Reading Gaol is an important national, even international, heritage site. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned there for his sexuality and wrote his famous The Ballad of Reading Gaol on his release. The prison is in the grounds of Reading Abbey and Henry I is buried either on or very close to the prison grounds. There is a wealth of archeology there waiting to be unearthed.
Save Reading Gaol is an ongoing campaign to have Reading Gaol converted to an arts and cultural hub, accessible to all.
Reading Gaol, a Grade II listed building, closed in 2013. It was briefly opened in 2016 for the Artangel art exhibition “Inside” which attracted tens of thousands of visitors. In 2018 Theatre and Arts Reading (TAR) started to evaluate the Gaol as a possible location for a new theatre in Reading. In 2019 Local MP Matt Rodda started a petition to Save the Gaol for the community rather than having it sold for housing development and this sentiment was demonstrated when about 1000 people linked arms around the prison walls.
Photo credits: Chris Forsey, Roger Askew, TDPPhotography
Despite our campaign, supported by both Reading MPs, the Ministry of Justice tried to sell the Gaol to the highest bidder at the end of 2019. Reading Borough Council made a bid for the prison with a view to an arts hub but, not surprisingly, was outbid by a housing developer. Since then the sale has fallen through and Reading Borough Council was given an exclusive period to bid for the Gaol, which they did on March 15th 2021. The Ministry of Justice rejected this bid.
A new round of bidding was announced, to finish in August 2021. Reading Borough Council’s previous bid remains on the table.
The campaign has been buoyed by support from Kate Winslet, Dame Dudi Dench, Natalie Dormer, Stephen Fry and Sir Kenneth Branagh. Recently Banksy has left his mark on the prison wall and we like to believe that this too is an endorsement for our vision.
Converting the Gaol into an arts and heritage hub would give the local community a valuable new resource and also provide a venue that visitors from afar will want to visit. Arts, culture and tourism are all recognised as being important to the economy. Oscar Wilde, Artangel and Banksy have already proven its potential for inspiring creativity.