Whatever the law of the land and, ultimately, the hangman himself, did to Trooper Charles Wooldridge, 30, of the Royal Horse Guards, they could not take away his indirect contribution to English literature. For with him in Reading Gaol was Oscar Wilde, sentenced for the then crime of homosexual sex. Wilde watched Wooldridge exercising in the prison yard, heard about his story, and then wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol based on the soldiers crime.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol is about a man who killed the thing he loved, and then he too was doomed. The thing Trooper Wooldridge loved was 23-year-old Ellen Laura Glendell, who worked in Eton Post Office. They married secretly, because he had not obtained the armys permission to wed, and set up house in Arthur Road, in Windsor town centre.
Wooldridge proved to be a wife-beater, and when his regiment moved to London the couple appeared to have split up. Later Wooldridge went back to Windsor and began abusing Ellen again.
The crunch came when he learned that she was seeing another soldier. He made an appointment to meet her, ostensibly about a financial settlement, and went to her house armed with a cut-throat razor. As she opened the door he opened the razor and flew at her. She staggered into the road, where Wooldridge slashed her throat twice more before she collapsed, dying at his feet.
He confessed to the first policeman who arrived on the scene and was hanged on Tuesday, July 7th, 1896, in Reading Prison. Wooldridge might have considered himself an unlikely subject for a celebrated romantic poem. Was Oscar Wilde deceived?