The London of Oscar Wilde - A Guided Walk Around Mayfair

by KathleenDuffy

Take a guided walk around Mayfair and follow the brilliant Irish author, Oscar Wilde as he stops off at his club, visits his tobacconist and shops for green carnations.

Anyone with an interest in the life and work of Oscar Wilde will be enthralled by this guided walk around the St James/Mayfair area of London. This is the area Oscar loved and in whose clubs and hotels the whole scandalous affair with his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas (or 'Bosie' as he was called) was enacted.

And here too is the backdrop against which Bosie’s father, the Marquis of Queensbury, wrought his revenge on Oscar.

Guide - Oscar Wilde Tour
Guide - Oscar Wilde Tour
K. Duffy

Every Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. Alan, the tour guide, will be waiting outside Green Park Tube Station (Piccadilly line) to help fans of Oscar trace the flamboyant genius’s footsteps from club to hotel, florist to tobacconist, theatre to public house - to name but a few of the great man’s haunts.

However, ‘tracing Oscar’s footsteps’ could be a misleading phrase because, according to Alan, he went everywhere by hansom cab, no matter how short the distance.

Alan is easily spotted. He is immaculately dressed sporting a smart trilby, cane and the infamous green carnation. Alan has been keeping Oscar’s flame alive with his guided walks for fifteen years and, as a man who owns most of the bills for items that Oscar purchased during his sojourn in London, there is no doubting his knowledge and enthusiasm.

The London of Oscar Wilde

Including the Marquis of Queensbury!

The walk is far from taxing and doesn’t cover a great deal of ground, yet each stopping off point is embellished by Alan's huge fund of knowledge, insight and wit. The London of today seems to melt away as Oscar's story unfolds.

 Suddenly the traffic appears to fade, the gas lamps splutter, and Oscar and an attractive young man stand on the pavement. Oscar, cigarette in elegant hand hails a hansom cab. Horse’s hooves clatter over the cobbles. Oscar guides the young man into the hansom and they drive a short distance to Oscar’s club. As they alight, from the window of his hotel the Marquis of Queensbury looks down, splutters with rage and begins to write a libellous note on his calling card.

It is the beginning of Oscar’s downfall.

Stephen Fry Stars in Film About Oscar Wilde

Powerful and moving performance
Wilde (Special Edition)

Where did Oscar Wilde buy his Green Carnations?

And what about his cigarettes?

At one point in the walk Alan takes us to the Royal Arcade  where Oscar bought his green carnations.

Royal Arcade, Mayfair
Royal Arcade, Mayfair
K Duffy

Then it's on to the wonderful cigar merchant outlet, Fox of St James, where the one-hundred-a-day author ordered his tailor-made cigarettes.

Downstairs is a little museum which pays homage to the cult of the cigar, with cabinets devoted to, amongst others, Winston Churchill who, when asked which person he would like to have been in another life, replied, “Oscar Wilde”. There is also a cabinet filled with Oscar Wilde photos and memorabilia.

Fox of St James - Oscar's Tobacconist
Fox of St James - Oscar's Tobacconist
K Duffy

Alan takes the opportunity to tell us not only many of Oscar’s witticisms but a good number of Churchill’s too.

This museum visit is not included every week but if visitors are fortunate enough to cross the threshold of this unique old shop it will be a memorable treat.

Oscar Wilde and the St James’ Theatre, King Street

One sad part of the Oscar Wilde trail takes the visitor to the site of St James' Theatre, King Street, which was demolished in 1957, despite a massive, nationwide campaign which was led by Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh and many supporters.

Carved Mural in Memory of St James Theatre
Carved Mural in Memory of St James Theatre
K Duffy

It was at St James' Theatre in 1892 that Oscar Wilde had his first success with Lady Windermere's Fan. In 1895 the premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest took place here. All that remains is a plaque and a carved mural. Now, where once a thriving Victorian theatre stood there is a nondescript office block.

Oscar Wilde Tour Ends Just Off Piccadilly

The Oscar Wilde walking tour comes to an end in an elegant mews just off Piccadilly.  This is The Albany (or just plain 'Albany'),  a beautiful Georgian building which Oscar Wilde refers to in The Importance of Being Earnest.  In this play, Wilde refers to Jack Worthington's residence as being in 'the Albany'.

Slowly the roar of traffic and the sounds of the city fade up.

It was wonderful meeting Oscar, laughing with him, feeling outraged and sad with him, frustrated at his obstinacy and charmed by his wit and flamboyance.

Tour Ends in this Mews off Piccadilly
Tour Ends in this Mews off Piccadilly
K Duffy

Alan made it all come alive by talking for nearly two hours about a subject he clearly loves. Oscar would have approved.

After all, in the words of the great man himself: 

 

The only thing worse in the world than being talked about is not being talked about.”

 

Find out more about the London of Oscar Wilde guided walks here.

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Updated: 02/23/2014, KathleenDuffy
 
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KathleenDuffy on 02/23/2014

Hello Maritravel - thank you so much! I'm really pleased that you find it interesting! :)

Maritravel on 02/22/2014

A bit late coming to this one Kathleen, but I always enjoy dipping into your work, especially the articles on London sites and sights. I'm just working my way through the others at the moment but let this note suffice to say thanks for all of them.

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