Can you really shoot a Welsh person with a longbow after midnight in Chester?

Reporter:

Jamie Bowman

Every country in the world seems to have a collection of strange laws that are bizarre, outdated or just plain wrong, even to the people who live there. Britain is no exception.

There are many lists circulating on the internet that claim to be true, but the truth is that some of the laws are now repealed, others have twisted the actual law to make it more interesting and some are simply urban myths.

Perhaps the most famous of these are the supposed laws about your rights to shoot a Welsh person with a longbow after midnight in Chester or on a Sunday in the Cathedral Close in Hereford.

The bad news for anyone preparing their arrows is that of course it isn’t true.

A spokesperson for the Law Commission said: “It is illegal to shoot a Welsh or Scottish person regardless of the day, location or choice of weaponry.

“The idea that it may once have been allowed in Chester appears to arise from a reputed City Ordinance of 1403, passed in response to the Glyndwr Rising, and imposing a curfew on Welshmen in the city.

“However, it is not even clear that this Ordinance ever existed. Sources for the other cities are unclear, but Hereford, like Chester, was frequently under attack from Wales during the medieval period.”

Sticking with the longbow until 1960, it was actually illegal not to carry out at least two hours of longbow practice a week according to the Unlawful Games Act 1541 which required every Englishman between the ages of 17 and 60 to own a longbow and practice archery.

Last year a Cambridge University researcher compiled the 10 most bizarre laws that are still in force in the UK, revealing that it is illegal to be drunk in a pub, that MPs are forbidden from wearing armour in parliament, and that there is a ban on importing potatoes from Poland without written notification.

The laws were identified by Christopher Sargeant, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge.

Section 12 of the 1872 Licensing Act declares that “every person found drunk… on any licensed premises, shall be liable to a penalty”.

It was enacted to reduce consumption of alcohol and to encourage sobriety among the poor. It remains in force within England and Wales as a rule prohibiting public drunkenness.

The Metropolitan Police Act 1839 makes it an offence for any person to carry any cask, tub, hoop, wheels, ladders, planks or poles on a footway “except for the purpose of loading or unloading any cart or carriage”.

The law prohibiting MPs from wearing armour in Parliament by the Bearing of Armour Act dates back to 1313.

It was an attempt by Edward II to prevent nobles from threatening to use force when Parliament was called.

Mr Sargeant, who is studying at Cambridge University’s faculty of law, said: “Given its rich and varied legal history, it is inevitable that the UK has had its fair share of weird and wonderful laws.

“This reflects that even the oldest laws can still serve a key purpose (even if this is not always immediately obvious) or that such rules may be maintained for symbolic reasons.”

The Law Commission, which is responsible for examining the statute book, does regularly recommend the removal of outdated regulations and list a number of odd laws and legal myths on their website.

Topics which might be relevant to the law-abiding folk of North East Wales and Chester include the fact that it is actually illegal to drive cows down the roadway between 10am and 7pm without the permission of the Commissioner of Police according to the Metropoliton Streets Act of 1867.

The Licensing Act of 1872 also makes it an offence to to be drunk in charge of a horse or a cow and also make sure you don’t carry a plank of wood along a pavement any time soon as that’s an offence under section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 as is ‘playing annoying games’, ‘flying kites’, ‘playing annoying games’ and ‘sliding on ice or snow in the street’.

Heading over to the River Dee in Chester and you night be wondering what’s happened to all the swans in recent years.

If the birds have been killed it’s not necessarily treason as some suspect.

“Since the 12th century, the Crown has held the right to ownership over all wild, unmarked mute swans in open water,” explains the Law Commission.

“However, the Queen only exercises her right over parts of the Thames and its tributaries. This right is shared with the Vintners’ Company and the Dyers’ Company, livery companies of the City of London.

“Every year, the Swan Upping ceremony is carried out by the Crown and the Companies to record and mark all the swans in the area.

“Killing one of the Queen’s mute swans may be unlawful, but it has never been an act of treason. Furthermore, tame swans and all other varieties of wild swan (eg whooper and Bewick’s swans) are free.”

Finally you might remember that a bottlenosed northern whale came ashore at Talacre in Flintshire back in 2009.

HM Coastguard search and rescue team, based in Rhyl, were quickly on the scene and used a tractor to tow the carcass off the beach.

But did they tell the Queen first and did they save the head for her?

“Under the 14th century statute Prerogative Regis, all whales and sturgeons found on the coast are the property of the Crown.

“This law is still in force, although a sturgeon caught in Swansea Bay in 2004 was declined by the royal household, and ended up in the Natural History Museum.

“It is worth noting that both whales and sturgeons are now European protected species, and it is illegal to deliberately catch or kill them,” explains the Law Commission.

“The idea that the head and tail are to be divided between the King and Queen seems to originate from the 13th century legal treatise known as Bracton.

“Blackstone in his Commentaries claims that the reason for the rule was to provide the Queen with whalebone for her corset stays. However, as Herman Melville points out in Moby Dick, this is clearly incorrect: whalebone, or baleen, is only found in a whale’s mouth.”

Email:

jamie.bowman@nwn.co.uk

See full story in the Chester Leader

Leave your comment

Share your opinions on

Characters left: 1500

Most Read