Berners Street hoax  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Berners Street Hoax was perpetrated by Theodore Hook in the City of Westminster, London, in 1810.


On 27 November, at five o’clock in the morning, a sweep arrived to sweep the chimneys of 54 Berners Street, the home of Mrs Tottenham. The maid who answered the door informed him that no sweep had been requested, and that his services were not required, and the disappointed tradesman went on his way. A few moments later another sweep presented himself at the door, then another, and another, 12 in all. After the last of the sweeps had been sent away, a fleet of carts carrying large deliveries of coal began to arrive, followed by a series of cakemakers delivering large wedding cakes, then doctors, lawyers, vicars and priests summoned to minister to someone in the house they had been told was dying. Fishmongers, shoemakers, and over a dozen pianos were among the next to appear, along with "six stout men bearing an organ". Dignitaries, including the Governor of the Bank of England, the Duke of York, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Mayor of the City of London also arrived. The narrow streets soon became severely congested with disgruntled tradesmen and onlookers. Deliveries and visits continued until the early evening, bringing a large part of London to a standstill.

Hook had bet his friend Samuel Beazley that he could transform any house in London into the most talked-about address in a week. To achieve his goal, he had sent out 4,000 letters purporting to be Mrs Tottenham and requesting deliveries, visitors, and assistance. Hook had stationed himself in the house directly opposite 54 Berners Street, and he and his friend had spent an amusing day watching the chaos unfold.

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