Hampstead Heath has 47 byelaws. Every one of them is written in crotchety Edwardian language. The City of London Corporation manages Hampstead Heath, and reminds us that "If you break any byelaw, it is a criminal offence and [you] can be prosecuted."
So what exactly might you be prosecuted for on Hampstead Heath? Here we pick 14 of the most puzzling.
1. You can't take home souvenirs
Byelaw 3. No person shall remove, uproot, destroy or injure any tree, shrub or plant, or pluck any flower, bough or leaf, or dig, cut or take any turf, sod, gravel, sand, clay or other substance in any open space.
Do you like to press wild flowers? Does your child have an unfathomable need to take home pebbles from every goddamn place you take them? Have you stung your fingers and need a dock leaf? Any one of these urges could lead to your branding as a FELON under Hamsptead Heath's byelaws.
2. You can't climb the trees
Byelaw 4. No Person shall climb on any tree or on or over any gate, fence or railing in or enclosing any open space.
A mean byelaw to make any fun-loving person weep. Shame on you, City of London Corporation. Anyone who climbs a tree on Hampstead Heath is a DASTARD OF THE CRIMINAL FRATERNITY.
3. You can't use a camera tripod
Byelaw 11. No person shall in any open space, without first obtaining or otherwise than in accordance with the terms of a permit from the Council, erect or place or retain any post, rail, fence, photographic stand apparatus, tent, booth, screen, stand, swing or other building, erection or structure or any obstruction of any kind whatever.
A wordy byelaw covering many infractions. You'd expect the landholder to cast a dim view on unbidden booths, buildings and fences. But 'photographic stand apparatus'? Come on. This is a supposedly public heath, not one of those sodding public-private corporate spaces in the city centre. Set up a tripod to capture the panoramas of Parliament Hill and you a PETTY OFFENDER.
4. You can't ride a donkey faster than 12mph
Byelaw 14. No person shall in any open space drive any vehicle, bicycle or tricycle or ride any animal at a rate exceeding twelve miles an hour or so as to endanger the public.
Cycling and the riding of animals is heavily restricted on the Heath. Another byelaw (no. 13) limits such locomotion to approved tracks, of which there are few. Byelaw 14 is more interesting, though. Who knew about the 12 mph speed limit? Signs on the Heath confirm its enforcement. As the byelaw also pertains to 'any animal', we've opted for the donkey, seeing as you could possibly borrow one from the adjacent Golders Hill Park (also managed by the City of London). Ride at 13 mph, and you could find yourself PROSECUTED.
5. You can't train a whippet
Byelaw 24. No person shall in any open space race or train any whippet or other dog.
"Fetch, boy, fetch!". Sounds like it's fine to throw a stick for your dog, so long as it's already got the hang of retrieval. The minute you attempt to teach the dog a new trick, you become a CROOK OF THE FIRST ORDER. And why are they singling out whippets? Are they trying to scare off the northerners?
6. You can't turn out your ass, unless it's under the hand of the clerk
Byelaw 25. No person shall turn out to graze or feed or allow or suffer to stray or remain any cattle, sheep, swine, horse, ass, mule, goose, duck, fowl or other animal in any open space without right or without the consent of the Council in writing under the hand of its Clerk.
This is a sensible byelaw, but I saw the word 'ass', and panicked myself into a double entendre. Turn out your ass, and they'll BANG YOU UP, especially if it's going more than 12 mph.
7. You can't harry a fish
Byelaw 26. No person shall in any open space wilfully disturb any animal grazing or shall harry, ill-treat, or injure or destroy any animal, bird or fish, or take or attempt to take any animal, bird, fish or egg or set any trap.
Another reasonable request, but one that uses peculiar language. Do not harry a fish, or you will be considered a HOODLUM.
8. You can't mend a chair
Byelaw 29. "No person shall in any open space sort rags, bones, refuse or matter of like nature or mend any chair."
