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Oscar Wilde arrived in Reading Gaol on 20 November 1895. He joined 133 other men in custody and was allocated cell C3.3, on the first floor landing, south side of C wing.
By 1895, the gaol had passed from the justices' control to the Home Office. Prisoners were still expected to be silent and study scripture, and oakum picking - teasing apart strands of tarred rope - had become the principal form of hard labour.
Initially subject to this regime, Wilde was eventually relieved of hard labour and allowed access to books. However, his health and morale had been badly damaged and he never fully recovered. Given pens and paper, he wrote the letter De Profundis about his plight.
Wilde was greatly affected too by the people he encountered, and several of them feature in his prison writings . CharlesThomas Wooldridge is probably the best known. The trooper at the heart of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Wooldridge was hanged at
Reading in July 1896 for the murder of his wife, Ellen. Wilde's poem is dedicated to him.
Wilde was discharged from Reading on 18 May 1897. A year later, the Prisons Act abolished hard labour and lifted the insistence on silence in gaols.
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