Plans unveiled for Oscar Wilde museum at Reading Prison - Museums Association

Plans unveiled for Oscar Wilde museum at Reading Prison

Space will be converted into a cultural hub
Robert Picheta
The prison where Oscar Wilde was held is set to be converted into a museum celebrating the writer, after plans were backed by Reading council.

The move is part of a plan by Theatre Arts Reading (TAR) to convert the space into a cultural hub.

Two theatres, a contemporary art gallery and a display of archaeological finds from Reading Abbey are also included in the plans, as well as a “multimedia Oscar Wilde experience” which will accompany the museum.

But TAR still needs to complete a feasibility study, which is being funded by Arts Council England, and gain permission from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to take over the Grade II-listed building.

The MOJ has said it is preparing to sell the building, following pressure from Reading council to confirm its plans. The prison was shut down in December 2013.

Councillor Sarah Hacker praised TAR’s “imaginative” vision, adding: “The prison site offers huge potential, including our long standing ambition to facilitate the build of a new theatre for Reading and cement the town’s reputation as an artistic and cultural centre in the region.

She added: “If it came to fruition [it] would be a model of heritage led regeneration and economic growth with a significant impact on the town for generations to come.

“Reading Prison is far too important a building to the town to be left sitting empty.”

The cell in which Wilde was held, on the third floor of the C ward, has been restored and included in public tours of the prison, which the National Trust began running in 2016.

Wilde was held at the prison for the majority of his two-year incarceration for gross indecency, having been found guilty of engaging in homosexual acts in 1895.

The site gained renown following the publication of Wilde’s poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which describes the execution of a fellow prisoner.

Wilde also wrote the 50,000-word letter De Profundis to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas while at the prison, which was published in 1905, five years after his death.

An original key to Wilde’s cell sold for £15,000 at auction in 2015.

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