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What is the Berners Street Hoax?

Antics and pranks are all fun and games until it crosses the line. And we’ve definitely seen our share of excessive jokes. But what was the Berners Street Hoax all about?

Theodore Hook made a bet with his friend that he could make any house famous. To do this, he wrote thousands of letters requesting services at 54 Berners Street on November 27, 1810, without the homeowners’ consent. Hook won the bet.

The Berners Street Hoax

On November 27, 1810, Theodore Hook summoned hundreds of traders, several tons of goods, and at least one royal personage to the sleepy London address number 54 Berners Street. It’s unclear what compelled Hook to do so.

While some say, a friend challenged him to create 54 Berners Street, the city’s most famous address. Others claim that the apartment’s resident, Mrs. Tottenham, had upset him in some way. It is also possible that he did it purely for fun.

But for this stunt, Hook decided to take things to the next level. According to The Life and Remains of Theodore Hook, a book compiled from Hook’s writings by historian Richard Bentley, he and two pals spent six weeks writing requests, urging recipients to call on a particular day at No. 54, Berners street.

According to the biography, by the time the day arrived, they had sent approximately four thousand letters, all with excellent references, explicit directions, and, where appropriate, a touch of mystery.

When the big day arrived, Hook and his pals checked into a hotel on Berners Street, directly across the said apartment. Newspapers gave a sense of what they witnessed. According to the newspaper articles, the first to arrive was a lone chimney sweep around 5 am.

A dozen more quickly followed. Throughout the morning and afternoon, the location was besieged by all kinds of people, visits from whom would have been mutually exclusive under normal conditions.

Although Hook was never formally apprehended, a large portion of London suspected him. Hook admitted to the joke even before his posthumous autobiography. In his play, Gilbert Gurney, Hook gave the main character the fun of admitting to the hoax. (Source: Atlas Obscura)

Who Was Theodore Hook?

Theodore Edward Hook was born in London on September 22, 1788. Hook was the son of organist and composer James Hook. His father recognized his son’s talent and pulled him out of school to write the scripts for his comedic operas.

Hook began to perform for actors and authors of his time. He played instruments, sang songs, made jokes, flashed epigrams, and even laughed at nobles. Hook quickly expanded his act to include farces and comic operas. Hook created and edited the Tory paper John Bull. By the time he was thirty, he had published The Ramsbotham Papers, in which Mrs. Ramsbotham foreshadowed the brilliant Mrs. Partington in the hilarity that derives from the absurd misapplication of words.

Hook’s first series of Sayings and Doings, tales that pleased his contemporaries, was published in 1824. Hook published 38 books, including Maxwell, The Parson’s Daughter, Love and Pride, and Jack Brag, to mention a few. (Source: Bartleby)

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