We heard last week that Reading Gaol is to be sold by the end of this year, as reported by the BBC. The Ministry of Justice intends to “get value for money for taxpayers”. Then they need to consider how important culture and tourism are to the economy. This is a unique opportunity for Reading and the UK to have a new visitor attraction with instant global brand recognition.
Nicholas Frankel, Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, author of The Annotated Prison Writings of Oscar Wilde (Harvard University Press, 2018) and Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years (Harvard University Press, 2017) has lent his support for the campaign to save Reading Gaol. He says:
“Reading Prison is the subject of one of late-Victorian Britain’s most important poems, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde, whose conviction and imprisonment became a symbol of anti-homosexual prejudice. Wilde also wrote his immensely moving personal memoir De Profundis in his cell there just before his release in 1897. The prison’s reputation today reaches far and wide as a result. It is vital that a site of such historical and literary significance should be preserved and made accessible in some form that does justice to Wilde’s legacy, while simultaneously reminding us of the harsh price the Victorian penal system exacted on its victims. Converting the prison to an arts and heritage hub, especially one containing both a museum and a theater, would be the perfect way of honoring Wilde’s memory as well as the importance of Reading Prison itself to nineteenth- and twentieth-century debates about the justice system.”