July 17, 2013
The battle of Reading gaol
Ever since I’ve lived in Reading I’ve been dying to get inside the prison. Positively oozing dark Victorian history, it’s closed to the general public due to its current function as a young offender institution and remand prison. Despite this, a few local friends have been inside for professional reasons (rather than criminal) and I’ve been madly jealous when they’ve reported on its fascinating interior. When I received a tip off that at this year’s school fête there would be a tour of the prison in the silent auction – the battle of Reading Gaol began.
HM Prison Reading was built in 1844 based on the model design of Pentonville Prison, with a cruciform shape. It promoted the ‘separate system’ where prisoners were kept in solitary confinement to prevent persistent criminals corrupting newcomers.
In the summer of 1896, notorious baby killer, Amelia Dyer, was arrested in Reading and spent time in the gaol before she was transferred to Newgate for execution. At the same time, Oscar Wilde was incarcerated there and after witnessing the hanging of trooper Charles Wooldridge who, overcome by a fit of jealousy, had slit the throat of his wife, he immortalised the crime of passion in his famous Ballad of Reading Gaol. So when the silent auction opened, I marched straight over to the tent.
There was only one bid on the sheet so I put down a modest, but increased sum. I kept an eye on it throughout the event and no one else seemed to show much interest. Then, just five minutes before the close, someone else sneaked a slightly higher bid under mine. But I managed to dash in at the very last minute before the bid was closed for my final offer. It was in the bag and I’m waiting now for the arrangements to be sorted. I am more than excited about visiting the prison at last and I will definitely report back….