The Berners Street Hoax, History's Most Audacious Prank

By | December 13, 2019

test article image
A caricature of the Berners Street Hoax. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

In 1810, in Westminster, London a respectable house on the well-to-do Berners Street became ground zero for one of the most disruptive hoaxes in history. This prank became known as the Berners Street Hoax.

test article image
A cartoon of the Berners Street Hoax. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

On the morning of November 27, 1810, a chimney sweep arrived at 54 Berners Street proclaiming that he received an order to do work by Mrs. Tottenham, the widowed, wealthy homeowner. The house servant who answered the call knew of no such work and sent the man away. The sweep was soon replaced by others who were crying “sweep” as they descended upon the house for work.

As Mrs. Tottenham’s servants repelled the brigade of chimney sweeps these were joined by wagons brimming with coal. There were so many that when combined with the sweeps, the normally quiet Berners Street had come to a standstill. Then came cabs, coming to pick up fictitious passengers. These were followed by “medical men with instruments for the amputation of limbs, attorneys prepared to cut off entails,” and a laundry list of other trades.