Banksy offers £10m to BUY prison that once held Oscar Wilde after painting artwork of prisoner escaping on jail's wall

Banksy offers £10m to BUY prison that once held Oscar Wilde after painting artwork of prisoner escaping on jail's wall

December 5, 2021

ANKSY has offered to stump up £10m to BUY a prison that once held Oscar Wilde after the famous street artist covered the jail's wall with artwork.

The anonymous graffiti artist wants to turn the prison into an arts centre rather than see it sold to property developers to turn into flats.

The artist has offered to match the £10 million asking price for HMP Reading by selling the stencil he used to paint on a grade II listed building in March, 2021.

It has an estimated value of up to £15 million and will be sold privately to a collector without an auction.

Banksy has only sold one stencil before, making them the rarest part of his work.

The record sale for a Banksy is £18.5 million, set at Sotheby’s in October for Love is in the Bin, the remains of a work that was partially shredded during a 2018 auction.

Banksy told The Times: "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."

Banksy’s offer has set out plans to turn the Berkshire site into an arts complex and is supported Reading borough council.

The derelict prison, formally known as Reading Gaol, has been closed since 2013 and is owned by the Ministry of Justice.

It was first put up for sale in October 2019.

Banksy said: "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.”

A petition by the Save Reading Gaol campaign has thousands of signatures and the support of the actors Dame Judi Dench, Stephen Fry and Kate Winslet.

The council has lobbied to turn the jail into an arts centre celebrating its heritage with performance spaces and exhibition venues.

The council's bid £2.6 million in April 2020, but it was rejected.

Instead the MoJ agreed an undisclosed deal with Artisan Real Estate, but the sale collapsed in November 2020 because of significant heritage issues on the site.

A second bid from the council was rejected in May 2021 and it was put back on the market in June.

Banksy plans to sell the stencil used to create the 'Create Escape', which he painted on the wall outside Reading Prison in March.

The stencil went on display at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery last week as part of an exhibition to celebrate his Channel 4 series Grayson’s Art Club.

The Bristol-based artist’s mural of an inmate escaping with a typewriter is considered a reference to Wilde.


The jail’s most famous convict, who was held there from 1895 to 1897 for gross indecency after his affair with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas was exposed.

Wilde wrote De Profundis, his letter of lament to his former lover, in his cell.

After his release he remembered his time as a prisoner in The Ballad of Reading Gaol, one of the most quoted poems in English literature.

The jail is thought to stand on the site where Henry I, the son of William the Conqueror, was buried in 1136. His body is believed to lie beneath the car park.

The jail, opened in 1844, also sits next to the ruins of Reading Abbey, the great Benedictine monastery founded by Henry, once among the largest in Europe.

Former inmates include the boxer Anthony Joshua, remanded there as a teenager when the prison was a young offenders’ institution, and the Victorian serial killer Amelia Dyer, who was said to have murdered up to 400 babies.

Matt Rodda, the Labour MP for Reading East, said that the council bid had been bolstered by a £2 million donation from a “leading figure in the arts community”.

The MoJ said: “The deadline for bids has passed and we are currently considering the ones we received.”

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