Transforming the more than 130-year-old Cadogan Hotel, in the heart of London’s posh Chelsea neighborhood, into a world-class luxury address took four years and $50 million.
The ambitious renovation was finally realized on February 28 when the property opened its doors as the Belmond Cadogan Hotel.
And with the reopening, the hotel’s storied history breathes new life.
Social hub of London
You see, the 54-room impossibly elegant Cadogan, perched on the charming corner of leafy Sloane Street and Pont Street, was the home of late 19th century scandal involving one Oscar Wilde and his male lover (more on this later).
Although the Cadogan first opened as a hotel in 1887, it’s nestled within the 93-acre Cadogan Estate, which has a history that goes back more than 300 years, according to the estate’s archivist, Kira Charatan.
Hans Sloane, a renowned physician who counted three monarchs as his patients including King George I, bought the property in 1712 to store his collection of more than 70,000 objects such as books, drawings, coins and medals (they’re now part of the collection of the British Museum, the British Library and London’s Natural History Museum).
In 1717, his daughter, Elizabeth, married Baron Cadogan, a soldier and politician, and when the couple inherited the estate, it took on the Cadogan name.
From the outset, London’s Chelsea attracted the creative set, and The Cadogan Hotel was the epicenter of this scene. “Both risqué and respectable, it is where artists, authors and intellectuals would meet and socialize over dinner or a drink,” says Charatan.
The actress and socialite Lillie Langtry, who resided at 21 Pont Street, a quintessential and well-known street in Chelsea, was rumored to have met her lover, King Edward VII, at the hotel for secret trysts. When her house was later absorbed into the rooms of the Cadogan (a blue plaque outside celebrates this fact), Langtry would stay as an overnight guest in room 109.
Authors Bram Stoker and Mark Twain lived in the area and were likely regulars at the bar, but the most famous of them all was Oscar Wilde, who lived with his wife and two sons at 34 Tite Street, an easy 10-minute walk from the hotel.
The tragedy of Oscar Wilde
Frequently hosting friends at the bar while donning velvet smoking jackets in deep red and green hues, the Irish playwright was a Cadogan regular.
Even though Wilde lived nearby, Charatan says that he stayed overnight if his evenings stretched into the early morning hours.
Although there were whispers of Wilde’s homosexuality, his preference for the same sex didn’t really come into the public eye until April 6, 1895, when he was arrested at the hotel.
His sexual orientation was illegal at the time, and Wilde who was accused of “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons,” was taken custody in room 118.
Wilde’s affair with the son of the Marquess of Queensbury, explains Charatan, had come to light.
His arrest was immortalized by poet laureate John Betjeman’s tragic circa-1933 poem entitled “The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel.”
Wilde was one of the biggest personalities of his day, and his arrest and subsequent trial were a sensation, says Chartan. He was convicted and taken to Reading Jail, outside of London, where he spent two years doing hard labor. “He died [of meningitis] soon after his release, his health ruined and his reputation wrecked,” Charatan says.
His wife, meanwhile, humiliated by her husband’s arrest and the scandal surrounding it, fled with their sons to Switzerland for a fresh start.
The Cadogan changes
The hotel continued to be a popular gathering spot even after Wilde’s arrest, however, and had a loyal repeat overnight clientele.
But, over the years, it eventually became run down and worn and no longer caught the eye of discerning travelers who were seeking the best of the best in their accommodations.
Belmond’s connection with the Cadogan began in 2014 when the lux