Reading Gaol tours
In 2016 we revealed the dark history of Victorian prison life on guided tours of Reading Gaol in association with Artangel.
The exclusive tours told the history of the gaol and allowed visitors to follow how prisoners were processed then housed.
De-commissioned in 2013 the tours presented the opportunity to see the austere corridors, wings, and cells, exploring the prisoner entrance, the hospital, the old chapel and Oscar Wilde’s own cell.
The tours were filled with stories of the prisoners, the history of the gaol’s executions and snippets of Oscar Wilde’s own works.
Wilde spent two soul-destroying years incarcerated in Reading Prison from 1895-97. It was while there he wrote De Profundis, a long and harrowing love letter on spirituality and faith which charts his journey into the depths of degradation as he renounces his debauched lifestyle and celebrates the power of art.
On his release, he immortalised the prison in his last work The Ballad Of Reading Gaol:
" Each narrow cell in which we dwell
Is a foul and dark latrine,
And the fetid breath of living Death
Chokes up each grated screen,
And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
In Humanity’s machine.
Wilde was not the prison’s only famous resident; the film star Stacy Keach also numbered among the illustrious inmates.
The tours of Reading Gaol buit upon the successes of previous projects such as Brutal Utopias and Edge City: Croydon changing the perception of heritage from merely country houses and coastlines.
Projects such as this seek to explore the real places in which people live and work.
This project, was run in association with Artangel who worked in conjunction with over 30 artists to present readings and installations throughout the corridors of Reading Gaol and its empty cells.
During the two-month project, artists responded to the work of Wilde, the architecture of the prison and themes of imprisonment and separation.
The prison has been opened to the public with kind permission from The Ministry of Justice.
The tours have now finished.