ITV News Wales & West of England Correspondent Correspondent Rupert Evelyn on why Banksy has offered to raise millions of pounds to boost a bid to transform a prison which once held Oscar Wilde into an arts centre.
Campaigners hope the move will prevent the Grade-II listed HMP Reading from being sold to housing developers.
The anonymous street artist hopes to transform the Berkshire prison into a “refuge for art” with a possible £10 million from the sale of a stencil used for the artwork he painted on the side of the prison in March, according to the Sunday Times.
His contribution, together with Reading Borough Council’s, would bring the offer for the former jail to roughly £12.6 million.
Banksy said: “I had very little interest in Reading until I was on a rail replacement bus service that went past the jail. 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. 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.”
The Bristol-based artist’s mural depicted a figure, considered to be Wilde, abseiling from the perimeter wall from bedsheets with a typewriter.
The stencil went on display at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery earlier this month as part of an exhibition by the artist Grayson Perry for his Channel 4 series Grayson’s Art Club.
Wilde was held at the prison, formerly known as Reading Gaol, between 1895 to 1897 after being convicted of gross indecency when his homosexual affair with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas was exposed.
While incarcerated, Wilde wrote De Profundis, his letter to his former lover and, after his release, recounted his time there in The Ballad Of Reading Gaol.
The jail was built on the site of the medieval Reading Abbey, a monastery founded by Henry I – son of William the Conqueror.
Henry is believed to have been buried under the altar, now thought to be under the prison car park or walls.
Matt Rodda, Labour MP for Reading East, said the concept of using the prison to house arts has been proved by past exhibitions and he planned to raise an urgent question in Parliament this week to put ministers “on the spot” with the offer.
The Ministry of Justice said: “The deadline for bids has passed and we are currently considering the ones we received.”