Please feel free to use the following as a starting point for an email to your MP about the fate of Reading Gaol. You can copy and paste into your email application. Lookup an MP’s email address
I understand that the Ministry of Justice is currently evaluating bids for Reading Prison (AKA Reading Gaol), and that Reading Borough Council have submitted a conditional bid with a view to converting the Gaol into a cultural hub and museum.
There is a strong local support for the concept of having the Gaol as such a facility for Reading and beyond. This has been emphatically shown in Matt Rodda MP’s ‘Save the Gaol’ petition and also the crowds, including Reading MPs Alok Sharma and Matt Rodda and the local Mayor, that joined hands to “hug” the Gaol on October 13th.
However Reading Gaol is important well beyond Reading. It has national, even international significance.
Built in 1844, and immortalised by Oscar Wilde it is an early example of a prison designed to support the harsh ‘separate system’ intended to prevent prisoners from communicating with each other. Following his incarceration there for “gross indecency”, Oscar Wilde campaigned for prison reform. He described the brutal treatment of prisoners, including young children, in letters and in his famous poem the “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” after his release from prison.
The Grade II listed Gaol stands on the archaeologically important site of Reading Abbey, a scheduled monument and burial site of King Henry I.
In light of all this, it would be sad if the Ministry of Justice were to go against the swell of local opinion and sell this valuable historic site to the highest bidder to convert into housing or a hotel.
This would be a triumph of a blinkered short-termism against a more imaginative and ultimately more economically beneficial decision. The opportunity to make Reading Gaol the world class destination it deserves to be is a unique one that will never come around again.