Berkshire

Oscar Wilde: Council bid to buy Reading Prison rejected

Reading Prison Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Campaigners want the jail to be turned into a theatre and arts centre

A council has failed in its attempt to buy the prison where playwright Oscar Wilde was held.

Reading Prison, owned by the Ministry of Justice, was put up for sale last year. It has been unused since 2013.

Reading Borough Council said it was disappointed to lose out but has vowed to work with the successful bidder to ensure the prison's "huge historical and cultural value" was recognised.

The Ministry of Justice has declined to comment on the matter.

It is not yet known whether the prison site has been bought by anyone else.

The Grade II-listed jail, near Reading's Abbey Ruins, famously housed Oscar Wilde between 1895 and 1897.

Image copyright Getty Images/Morley von Sternberg
Image caption The prison was immortalised by Oscar Wilde's poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol

Wilde spent two years at the jail for gross indecency after his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas was exposed.

Following his release, Wilde composed The Ballad of Reading Gaol inspired by his time as a prisoner and in which he reflected on the brutality of the Victorian penal system.

The council said its planning policies were designed to protect the prison's historical, archaeological and cultural value that were "all of national significance".

Image copyright Marcus J Leith
Image caption Reading Prison was closed in 2013 and its fate has remained uncertain since

Councillor Jason Brock, leader of Reading Borough Council, said: "We are naturally disappointed that the MoJ have rejected the council's bid."

He added: "I intend to meet with the successful bidder at the earliest opportunity to impress this upon them and want to work closely with them to ensure the historical and cultural value of Reading Prison is given prominence as plans are developed."

Steven Fry recently backed a campaign calling for the building to be turned into an arts and heritage site.

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