In March 2021 a painting of an inmate escaping from Reading Gaol, appeared on the former prison . Entitled ‘Create Escape’, it depicts an inmate in the process breaking out by sliding down sheets of paper instead of traditional bed sheets tethered together and anchored at the end by a typewriter. The artist, who identity has never been identified, confirmed the work was his by a video on his website: https://www.banksy.co.uk/
The prison, closed since 2014, has been vacant since. Banksy’s involvement suggested he was backing the campaign to save the prison, according to Reading Borough Council. Who commented: “We are thrilled that Banksy appears to have thrown his support behind the council’s desire to transform the vacant Reading Gaol into a beacon of arts, heritage and culture with this piece of artwork he has aptly called Create Escape. Reading Gaol’s possible future incarnation as an arts or heritage centre, would make for a perfectly fitting continuum and nod to its past creative inmates, such Oscar Wilde.
“In 1895, Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) was found guilty of ‘acts of gross indecency with other male persons’ and sentenced to two years’ hard labour. He was sent first to Pentonville, then to Wandsworth and finally to Reading Gaol.”https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-ballad-of-reading-gaol-by-oscar-wilde#
After he was released in 1897 Oscar Wilde, made his way to France where he settled in Dieppe. It was there, that he penned his famous poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol. It was there that he died in 1900 without ever returning to Ireland.
Poet and writer, Darrell Figgis was also an inmate at Reading Gaol. Incarcerated for his part in the Easter Rising, even though he was miles away at his writer’s refuge on Achill Island. As a person of interest to the authorities since his part in the Howth Gun Running of 1914, he was arrested under the Defense of the Realm Act 1914. He was taken to Castlebar Jail, from there transferred to Richmond Gaol in Dublin before been sent to Stafford Gaol and then on to Reading Gaol, where he remained until the end of 1916. During his incarceration in the many jails he produced poetry and his prison diary, The Chronicle of Jails. Like Oscar Wilde he too was struck by former inmate, Charles Thomas Wooldridge a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards, who hanged for the murder of his wife. Wilde wrote the Ballad of Reading Gaol which describes the hanging.
“It was an amazing sight. There were not merely flowers, a sight astonishing enough in itself; there was a prodigality of flowers. Then some of us remembered the cause. One of the graves unlocked the secret. It was marked with the letters C. T. W., and the date, 1896, to whom Oscar Wilde’s “Ballad of Reading Jail” had been inscribed, and in celebration of whose passing the poem had been penned.”A CHRONICLE OF JAILS 1918
Cardiff Times 06 April 1895
Figgis, Darrell, and William Murphy. A Chronicle of Jails. Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2010.
Illustrated London News 17 February 1844