Lesser Known Ballads (and Other Art Work) of Reading Gaol

Built in 1844, HM Prison Reading (also known as Reading Gaol and famous through Oscar Wilde‘s poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol) was decommissioned in 2013. Since September 2016 the prison has opened its doors to the public for the rather splendid Artangel project ‘Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison‘ (running until December 2016).

The Artangel exhibition features many striking pieces of artwork and installation. But more than that still, I was struck by art on display that had not been commissioned – and art that has not received much attention as of yet: the creatively destructive art (partly verbal, partly visual) left behind by the inmates of the prison.

Please note: if you are easily offended by gratuitous strong language, obscenity, and nudity, please stop reading now.

As a scholar who has studied ancient Roman graffiti and inscribed poetry, I cannot help but feel the urge to document some of the particularly remarkable pieces here. So, without further ado, here is a short, selective gallery of Lesser Known Ballads of Reading Gaol – as well as some other forms of verbal and non-verbal installations.



As I sit here broken hearted
need to shit but only farted.


30 y(ea)rs of prison
why be free
so dey took away
life and gave us IPP.

IMG_5967.jpgI woz ere and
now im not
your ere now
pissed or wot?


One Artist to a whole team
and hopefully a whole
city full of our art
soon intill then
Love da ART
Respect the INK
and keep breaking the rules.


Fuck this and fuck that if
the world waz a bitch I’d
fuck it from the


They can lock
the locks, but
they can’t stop
It ain’t
till this


Cell 2
is a snich
trust the
the best
ting he
can do is
suck hes
dirty mum.IMG_6012.jpgMore money comes
more money goes
invest more money
more money shows.

IMG_6019.jpgThey can lock
the locks but
they can’t stop
the clocks.






The other side

By the doors of some cells, check lists for graffiti and vandalism are still on display:


But, rather unsurprisingly, the inmates were not the only ones with too much time on their hands and a desire to leave their mark. Here are just a couple of scribblings from the inside (!) of wooden boxes for guards overseeing prison tracts:


A final comment

On 27th of May I wrote to Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, requesting permission to document the graffiti of Reading Prison and to collect them (potentially) for a small publication.

On 1st of June, Rob Wilson’s office confirmed receipt and stated:

‘You will be pleased to know that I have raised your request with Andrew Selous MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Minister for Prisons, Probation and Rehabilitation) at the Ministry of Justice.

‘I will contact you again as soon as I receive a substantive response.’

As I had not received a substantive (or, in fact, any) response after a month, I followed up on this (on 8th of July) and was eventually told (on 12th of July), if in somewhat kinder words, not to bother any further.

Of course, what do I know about the inscriptions of Reading (Latin and otherwise) . . .

About Peter Kruschwitz

Berliner. Classicist. Scatterbrain.
This entry was posted in Carmina Epigraphica, History of Reading, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Lesser Known Ballads (and Other Art Work) of Reading Gaol

  1. Pingback: Hope, Freedom, and Being Human: A Poetic Approach | The Petrified Muse

Comments are closed.