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Why 'Knock Down Ginger' Is Illegal in the United Kingdom

Picture of Ruaidhrí Carroll
London Travel Writer
Updated: 3 April 2018
One of the most notorious childhood games of them all, knock down ginger is the bane of elderly folks’ lives – but did you know it’s illegal in the UK?

Knock down ginger is a simple game. It consists of a group of people – usually unruly kids – causing havoc in a neighbourhood by going around mischievously knocking on the doors of residents – often elderly – and running away before the occupants can answer. Why? All just for the fun of it. It’s a game that epitomises the German term schadenfreude, which means to rejoice in another person’s misfortune.

As despicable as the game is, many people will have played it – or seen friends playing it – at some point in life. Perhaps the game is not as common today as it once was, but in 1838 it was clearly considered enough of a public nuisance to spur the British Parliament into banning it in London with the passage of Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act in 1839, which addresses the ‘Prohibition of nuisances by persons in the thoroughfares’. Among other things, the section prohibits anyone from ‘wilfully and wantonly [disturbing] any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any door-bell or knocking at any door without lawful excuse’. Just a few years later, in 1847, the ban was extended to the rest of the UK under Section 28 of the Town Police Clauses Act.

Knocking on door
Knocking on door

Knocking on doors and running away may sound like harmless fun, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sadly, in Western society, which all too often neglects its most vulnerable citizens, answering a knock at the door can be the only interaction many elderly people have. Meanwhile, getting up to answer the door can be an arduous task for the frail and the elderly. This means knock down ginger can be both mentally and physically wearing for its victims, so it should come as no surprise that the troublesome game is illegal.

While the crime does not carry a prison sentence, it does carry the possibility of arrest and a £500 fine, according to the standard scale of fines established by the 1982 Criminal Justice Act. So next time you’re thinking about knocking on someone’s door and running away for fun, stop and think. Not only is it harmful to its victims; you might just find one of Her Majesty’s finest knocking at your own door, and they won’t be going anywhere.