Late in the evening of 29 May 1864, a number of Members of Parliament and former members of Parliament received an unexpected knock on the door. There, on the front step of a series of grand Belgravian residences stood a boy from the London District Telegraph company, proffering a sealed envelope from his bag. "Having only arrived in the country on the previous day", reflected one distinguished gentleman, who was just about to depart for the theatre, "I feared that a fire or some other casualty had occurred subsequent to my departure.". He - and others like him - ripped open the communication at once. But the message did not relate a narrative of death disaster or financial loss. Instead of anxiety or grief, it inspired bafflement, indignation and a couple of red faced letters to the The Times. It read "Messrs Gabriel, dentists, Harley-street, Cavendish-square. Until October Messr. Gabriel's professional attendance at 27, Harley-Street , will be 10 till 5" "I have never had any dealings with Messr Gabriel", grumbled another recipient, " and beg to know by what right do they disturb me by telegram which is simply the medium of advertisement?" Would the the anger of this anonymous parliamentarian have been assuaged, I wonder, if he had realised that he had just opened the first junk e-mail in history.

Messrs Gabriel were not registered dentists.

Chapter3, Inventing the Victorians -Mathew Smith.