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Five things you couldn’t do in London back in the day

Beth Leslie

The city of London is over 2,000 years old. That’s a heck of a lot of history to pack under its pavements, so it’s hardly surprising that some of this past is somewhat strange, unsavoury, or just a bit bonkers.

Top of the list for weirdo factor are some of London’s old laws. It turns out that those Ye Olde Londoners were really easily offended. From fancy clothing to Christmas carols, being a notorious felon 500 years ago required little more than enjoying one too many mulled wines down the pub. Here are some of the things you’d be hard-pushed to get away with, back in the day:

woman wearing a white full-face mask, extravagant white costume, large flower-decorated hat and green ruff
pixabay / 2977540

Be a fashionista

Most of us like to express our personality through our clothing, so spare a thought for those poor Tudors who were expressly forbidden to be fabulous. For a brief period from 1562, courtiers who wore clothing of ‘monstrous and outrageous greatness’ could be prosecuted for breaking the law.

On the plus side, it was probably a lot harder to behead someone encased in ‘outrageous double ruffs’.

man holding a bow and arrow against pinky cloudy sky
pixabay / claus_indesign

Skip archery practice 

From 1540, all Englishmen between 17 and 60 were required by law to both own a longbow and to practise their archery skills for two hours every week. (Women were off the hook.)  

Despite the fact that the adoption of firearms in the sixteenth century (literally) blew the longbow out of the water, this law was only repealed in 1960. So, if your gramps once stunned you by hitting every bullseye during the last family trip to Butlin’s, you finally know why.


In 1585, a law was passed which made it illegal for women to ‘cause a nuisance with abusive or argumentative language’. Shockingly, the law stood for close to 400 years. Only in 1967 were women free to fight with impunity, giving a whole new meaning to the term swinging ’60s.

Clearly, the only conclusion to draw is that men cannot win arguments unless women are expressing forbidden from having them. And they say women aren’t always right.

man in red shirt is obscured by many pints of beer

pixabay / TiBine

Be drunk in a pub

Yes, you read that right. Being drunk in a pub, bar, or indeed any other ‘licensed premise’ was made illegal in 1872. No wonder the Victorians are regarded as such killjoys.

Ready for the even worse news? This law has never been repealed, meaning it’s still illegal to be drunk in a pub to this day. And you thought your dignity was the only thing you violated that night you had too many tequilas down your local.

plate of mince pies

pixabay / Darian Stibb

Celebrate Christmas

The claim that it is illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day is a myth. The reality was once much worse: from 1644-1660, Christmas itself was banned.

It turns out that those Christmas-haters of popular culture, from Scrooge to the Grinch, had nothing on the real-life exploits of Oliver Cromwell, who felt that all things Christmassy offended his puritanical values.

The Christmas of 1644 was even designated as a mandatory fasting day, meaning Tiny Tims up and down the country were forced to go without turkey, trimmings or Uncle Bob’s annual sherry-inspired boogie to The Pogues.

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