Monday, March 30

The Berners Street Hoax | History today

The Berners Street Hoax, caricature by William Heath, 1810.

Around 5:00 a.m., there was a knock on the door of 54 Berners Street, a modest house north of Oxford Street in London. It was a chimney sweep who claimed to have been called. The maid suggested that he was wrong and set off.

A few moments later there was another swing with the same story, then another until the disgruntled maid had sent a total of 12 away. But the hairpin bends were just the beginning. Next came coal wagons, each claiming they had a major order for number 54, which Mrs. Tottenham, the owner, said she hadn't asked.

The cake makers, each wearing 10 Guinea wedding cakes, were hot on their heels. Then the doctors called and followed the pharmacists, surgeons and lawyers, followed by vicars and priests to serve the resident who was dying. Outside, a group of rather amused undertakers waited with custom-made coffins.

The streets were now congested, not least due to the arrival of fishmongers, shoemakers, shoemakers, haberdashery shops, hat makers, butchers and a number of pianos. News traveled and the Governor of the Bank of England, the Mayor of London, the Chairman of the East India Company and even the Duke of Gloucester arrived to gawk.

Across from Berner Strasse 54 was Samuel Beazley, who might have noticed an attentive observer when he handed a guinea to his friend Theodore Edward Hook. Hook had undoubtedly won his bet: within a week he could turn any London house into the most talked about town. To win, he sent 4,000 orders or inquiries to traders, specialists and dignitaries and asked them to introduce themselves to Ms. Tottenham. He brought most of London to a standstill and won his bet triumphantly. Later that day, he retired to the country to avoid retaliation.

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