Berkshire

Oscar Wilde prison in Reading 'Mecca for LGBT people'

Oscar Wilde (1881) and his cell at Reading Prison Image copyright Getty Images/Morley von Sternberg
Image caption The prison was immortalised by Oscar Wilde's poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, written during his two-year sentence for gross indecency

A prison which once held Oscar Wilde has been described by a council as a "Mecca" for LGBT people worldwide.

Karen Rowland said Reading Prison was "essential to turning tourism around" in the town.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which owns the Grade II listed building, said last month it would sell the site.

Campaigners want the prison to be preserved and turned into a theatre and arts centre.

Ms Rowland, the new lead for culture and heritage for Reading Borough Council, said converting the site into a tourism attraction was "something that is at the forefront of this council's thought".

"It is an LGBT heritage site," she added.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The empty prison costs the Ministry of Justice more than £250,000 a year to maintain

"There are not that many in the world or England that have the level of that site.

"It is a Mecca. We had people coming from Japan and all over the world to see Oscar Wilde's prison site."

The prison has been derelict since 2013 and costs the government more than £250,000 a year to maintain, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The MoJ has said it was working with the council to look at alternative uses for the site, including housing.

It added it wanted the site to "get value for money for taxpayers".

Wilde, who spent two years there for gross indecency between 1895 and 1897, wrote about his experience in his poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

The Oscar Wilde Society has asked for the prison to be preserved to honour the poets imprisonment.

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