Little Bits of History

Practical Joker

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 27, 2015
Theodore Hook

Theodore Hook

November 27, 1810: The Berners Street hoax unfolds. Theodore Hook was an intellectual and composer and for a brief time, a civil servant. He was also a great practical jokester. He was born in London in 1788 and was educated at Harrow School and the University of Oxford. His father, also a composer, loved to show off his son’s precocious musical skills and he was feted in green rooms around London at an early age. He had his first commercial success at age 16 when he co-authored with his father The Soldier’s Return, a comic opera. But he is best known as a playboy and prankster. He made a bet with his friend, Samuel Beazley, he could transform any house in London into the most talked about address in a week.

Mrs. Tottenham lived at 54 Berners Street. Hook took up residence in the house directly across the street from her. He sent out thousands of letters in Mrs. Tottenham’s name, requesting services be provided at her house on this date. At 5 AM, the first person arrived to offer his services. The maid at 54 Berners Street sent the first chimney sweep away stating they had not requested his services. A few minutes later, the next chimney sweep arrived and was sent away, and then another showed up. In fact, a total of 12 chimney sweeps had received letters asking for their services on this particular date.

But sweeps were not the only people who had been directed to the house. Throughout the day, a number of delivery carts arrived with loads of coal. Then cake makers began to appear with the “requested” cakes. Doctors arrived as requested as did lawyers, vicars, and priests. They had all been told that a member of the household was dying and needed their services. Fishmongers and shoe makers brought their wares to the house. Over a dozen pianos were delivered to the address along with one organ, brought in by “six stout men”. But it wasn’t just a host of unwary shopkeepers who were tricked.

Dignitaries began to arrive 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. Berners Street became jammed with delivery wagons as well as onlookers who found the day filled with amusement. Arrivals at the house continued until the early evening hours and brought a large part of London to a standstill. Hook watched the day unfold from across the street. As the street became ever more crowded, people began to look for the person responsible for the entire mess. Although Hook was suspected, he was never formally accused. He decided it might be wise to lay quiet for a week or two before taking off to the country in order to recuperate. Today, 54 Berners Street is occupied by the Sanderson Hotel.

Every Officer that could be mustered was enlisted to disperse the people, and they were placed at the corners of Berners Street to prevent trades people from advancing towards the house with goods.

The street was not cleared at a late hour, as servants of every denomination wanting places began to assemble at five o’clock.

It turned out that letters had been written to the different trades people, which stated recommendations from persons of quality.

A reward has been offered for the apprehension of the author of the criminal hoax. – all from the Morning Post’s next day’s paper.

Also on this day: First Crusade – In 1095, Pope Urban II called for European princes to rescue the Holy Lands from desecration by the infidels.
No Twinkies – In 1978, Harvey Milk and George Moscone were murdered.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – In 1839, the American Statistical Association was formed.
Hung – In 1835, the last executions for homosexuality in England took place at Newgate Prison.
Celebrate – In 1924, Macy’s held its first Thanksgiving Parade.