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The first “house of correction” on the Forbury site was built by the Berkshire justices in 1785. It had a communal dayroom and dormitories, with no plumbing or sanitation, but a treadmill for grinding wheat and an ornamental garden
In December 1841, the justices received a letter from Home Secretary Sir James Graham which criticised their gaol. It did not conform to new regulations: male and female prisoners could see and talk to each other; no reception or punishment cells were available; and there was not enough room for all prisoners to attend chapel.
The Justices decided that the only way to address these defects was to build a new gaol.
Work began in late summer 1842 and continued for nearly two years.
The new building was based on the 'model prison' at Pentonville. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt.
It was constructed to hold 200 male criminals in three wings, and a handful of bankrupt debtors in a fourth wing. A separate room for to block for 25 female criminals was built in the north east corner of the site.
Reading Gaol was declared open for business on 1 July 1844.
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