The Berners Street Hoax

12316106_187920721550018_1067777743600397849_nMr. Theodore Hook of Westminster, London, decided in 1810 to make a bet with his friend, Samuel Beazley that he could transform any house in London into the most popular address in a week.

He sent out thousands of letters in the name of Mrs.Tottenham, who lived at 54 Berners Street, requesting deliveries, visitors, and assistance. On November 27, at five o’clock in the morning the chaos began when a chimney sweeper showed up and people just kept showing up. According to a contemporary account (The London Annual Register for the year 1810) these deliveries included “Waggons laden with coals from the Paddington wharfs, upholsterers’ goods in cart-loads, organs, pianofortes, linen, jewellery, and every other description of furniture.”

Dignitaries, including the Governor of the Bank of England, the Duke of York and Albany, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Mayor of the City of London, also arrived. The narrow streets soon became severely congested with tradesmen and onlookers. Deliveries and visits continued until the early evening, bringing a large part of London to a standstill.

Adding to the mayhem was a large crowd of laughing, unruly spectators who gathered to observe the bizarre event. At the height of the commotion, there were so many people crowded into the street that it was hard even to move. Every officer that could be mustered was enlisted to disperse the crowd, and they were placed at the corners of Berners Street to prevent tradespeople and observers from advancing towards the house with goods.

It was soon realized Mrs.Tottenham had not sent out letters. A reward was offered for the apprehension of the author of the criminal hoax. Hook had stationed himself in the house directly opposite 54 Berners Street, where he and his friend spent the day watching the chaos unfold. I am sure they were quite amused with themselves. Despite a “fervent hue and cry” to find the perpetrator, Hook managed to evade detection, although many of those who knew him suspected him of being responsible. It was reported that he felt it prudent to be “laid up for a week or two” before embarking on a tour of the country, supposedly to convalesce.

The site at 54 Berners Street was later converted into a hospital, eventually torn down, and today is the site of the exclusive Sanderson Hotel.

Adela