On 4 September 2013, it was announced that HM Prison Reading would close by the end of that year; the prison formally closed in November.
There have been calls for the prison building to be preserved as a tourist attraction, and Reading Council have confirmed that they intend to retain the complex. In June it was proposed that the site be converted into a theatre venue. Future use is still undecided, however it emerged in July that the closed prison is costing the Ministry of Justice £20,000 a month to maintain.
Here’s the constantly amazing Wikipedia on the prison’s most famous inmate:
Wilde was imprisoned first in Pentonville Prison and then Wandsworth Prison in London. Inmates followed a regimen of “hard labour, hard fare and a hard bed”, which wore very harshly on Wilde, accustomed as he was to many creature comforts. His health declined sharply, and in November he collapsed during chapel from illness and hunger. His right ear drum was ruptured in the fall, an injury that later contributed to his death. He spent two months in the infirmary.
Richard B. Haldane, the Liberal MP and reformer, visited him and had him transferred in November toReading Prison, 30 miles (48 km) west of London. The transfer itself was the lowest point of his incarceration, as a crowd jeered and spat at him on the railway platform. Now known as prisoner C. 3.3 he was not, at first, even allowed paper and pen but Haldane eventually succeeded in allowing access to books and writing materials. Wilde requested, among others: the Bible in French, Italian and German grammars, some Ancient Greek texts, Dante‘s Divine Comedy, Joris-Karl Huysmans‘s new French novel about Christian redemption En Route, and essays by St Augustine, Cardinal Newman and Walter Pater.
Between January and March 1897 Wilde wrote a 50,000-word letter to Lord Alfred (‘Bosie’) Douglas, which he was not allowed to send, but was permitted to take with him upon release. In reflective mode, Wilde coldly examines his career to date, how he had been a colourful agent provocateur in Victorian society, his art, like his paradoxes, seeking to subvert as well as sparkle. His own estimation of himself was: one who “stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age”. It was from these heights that his life with Douglas began, and Wilde examines that particularly closely, repudiating him for what Wilde finally sees as his arrogance and vanity: he had not forgotten Douglas’s remark, when he was ill, “When you are not on your pedestal you are not interesting.” Wilde blamed himself, though, for the ethical degradation of character that he allowed Douglas to bring about in him and took responsibility for his own fall, “I am here for having tried to put your father in prison.” The first half concludes with Wilde forgiving Douglas, for his own sake as much as Douglas’s. The second half of the letter traces Wilde’s spiritual journey of redemption and fulfilment through his prison reading. He realised that his ordeal had filled his soul with the fruit of experience, however bitter it tasted at the time.”
It’s time to turn the gaol into a literary tourist destination!