Ancient ASBOs

Behavioral bans of old


Anti-Social Behavior Orders, or ASBOs, first came to the United Kingdom in 1998. The civil orders allow judges to prohibit individuals from engaging in otherwise legal behavior, such as standing on street corners, spitting, or getting drunk. Warring neighbors often try to inflict ASBOs on each other. One man was hit with an ASBO for whistling the theme from The Addams Family at an elderly couple. In another case, a woman was banned from engaging in noisy sex.

The BBC is now billing a 700-year-old document from the London Metropolitan Archives as an ancient ASBO—a demonstration that Tony Blair was hardly the first to inject the law into neighborly disputes. The complaint is against one Alice Wade, who contrived to connect her in-home privy to a public gutter, sparing her the trouble of using a chamber pot. The locals were less than impressed by her clever arrangement, complaining that the gutter "is frequently stopped up by the filth therefrom" and that they were "greatly inconvenienced by the stench." Alice was ordered to remove the pipe within 40 days but remained free to whistle, spit, or have noisy sex as she pleased.