Oscar Wilde's downfall at The Savoy Hotel


Here I am outside The Savoy hotel in Westminster where dramatist and man-about-town Oscar Wilde sowed the seeds of his downfall and early death. He’d probably have lived an long acclaimed life had he not had a few depraved days in room 362. Before the antics were broadcast in court Oscar was demand socially due to his wit and roaring literary success. This flamboyant dandy-about-town in bespoke suits (with green carnation in his buttonhole) was a lit firework tossed into stiff Victorian society. However it didn't last long and decadent days in The Savoy with his boyfriend Lord Alfred Douglas formed the background for one of the most scandalous cases in British legal history.


Had Oscar kept his willy away from an aristocrat he might have continued his colourful life and writing career for decades. However his boyfriend’s dad was the Marquis Queensberry and he loathed Oscar. When the Marquis left a warning card at the Albermarle Club with the words “For Oscar Wilde posing Somdomite” on it Oscar had to legally defend himself and prove this was untrue. The Marquis would have to prove it was true or face prison. A court trial at The Old Bailey ensued and Oscar had an insurmountable mountain to climb to protect his reputation. Sexual antics in rooms 360 and 362 at The Savoy would form a thick legal damaging file against him - statements from over thirty reliable witnesses included The Savoy's staff who attended the room.


Oscar ran up a £7,000 bill (about £30,000 today) while they had young rent boys round for bumming and spine-splashing sessions. Some - probably all - were at the younger end of their teens. In testimony a Savoy chambermaid said she found a "common boy, rough looking, about 14 years of age" in Oscar's bed, the sheets were covered in vaseline, pooh and semen (the hotel issued instructions to keep the linen apart and washed it separately.) She added that a stream of page boys delivering letters were usually kissed by Oscar who then tipped them two shillings and sixpence for their trouble.


It’s best not to go into detail here however the Marquis of Queensberry did, using detectives to track down a circle of male prostitutes Oscar had used. The court case opened on 3rd April 1895 but soon collapsed. However two days later new evidence was forwarded to the courts and Oscar was arrested on a charge of gross indecency. The following month two further trials ensued and Oscar was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. It was the end of family life (he was married with children), his reputation, creativity, social life, friendships and career. Prison broke his spirit and health and after his release he lived for about three years, wandering around Europe as a battered bankrupt before dying in a hotel in Paris.


I walked around The Savoy looking up at the windows. Rooms 361 and 362 were probably on the third floor and I'd read they looked onto Carting Lane. If this is accurate they didn't have a decent view - this narrow lane looks onto a huge building currently occupied by Penguin books. You can't see the river Thames unless you're near the back of the hotel. Once his boyfriend had left Oscar moved into a suite number 314 overlooking the river but he soon left with “a heart of lead.” I looked up at the windows round the rear where suites cost £7,000 per night and hope someone might throw me down a slab of Battenberg cake to have with my flask of coffee but I didn't see a soul. I hoped to see a bound/gagged billionaire licking the windows clean by a horse-whip-yielding a fanged dominatrix but....no...I didn't see a soul at all those windows.