The Savoy – Then and Now

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Nov 15, 2016

by AKASH ARORA, Features Editor

Many famous guests have stayed at this London hotel but none quite as scandalous – or dapper – as Oscar Wilde. 

“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it,” wrote Oscar Wilde. And that’s exactly what the Irish novelist and playwright did in 1893 when he booked adjoining rooms – one for himself and one for his lover, Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas – on the third floor of The Savoy in London.

When the hotel opened four years earlier, it was the world’s flashiest and the first to be lit with electricity. And Wilde, without a doubt, was its most flamboyant guest – always dressed in dapper suits and in the company of attractive men. It was a splendid time in his life – The Picture of Dorian Gray had been published a few years earlier and The Importance of Being Earnest would follow – but it would soon descend into scandal. 

After Douglas, in his early twenties at the time, left the hotel, Wilde moved into a river-facing room on the same floor, where he wrote to his sweetheart: “Dearest of all boys... I must see you soon. You are the divine thing I want, the thing of grace and beauty.” 

But the letter landed in the hands of Douglas’s father, the ninth Marquess of Queensberry, who called for charges of “gross indecency” to be laid against Wilde. During one of the most shocking trials of the 19th century, many Savoy employees were called as key witnesses. Wilde was found guilty and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour. 

Though The Savoy lost its famous guest, his legend endures, particularly in the rooms. Today, you can book the adjoining Carting Lane-facing rooms (No. 302 and 304) where Wilde and Douglas stayed 123 years ago. Or you might choose to check in to the river-facing suite (No. 314) where Wilde resided after Douglas departed.

Of course, not one of the rooms – complete with chrome fittings, marble ensuites and flatscreen TVs – looks anything like it did in the late 1800s. “We’ve redecorated them a few times in more than a hundred years,” says the hotel’s archivist, Susan Scott, “but their shape is still the same.”

So you can lean on the windowsill against which Wilde might have reclined as he looked out at the Thames and thought, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” 

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