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Details & Cataloguing

English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations

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[Wilde, Oscar]
KEY BELIEVED TO HAVE OPENED CELL 3.3 AT READING GAOL
key approx 100mm. long, mounted within a wooden presentation box with sliding glass lid (217 x 125mm.), [with:] a framed statement on headed paper dated 14 December 1971 from Leslie Portch, Governor of HM Prison Reading, presenting the key to the Rotary Club of Reading and explaining "This key...opened all Cells in 'C' Wing and consequently would have been used to unlock C. 3-3 occupied by Oscar Wilde from November 19 1895 to May 18 1897" (2)
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Provenance

Offered in an auction held by the Rotary Club of Reading, c.1971, where purchased by the father of the present owner

Catalogue Note

"...But we who live in prison, and in whose lives there is no event but sorrow, have to measure time by throbs of pain, and the record of bitter moments. We have nothing else to think of..." (Wilde, De Profundis)

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.

English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations

|
London