AN EVOCATIVE ITEM. Wilde served the majority of his sentence for gross indecency at Reading Gaol, and remains without doubt the prison's most famous inmate. Wilde's incarceration all but destroyed his literary reputation and his health but during this time he wrote the letter to Lord Alfred Douglas which was later published as De Profundis and, in the month of his release, began The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which he signed with his cell number, C.3.3.
According to Portch's accompanying letter, this key was used at the gaol for a period of thirty years. As would be expected, it opened all the cells in C block, including Cell 3.3 in which Wilde was held following his transfer to Reading in November 1895.
After Wilde's departure the prison underwent numerous changes until its final closure in 2013, but despite extensive redevelopment and rebuilding Wilde's old cell block still stands. In November 1915 the remaining inmates of C block were moved out to prepare for the prison's use as a place of internment during the war; it was around this time that this key became defunct. In 1920 the prison was closed and it lay empty for another 26 years before being reopened in 1946. It was converted to a borstal correctional facility in the early fifties but became an adult prison once again in 1969. Most recently (September-December 2016), Reading Gaol has been the site of an exhibition in which artists, writers and performers have responded to Wilde's incarceration and the Victorian penal regime.
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