The sale of Reading Gaol: the prison where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated is on the market but campaigners are hoping to preserve it as an arts centre

The jail where Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for gross indecency has been put up for sale after standing empty for nearly six years.

HMP Reading is in the city centre and the Grade II-listed building dates back to 1844, although there has been a prison on the site since 1786.

From 1992 until it closed, the prison was used as a young offenders’ institution for prisoners aged between 18 and 21.

Oscar Wilde was incarcerated there between 1895 and 1897 after his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas was discovered. He wrote about his imprisonment in the poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, published the year after his release.

Wilde also wrote De Profundis while in jail, written in the form of a letter to circumvent prison restrictions on writing plays, novels or essays.

In 2016 a show featuring work by artists Ai Weiwei, Steve McQueen and Nan Goldin, and readings by Patti Smith, Maxine Peake and Ben Whishaw took over the empty building in commemoration of Wilde’s prison spell.

Campaigners have been battling to preserve the historic building as an arts centre and theatre as a site of LGBT history but fear the building will be converted into luxury flats instead.

A petition started by the MP for Reading East, Matt Rodda to preserve the site and stop it being sold to “the highest bidder” and converted into high end homes has attracted over 1,000 signatures.

The Ministry of Justice said: “We will always seek the best outcome for the taxpayer and the money received from the sale will be invested back into our prisons.”

The derelict building currently costs the government more than £250,000 a year to maintain with electricity, gas and security, according to the Telegraph, at a cost to the taxpayer of £1.6 million since the prison closed.

The site is in the Abbey Quarter of Reading, which is part of the wider regeneration plans for the city.

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