sent to prison for up to three months and/or fined for attempting to “personate the holder of a certificate of service or discharge.”

It’s Illegal to Carry a Plank of Wood on a Pavement

Under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 it is illegal to walk along the street carrying building materials and tools. It is illegal to carry a plank of wood while walking on a pavement, and it is also against the law to “roll or carry any cask, tub, hoop, or wheel, or any ladder, plank, pole, showboard, or placard, upon any footway, except for the purpose of loading or unloading any cart or carriage, or of crossing the footway”.

You Must Clear Your Windscreen of All Ice Before Setting Off

During the winter months, vehicle windscreens often freeze up and become covered in ice. However, before setting off on your journey you need to remove the ice from the whole of your windscreen – not just your viewing area. Failure to do is against the law. You can also be fined for failing to clear snow from the roof before embarking on your journey.

Banknotes, money, cash

Banknotes, money, cash by Howard Lake

It is Illegal to Scribble on Banknotes

Under the Currency and Bank Notes Act 1928, defacing money in the UK is subject to a financial penalty, although burning money is not illegal. This is because defaced banknotes can be kept in circulation, whilst burned and destroyed banknotes would obviously have no value and cannot be used to purchase goods.

It is Against the Law to Fly a Kite in a Public Place

Under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, it is illegal to fly a kite in a public place, which includes parks. According to the Act, any person “who shall fly any kite or play at any game to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers” could be liable to receive a fine of up to £500.
Guest post written by Rob Carter. Clapham & Collinge, a leading firm of solicitors in Norwich, offers a wide range of legal services for businesses and individuals including dispute resolution, conveyancing, employment law and wills and probate.

Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Jean | Reply

    Abigail Young? You got married! That’s wonderful. I was just thinking of you today, perhaps because I posted a Tregothnan tea and teapot giveaway and my next is mincemeat, so thought I’d pop in and say Hello. Will you be posting again soon?

  2. Timothy Young Reply

    Nice writing love to hear from you. I understand that my ancestors are from Tillicoultry. They were the Douglas’s. Changed the name to Drysdale.
    But was Drysdale the Younger.
    Hence my ancestors were all young’s.
    And I am also a Young
    Love to hear from you

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