Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why do these things always involve horses?

Flat 7, Gordonstoun Court, Suffolk Street, Oulton Broad, Suffolk is the subject of an interesting law, enacted in 1537 by Henry VIII and still in effect today. The law requires two living horses to be within the flat at all times, failure to adhere to this law carrying a minimum twenty-year prison sentence for the owner, occupants and any visitors to the property in the previous seven weeks. The last time anyone was prosecuted under this law was in 1987, when building works forced the then resident Humphrey Dalmas to briefly move one of the horses out into the corridor in order to access a leaking gas pipe. The team of twelve police officers who constantly monitor the flat sprang quickly into action and had Dalmas taken into immediate custody.

The current owner, hippopotamus breeder Hugo Bugeleisen, has made sure to keep at least four horses in the flat, so as to avoid prosecution should one or two of them spontaneously drop dead, and describes himself as "happy" with the situation, "although not as happy as those whose flats contain no horses at all, obviously."

The law was introduced at the request of Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham, whose cousin, Derek Tunstall, lived in Pakefield and kept a mistress in Camps Heath. Oulton Broad being roughly half way between the two locations, the law enabled Derek to ride as quickly as possible to his mistress's house every Saturday afternoon, changing his tired horse for a fresh one at Oulton, steal a quick kiss and return home again before his wife had finished her weekly bath. The law originally applied to a large country house with attached stables; this was destroyed in the war and a block of flats built in its place in the early fifties, when it was ruled that for the purposes of the Living Horse Law, Flat 7 should be considered the successor of the original property. A small, one-bedroom, three-kitchen flat, the presence of two or more horses leaves no room to swing a cat, let alone breed a hippopotamus.

The law serves no practical purpose today - Derek Tunstall lived to a surprisingly ripe old age but was eventually executed in 1667 on the posthumous orders of Oliver Cromwell for treason and unlicensed dispensing of rat poison - but an attempt to pass a bill through parliament invalidating the law was unanimously defeated in 1992, with even the MP who introduced the motion deciding to vote against it.

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