I guess this regulation was intended to dissuade Steptoe-like characters from plying their humble trade on the Heath. But that bit about chairs presents a few problems. Note that it explicitly says 'any chair'. Fix a wobbly pushchair on Parliament Hill, and you are a CRIMINAL.
9. You can't shake or beat anything
Byelaw 30. No person shall in any open space shake or beat any carpet, mat or other thing, or place any clothes or other things for the purpose of dying or bleaching.
The Heath is clearly not a place for wafting your soft furnishings or airing your laundry. But that clause 'or other thing' gets me wondering. Are we forbidden from shaking hands? May we not beat about the bush? Shake your fist at these stupid rules, and you'll be a FUGITIVE TO THE LAW.
10. You can't call someone a shit
Byelaw 34. No person shall in any open space bet, brawl, fight or use indecent or improper language or designedly do any act which outrages public decency or which comes within the meaning of the 4th section of the Vagrancy Act, 1824 (5 Geo.IV, cap.83) whether the offence be committed with intent to insult any female or not.
Indecent language is forbidden on the Heath, a byelaw broken by anyone who plunges into the icy bathing ponds for the first time. Tell someone to piss off, and you will be considered an INCORRIGIBLE ROGUE. Tell a fish to piss off and you break two byelaws at once.
11. You can't sit on a bench if you're dressed as a rat
Byelaw 35. No person in a verminous or offensively [sic] condition shall lie about in any open space or lie upon or occupy any seat therein.
We might assume that a 'verminous condition' means 'riddled with fleas' or some such, but we instead choose to believe that this is an injunction against rat and mouse costumes.
12. You can't sing
Byelaw 39. No person shall in any open space, without the consent of the Council in writing under the hand of its Clerk, operate, play or make sounds on any musical or other instrument including any gramophone or radio apparatus, or without such consent sing any sacred or secular song except on the site or sites mentioned in the preceding byelaw.
Our handy Clerk is back to forbid another form of fun. You may not sing, or play any instrument or music system, except in a handful of pre-approved sites. Where those sites are, we can't discover. Best keep quiet, or risk being branded a PUBLIC NUISANCE.
13. You can't, in fact, do anything fun at all
Byelaw 41. No person shall in any open space practise gymnastics, play or make preparation to play any game or take part in any sport, or entertainment or dance, bathe, fish, use any boat, or sail any model yacht without the consent of the Council in writing under the hand of its Clerk except on the parts or places respectively set apart therefor or infringe any regulation of the Council without respect to the use of any such part or place and the conduct of persons using the same or resorting thereto as may be specified in any notice from time to time exhibited on any such part or place.
After I finish examining these stupid byelaws, I'm going to set about writing a black comedy. In said comedy, a much-thwarted pleasure seeker would kidnap the Clerk of the Council of the City of Cocking London Corporation, handcuff him to a donkey, then speed around the Heath breaking each byelaw in turn.
Number 41 must surely be the rule to end all rules. It begins by outlawing cartwheels. Games are also forbidden. You can't play Candy Crush, or even 'make preparation to play' Candy Crush. Indeed 'any entertainment' must be sanctioned by that dastardly Clerk. By golly, he's got my dander up. Sure, the second part of this byelaw appears to water down the prohibitions to certain times and places, but who can really know when it's written in such drowsy language. In summary: SMILE AND YOU'RE NICKED.
14. No military evolutions
Byelaw 43. No person shall in any open space drill or practise military evolutions or exercise without the consent of the Council in writing under the hand of its Clerk.
My black comedy would involve one of those military training montages so beloved of Hollywood films, in which my captive Council Clerk would be forced to carry logs up Parliament Hill, abseil down Kenwood House, sneak into Hampstead Garden Suburb unseen, and scrub the floor of the Pergola with his toothbrush. No military evolutions, or you'll be COURTMARTIALED.
How many of these byelaws have you unwittingly broken?