Today (April 6) in London History – The Arrest of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was arrested at the Cadogan Hotel on April 6, 1895. This Today in London History podcast tells the tale.


As per usual here’s the three-gun salute.

Welcome to London.

Welcome to London Walks.

Welcome to the London Walks Podcast.

This one’s our daily Today in London History podcast. 

On it – just as we do on our walking tours – we make the new familiar and the familiar new. Take you to places you wouldn’t have found on your own, show you things wouldn’t have seen, tell you things you didn’t know. 

Prior to heading back into London history we check in at a little reception area called This Day in London. When we check in we give you a little going away present – a London tip, a London recommendation. For when you come back. If you will, it’s Today in London as opposed to Today in London History.

And right now, you’re in that reception area. So here’s your Today in London recommendation.

Pretty obvious, too. Treat yourself. Treat yourself to tea or a drink in the bar at the luxury Cadogan Hotel on Pont Street. In poshest Knightsbridge. It’s got great ghosts, the Cadogan. Oscar Wilde. And Lily Langtree. If you’re there, sipping your tea, and you sense a presence, far more deeply interfused… it’ll be Oscar Wilde. Or Lily Langtree. Or maybe both of them.

Ok, time to Time Travel. Today in London History.

It’s April 6th, 1895.

The day they arrested the Lord of Language.

Yes, you’ve guessed. The arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel, in swishest Knightsbridge. And not far from Wilde’s home on Pont Street in Chelsea. 

The story is so well known it hardly needs repeating. Oscar had a love affair going with the young aristocrat Lord Alfred Douglas. Douglas’s father, the Marquis of Queensberry, got wind of it. Marched off to Oscar’s Club. Left his card with the club porter with instructions that he was to give it to Oscar Wilde when he saw him. The card was addressed, To Oscar Wilde, posing as a somdomite. Yes, he mispelt the word that way. He was a brute of a man, none to fastidious. Probably he was barely acquainted with the word.

Oscar made the terrible mistake of suing the Marquis for libel. The case was a disaster for Wilde. The Marquis was acquitted. Charges of indecency were brought against Oscar. He wasn’t arrested immediately. There was a breathing spell. The opportunity was there for Oscar to flee England. Go to Paris. Where the laws governing these matters were less severe.

Something came over Oscar. Almost a kind of torpor. He stayed put. At the Cadogan Hotel. In Room 121. There was something almost Christ-like about the way he bravely faced what he didn’t have to face – he almost embraced it. He was arrested there. Tried. Found guilty. Sentenced to two years hard labour in Reading gaol. It broke him in every way. His health, his standing, his finances, his spirits. Released from prison he went to Paris. Had not long to live. Our great friends Paris Walks take you to the hotel where Oscar Wilde died. It’s a luxury hotel today but it was a shabby little affair then. Oscar’s last words – in all probability apocryphal but they always bear repeating – “either that wallpaper goes or I go.”

For the record, Paris Walks also do a walk that takes in Oscar’s burial place in that extraordinary – beyond extraordinary – Parisian cemetery.

But let’s end with two pronouncements. First, from the actor and writer Stephen Fry. Stephen Fry has of course played Oscar Wilde. Stephen’s Frye dismisses those charges of indecency as “the dull and uninteresting crime of putting his organ of generation in certain places.”

Fry says Oscar’s “real crime was not sexual inversion but moral, political, spiritual and artistic inversion.”

And for a final bow, John Betjeman’s wonderful poem, The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel. 

Just a couple of glosses to deepen your appreciation of the poem. The Robbie referred to in the poem was Oscar Wilde’s first homosexual lover. He was loyal, selfless, devoted. He was there for Oscar in his darkest hour. Well, in the prelude to his darkest hour. Something moving about that.

And the Yellow Book referred to was an 1890s avant-garde art and literary journal associated with aestheticism and decadence. Aubrey Beardsley was its first art editor. The yellow cover – with its association with illicit French fiction of the period – was his idea. In Oscar Wilde’s short novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, a major corrupting influence on Dorian is “the yellow book” which Lord Henry sends over to amuse him after the suicide of his first love.

Here’s the poem.

The arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel by John Betjeman

He sipped at a weak hock and seltzer

As he gazed at the London skies

Through the Nottingham lace of the curtains

Or was it his bees-winged eyes?

To the right and before him Pont Street

Did tower in her new built red,

As hard as the morning gaslight

That shone on his unmade bed,

“I want some more hock in my seltzer,

And Robbie, please give me your hand —

Is this the end or beginning?

How can I understand?

“So you’ve brought me the latest Yellow Book:

And Buchan has got in it now:

Approval of what is approved of

Is as false as a well-kept vow.

“More hock, Robbie — where is the seltzer?

Dear boy, pull again at the bell!

They are all little better than cretins,

Though this is the Cadogan Hotel.

“One astrakhan coat is at Willis’s —

Another one’s at the Savoy:

Do fetch my morocco portmanteau,

And bring them on later, dear boy.”

A thump, and a murmur of voices —

(”Oh why must they make such a din?”)

As the door of the bedroom swung open


“Mr. Woilde, we ‘ave come for tew take yew

Where felons and criminals dwell:

We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly

For this is the Cadogan Hotel.”

He rose, and he put down The Yellow Book.

He staggered — and, terrible-eyed,

He brushed past the plants on the staircase

And was helped to a hansom outside.

Good night from London. See ya tomorrow.

One response to “Today (April 6) in London History – The Arrest of Oscar Wilde”

  1. Charles Piper says:


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