Skip to main content

Home Culture Culture News

Banksy pledges to use stencil sale to convert Reading Prison into an arts centre

Banksy's stencil was inspired by Oscar Wilde, who was held at the prison for three years

By Patrick Clarke

Banksy's stencil of a prisoner escaping on the side of Reading Gaol
Banksy's piece on the side of Reading Prison (Photo: Banksy/Instagram)

Banksy has pledged to use profits from the sale of his recent stencil used on the side of the disused Reading Prison in order to help convert the building into an arts centre.

In March, an image of a prisoner escaping appeared on the wall of the building. Banksy then confirmed the image to be his own work in an Instagram video which parodied the style of late American painter Bob Ross.

The Grade II listed HM Prison Reading, popularly known as Reading Gaol, was closed in 2014. It was the site of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment for homosexual offences between 1895 and 1897, and the inspiration for his poem ‘The Ballad Of Reading Gaol’.

The building is currently up for sale for £10 million, with campaigns underway to save the site from property developers and turn it into an arts centre. Banksy has pledged to match the amount, should the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) award the bid to Reading Borough Council to be turned into a centre for the arts.

“Converting the place that destroyed him [Wilde] into a refuge for art feels so perfect we have to do it,” Banksy told the BBC.

He added: “I had very little interest in Reading until I was on a rail replacement bus service that went past the jail.

“It’s rare to find an uninterrupted 500m-long paintable surface slap bang in the middle of a town; I literally clambered over the passenger next to me to get a closer look. I promised myself I’d paint the wall even before I knew what it was – I’m passionate about it now, though.”

“Oscar Wilde is the patron saint of smashing two contrasting ideas together to create magic. Converting the place that destroyed him into a refuge for art feels so perfect we have to do it.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said: “The deadline for bids has passed. We are currently considering the ones we received.”

Labour MP for Reading East, Matt Rodda, described Banksy’s offer as “the best Christmas present Reading could wish for.”

He told the BBC: “I’ve been speaking to Banksy and his team for some months now and I’m impressed with his commitment to saving the prison.

“He really sees the potential in this important historic building, which not only has links to Oscar Wilde but is built on top of the site of the former Reading Abbey, where King Henry I was buried.”