Banksy has pledged to raise millions of pounds to transform a former prison in Reading, that once held Oscar Wilde, into an arts centre.

HMP Reading is a Grade-II listed building and campaigners are hoping the money will prevent the prison from being sold to housing developers. 

The artist, who has always kept his identity anonymous, said he wants to turn the prison into a "refuge for art" through the sale of one of his stencils, according to The Sunday Times.

The stencil, used for artwork Banksy painted on the side of the prison in March 2021, could sell for a possible £10 million.

Royal Borough Observer: The stencil used by graffiti artist to make 'Create Escape' on the walls of Reading Prison (PA)The stencil used by graffiti artist to make 'Create Escape' on the walls of Reading Prison (PA)

Oscar 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 in prison, Wilde wrote De Profundis, a letter to his former lover, and after his release wrote about his experience in The Ballad Of Reading Gaol.

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.”

Reading Borough Council has also offered £2.6 million for the building, taking the total potential offer to £12.6 million. 

Jason Brock, Reading Borough Council leader, said: “We very much welcome the attention that Banksy’s interest in Reading Gaol has placed on both the MoJ’s (Ministry of Justice’s) sale of the vacant prison and on the council’s ambition to transform it into an hub of arts, heritage and culture of local and national significance.

“The council has had only informal approaches from representatives of Banksy to date, but no detailed discussions.

“Our bid remains firmly on the table and has widespread support – both from within the community here in Reading and from the wider arts, heritage and cultural community – all of whom recognise the prison’s huge historical and cultural value.”

Jason Brock, Reading Borough Council leader, said: “We very much welcome the attention that Banksy’s interest in Reading Gaol has placed on both the MoJ’s (Ministry of Justice’s) sale of the vacant prison and on the council’s ambition to transform it into an hub of arts, heritage and culture of local and national significance.

“The council has had only informal approaches from representatives of Banksy to date, but no detailed discussions.

“Our bid remains firmly on the table and has widespread support – both from within the community here in Reading and from the wider arts, heritage and cultural community – all of whom recognise the prison’s huge historical and cultural value.”

The Ministry of Justice said: “The deadline for bids has passed and we are currently considering the ones we received.”