Berkshire

Reading Prison: MP calls for review on sale of Oscar Wilde prison

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

There is a "strong case" for the Ministry of Justice to review selling the prison where Oscar Wilde was held to a commercial developer, an MP has said.

Last month Reading Borough Council said its bid to buy Reading Prison, owned by the MoJ, had been rejected.

In a letter to Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer, Reading East MP Matt Rodda asked her to review the decision to protect the heritage of the gaol.

The MoJ declined to comment.

But Mr Rodda said he understands the government department is working with preferred commercial bidder.

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

He said turning the gaol into a hotel or luxury flats "would be a tragic waste of a unique piece of British and world heritage and would lead to the loss of a once in a generation opportunity" to save the site for future generations.

He added the preferred bidder could face "significant difficulties" paying for the site and financing the development due to economic challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The MP suggested the MoJ work with the council and local groups to explore alternative arts and heritage uses.

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

The Grade II-listed jail famously housed Oscar Wilde between 1895 and 1897 after being jailed 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 tomb of King Henry I is also believed to be buried under the car park of the prison which is built on the site of Reading's Abbey Ruins.

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