7 Strange London Laws You’ve Probably Broken

By Ellie Smith

8 months ago

From being drunk in a pub to shaking a rug


If you were looking carefully at the Millennium Bridge this week, you might have spotted a rather odd sight: a bale of straw dangling below the bridge. This is because of a quirky London tradition from the ancient Port of London Thames Byelaws, brought in as a way of warning shipping when the headroom under a bridge is reduced. That got us thinking: what other strange London laws are out there? Turns out: a lot. Many ancient and quite frankly bizarre laws from centuries ago are still technically in existence (though, realistically, you probably won’t go to prison for breaking them). Here are some of the weirdest.

7 Strange London Laws You’ve Probably Broken

The Audley Public House

The Audley Public House

You’re not allowed to be drunk in a pub

Yes, you read that right. The pub might be the most obvious destination to be a little tipsy, but technically it’s illegal to have one too many at your local. That’s because of a historic law from the Victorian era, which falls under the Licensing Act 1872, stating that any person found drunk on licenced premises, is liable to a penalty. The law hasn’t been enforced for a very long time though, so no need to forego your Friday beers (being drunk and disorderly is another ballgame though, so watch out with those tequila shots).

Sliding on snowy streets is illegal

We all love messing about in the snow – but turns out a little harmless wintry fun could land us with a £500 fine. That’s because of a strange law from the Metropolitan Police Act of 1889 which says that any person ‘who shall make or use any slide upon ice or snow in any street or other thoroughfare, to the common danger of the passengers’ can be arrested and fined. Guess we’ll have to head to the city’s outdoor ice rinks to get our fun fix without fear of being told off.

London underground tube sign

It’s illegal to jump the queue at a tube station

Perhaps the most British law of all time: according to the official TFL Railway Byelaws, it’s illegal to jump a queue in a tube station. The byelaw states that people must ‘join the rear of the queue’ if directed to line up by an authorised person or sign. Why not whip that one out next time someone sidles in front of you in the oyster card queue?

You could be arrested for playing knock down ginger

It was a classic childhood game which involved knocking on someone’s door and running away, but knock down ginger is actually forbidden. A law from 1839 states that it’s illegal to ‘willfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any doorbell or knocking at any door without lawful excuse’. Fun’s over, kids.

No walking down the street with a plank of wood

Next time you’re about to head down the road with a plank of wood in tow, think again. This is not permitted in accordance with Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, which also bans walking along with casks, tubs, hoops or ladders, in a bid to prevent nuisance on the streets. But fear not: there’s a loophole. If you’re unloading said item from a vehicle, that’s allowed. Phew.

You can’t shake a rug in public

Having a spring clean? Be warned: shaking your rug out on the street could land you with a fine… but only if it’s before 8am in the morning, according to a law from 1839 (seems like this was the year for introducing fun-sucking laws!). For some reason, doormats are OK though.

A hand with a black glove picking up some salmon

Getty Images

No handling salmon in suspicious circumstances

This is perhaps our favourite strange law of all, which forbids fishy behaviour while holding a salmon. This is because of a law enshrined in Section 32 of the Salmon Act 1986, which was brought in to stop fish being sold through illicit means, rather than banning hiding in dark corners clutching a fillet.