UK prison that held Oscar Wilde put up for sale

Wilde wrote Ballad of Reading Gaol after being imprisoned for gross indecency

Oscar Wilde with Lord Alfred Douglas  at Oxford, 1893. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Oscar Wilde with Lord Alfred Douglas at Oxford, 1893. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

A Victorian prison in the UK which once held Irish writer Oscar Wilde has been put up for sale by the British government.

Campaigners had hoped to turn Reading jail, in Berkshire England, into an arts centre to preserve a site of gay pilgrimage and honour Wilde’s literary legacy.

“It’s a hugely significant space,” said Joseph Galliano, chief executive and co-founder of Queer Britain, an LGBTQ+ museum.

“We are losing heritage and cultural spaces to commercial redevelopment which will never be recovered.”

The austere brick prison, just west of London, housed Wilde for most of the two-year sentence he served for gross indecency. his trial examined his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas.

He was imprisoned in 1895, months after his play, The Importance of Being Earnest, was first performed in London. He wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, inspired by the hanging of an inmate, after his release. And according to the Oscar Wilde Society, the poem made Reading jail one of the most famous in the world.

The prison closed in 2014 and has become a magnet for Britain’s LGBT community. It has hosted arts events, including a readings of Wilde’s work by actors and musicians such as Patti Smith and Rupert Everett.

A statement from the British Ministry of Justice said it would invest money from the sale of the prison back into the prison system and would consider all bids.

“We will always seek the best outcome for the taxpayer,” the ministry said. – Reuters