Will Oscar Wilde’s Jail Become An Art Center?

Oscar Wilde / Image by Napoleon Sarony and Unknown (CC)

Will the jail cell of a celebrated queer writer become a cultural hotspot?

According to the New York Post, three British stars have joined the campaign to save the jail where Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde was imprisoned. Between 1895 and 1897, celebrated writer Oscar Wilde was imprisoned within the Reading Prison, formerly known as Reading Gaol. Wilde was sent to the prison, which stands to the west of London, for “gross indecency.” Namely, for being gay. You see, it was illegal to be gay and engage in gay sex in the U.K. at the time.


Now, there’s a push to persevere the jail for its historic and artistic significance. The Reading Prison closed in 2013. Reading’s local council then hoped to turn the building into an arts venue. Thankfully, a bid to sell the building to developers fell through in November 2020. According to BBC News, this has allowed the local council time to seek investment in the project.

“We continue to actively engage with Reading Borough Council and a decision on next steps will be made in due course,” said a Ministry of Justice spokesperson. “Our aim is to ensure the best possible outcome for taxpayers and the community while complying with all planning requirements for this historical site.”


The Save Reading Campaign tweeted out its joy at this turn of events.

“Huge news and a step in the right direction for all those striving to #SaveReadingGaol,” the campaign wrote.

But what about those three British stars mentioned earlier? Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, and Natalie Dormer have vocalized their support of the cause. In November, Judi Dench said changing the prison into an art center is “vitally important” and would pay “tribute to its artistic history.” She also noted the project’s opportunity to become a cultural hub.

“The idea of plays being performed, people learning and enjoying themselves, and a community coming together in a space that represented so much sadness and inspiration for Oscar Wilde himself is a beautiful one,” she added.

Source: The New York Post, BBC,

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