08 September 2016
Out of the depths they cry
Arched windows and high, vaulted ceilings give Reading prison a distinctly churchy feel, which is unsurprising, given that it was designed by the high priest of Victorian ecclesiastical architecture, George Gilbert Scott. But what’s less predictable is the prison’s deeply spiritual aura, as evinced by a new exhibition called, appropriately enough, “Inside” (to 30 October).
Organised by the ever-creative Artangel, an enterprise that brings art to unusual locations, it focuses on the work of not one artist but many, and not only visual artists, but authors and writers as well. And it is a writer whose life is at the heart of “Inside” – Oscar Wilde, the most famous inmate ever to be held in Reading Gaol, as it was then known, during its 169-year history (it closed in 2013, having ended its days as a youth offender institute).
Wilde’s stay in cell number C33 began on 20 November 1895, after he was convicted of committing “acts of gross indecency with other male persons” and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour. At Reading, “hard labour” was an understatement; it was more like torture, and the regime was designed to break men down, physically and psychologically.
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