by hook or by crook

Theodore Hook was an English author who launched a Sunday paper in 1820

image found here

He was a famous practical joker who perpetrated a jest that disturbed and amused all England. This was the famous Berners Street hoax. Berners Street in 1810 was a quiet street, inhabited by well-to-do families and people of social importance. On the morning of November 26, soon after breakfast, a wagon-load of coals drew up before the door of Mrs. Tottingham, a widow living at No. 54. A van-load of furniture followed, then a hearse with a coffin, and a train of mourning coaches.

image found here

Two fashionable physicians, a dentist, and an accoucheur drove up as near as they could to the door, wondering why so many lumbering vehicles blocked the way. Six men brought a chamber-organ; a brewer sent several barrels of ale; a grocer sent a cart-load of potatoes. Coachmakers, clock-makers, carpet manufacturers, confectioners, wig-makers, mantua-makers, opticians, and curiosity-dealers followed with samples of their wares.

image found here

From all quarters trooped in coachmen, footmen, cooks, housemaids, and nursery-maids, in quest of situations. To crown all, dignitaries came in their carriages,—the Commander-in-Chief, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chief Justice, a Cabinet minister, a governor of the Bank of England, and the Lord Mayor.

housemaid found here

The latter—one among many who speedily recognized that all had been the victims of some gigantic hoax—drove to Marlborough Street police office, and stated that he had received a letter from a lady in Berners Street, to the effect that she was at death’s door, that she wished to make a deposition upon oath, and that she would deem it a great favor if his lordship would call upon her. The other dignitaries had been appealed to in a similar way.

London police women found here

Police-officers were despatched to maintain order in Berners Street. They found it choked up with vehicles, jammed and interlocked with one another. The drivers were infuriated and disappointed tradesmen were clamoring for vengeance. Some of the vans and goods were overturned and broken; a few barrels of ale had fallen prey to the large crowd that was maliciously enjoying the fun.

overturned car found here

All day and far into the night this state of things continued, meanwhile, the old lady and the inmates of adjoining houses were in abject terror. Every one soon saw that a hoax had been perpetrated, but Hook’s connection with it was not discovered till long afterwards. He had noticed the quietness of the neighborhood, and had laid a wager with a brother-wag, a certain Henry Higginson, who afterwards became a clergyman, that he would make Berners Street the talk of all London.

Charlotte Bronte’s dolls house found here

A door-plate had furnished him with Mrs. Tottingham’s name, and he had spent three days in writing the letters which brought the crowd to her door. At the appointed time he and Mr. Higginson had posted themselves in a lodging just opposite, which he had rented for the purpose of enjoying the scene. He deemed it expedient, however, to go off quickly into the country and there remain incognito for a time. Had he been publicly known as the author of the outrageous hoax, he might have fared badly.

available here

Published in: on April 19, 2011 at 8:37 am  Comments (36)  
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36 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. How naughty, he be sued by the accoucheur et al for wasting their time today ;p

    • Naughtiness on a grand scale

  2. I love it when a plan comes together. It wouldn’t be possible to do that today. Unless – – – Hmmm

    • “He deemed it expedient, however, to go off quickly into the country and there remain incognito for a time.” I’ll bet he did.

  3. The first documented “Flash Mob”!

    • Haha….. I hadn’t thought of that but you’re right

  4. Which in turn inspired many a youth to order pizza as someone else and have it sent to the unsuspecting victims doorstep.

  5. And I thought I was clever for putting a piece of tape around the retractable sink sprayer… thing. This makes my former triumph look a bit sad…

  6. I’m not sure how my reply ended up as a reply to Archie’s comment. . .

  7. It’s still quite common, I believe, to get revenge on someone by sending an undertaker round to deal with the supposed recent death. Or sending them a huge quantity of unwanted goods like a lorryload of manure.

  8. It sort of makes my plastic dog poop look dumb.

    • Perhaps you could upgrade to a fart pillow or some plastic vomit?

  9. Such a fantastic prank! Apart from a few tradies with broken barrels, this was a largely harmless way of de-boringefying the street.

  10. I would be livid if someone did that to me.

  11. Wouldn’t want to try something like that today!

  12. That’s a great prank and entertainingly told.

    I want to order that book on Love Letters. Does that link take me through to Amazon?

    • I put a link up for you tonight, apparently you can still buy it from Barnes and Noble

  13. check out the London police women.

    • According to the link these uniforms were designed by Norman Hartnell in 1967

  14. I think the policewomen are a hoax too – well, a couple of them. When did the girls-in-blue uniform include shoes like nos 3 and 5? They’ll be submitting photos for corset friday next……I hope!

    • You may be waiting a while……

  15. A flashmob? The more things change….etc 😉

    • Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that until daisyfae pointed it out.

  16. What a marvelous prank, I must do this one myself

  17. I’ve never had a doll house, or dolls really, but damn do I want that. And I don’t even like Jane Eyre.

    • I had a basic doll’s house as a child but I’ve wanted a more ornate one ever since I became an adult. Trouble is, you need a large room to keep it in, my house is too tiny

  18. Maliciously enjoying the fun! Me too.

  19. Wow, all I ever did was put cling-film over someone’s toilet.

  20. So he’s the guy who invented sports celebrations? Awesome.

  21. I admit… I’m too much of a drab to like jokes like these. I’d just be so worried it’d end terribly.

    Now that I think about it, I possibly have been too influenced by horror movies!

  22. A friend wrote his thesis on gullabilty and we had some
    fun researching some responses to “jolly japes.” Nothing quite on this scale though.:-(

    • That sounds like an interesting thesis. Maybe you could do a post on that subject?

  23. Oh he got them good. This is a benchmark for hoaxes.

  24. Oh, he must have been fun to know.

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