Strange History and News of Weird Trivia 1793 to 1809

A collectiong of random facts and strange history from 1793 to 1809 including trivia about a cyclops child and the Berns Street Hoax.


1793 An infant girl with a single eye in the center of her forehead was born to M. and Mme. Clement, in Tourcoing, France. Aside from her cyclopic deformity, the girl was physically normal and lived to be 15.

1809 Nearly two centuries after it was perpetrated, the great "Berners Street Hoax" seems a marvelously inventive jape, prefiguring the hilarious stateroom scene in the Marx brothers' A Night at the Opera. In truth, it was a nightmare for everyone concerned.

Theodore Hook, a notorious practical joker of the day, was strolling through London one morning when the house at 54 Berners Street--an altogether nondescript row house like thousands of others throughout the city--struck his fancy. Hook wagered his companion, a man named Beazley, that he could make the house, unprepossessing as it was, the most famous spot in all London. Beazley accepted the bet.

Within a few days, Hook had ascertained that the building's sole inhabitant was an elderly widow named Mrs. Tottingham. In the next few weeks he sent out more than a thousand letters over Mrs. Tottingham's signature, each one filled with mischief.

Early one morning, while Hook watched from a well-chosen hiding place across the street, a dozen chimney sweeps converged at Mrs. Tottingham's front door and announced, logically enough, that they'd come to sweep the chimney. Mrs. Tottingham was perplexed. She'd not ordered any such service, and despite her evidently honest confusion, the sweeps--some having traveled from the far end of the city--were irate. While she haggled with them, several men drew up to the front door, each pulling a cart bearing a ton of coal. "As per your esteemed order," they said. Mrs. Tottingham had ordered no coal. Nor had she ordered the truckload of furniture--assorted tables, chairs, and end pieces--that soon arrived, nor the shipment of keg beer, nor the mammoth church organ, nor the several bushels of potatoes, nor the hearse which were all brought to her home within a few minutes. Confectioners arrived too, carrying their wares, along with other merchants--wigmakers, hairdressers, butchers, machinists, jewelers, greengrocers, furriers, seamstresses, repairmen, and opticians. Two physicians also showed up, as well as a dentist, all three intent on examining Mrs. Tottingham for the ills she had described in her letters.

While all this was taking place, Berners Street became hopelessly congested with deliverymen, carts, and onlookers. The police came to restore order but proved ineffectual. Then the Duke of York, commander in chief of the army, arrived. He had been advised by letter that one of his men lay dying at 54 Berners Street and urgently needed to see him. Following on the duke's heels were the Archbishop of Canterbury, the lord chief justice, the governor of the Bank of England, and the lord mayor of London.

It was the lord mayor himself who put an end to all this knavery. He, it appears, had once been victimized in much the same way, and had had reason to suspect Hook of being the perpetrator of the earlier hoax. Additional cadres of policemen were called out, and soon peace and order were restored. As for Hook, he won his bet and maintained his anonymity. However, he made a point of not showing his face in public in London for quite some time.

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