Catalogue ReferenceP/RP1
TitleRecords of Reading Prison

The following documents were recatalogued in August 2014:

New Ref: Old Ref:
4/1/1: 4/1
4/1/1A: 4/1A
4/1/2: 4/2
4/1/2A: 4/2A
8/1/1: 12/1
8/2/1: 8/1
9/3: 9/1
11/1/1: 11/1
11/2/1: 11/1


RECORDS OF ADMISSION: nominal registers, 1889-1894, 1905-1918; index cards, 1971-1980.



GOVERNOR'S RECORDS: journals, 1940-2010; annual report, 1974; log books, 2000-2001.




HOME OFFICE RECORDS: inspectors' minutes, 1887-1919; commissioner's minute book, 1946-2000; reports of inspections, 1977-2009; letter book, 1917-1918; civil defence manual, 1947-1954; prison standing orders, 1966-1969, 1981-1991; control and restraint techniques manual, 1989.

REGISTERS OF STAFF PAY: 1909-1912, 1915-1920

CASH BOOKS: 1917-1920

CHAPLAIN'S RECORDS: journals, 1878, 1961-2013; registers of applications, 1986-1992, 2000-2001; register of baptisms, 1990-2001.

MEDICAL RECORDS: hospital register, 1946-1970



BURIAL RECORDS: plan of burial ground, 1923, and register of graves (1845-1910).

PROPERTY RECORDS: abstract of deeds, c.1949-1966; plans, c.1842-2006; photographs, 1988-1995.

RECORDS OF 'BOXING DAY 1992 RIOT': papers, correspondence and reports, 1991-1994.

MISCELLANEOUS: sketch of Charles White, n.d.; home office orders of release, 1909-1915; copy photographs of prisoners, 1946; newspaper cuttings, 1980-2000; correspondence with media, 1979-2004; article on history of prison, 2007; sketch of prison, 2004.
RepositoryBerkshire Record Office (code: GB 005)
Extent86 vols, 69 bdls, 2 files, 3 rolls, 18 docs, 1 item
Admin HistoryIntroduction

The original Reading Gaol which was situated on the old Abbey site was built in 1786. This was demolished in 1842 to make way for a new modern gaol which was completed in 1844, designed by George Gilbert Scott and William Bonython Moffatt for the County of Berkshire. It was based on a cross between Pentonville Prison and Warwick Castle. Between 1844 and 1865 in-cell sanitation was included, but this was removed following the Prison Act of 1865 and was not reinstated until 1990. The Prison was taken over by the Home Office following the Prisons Act 1877.

The last public execution at the prison was carried out in 1862, with the last private execution taking place in 1913. Between 1844 and 1915 the prison accommodated both male and female prisoners, with a separate E Wing for the female prisoners. Oscar Wilde was interned at the prison between November 1895 and May 1897 and wrote 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' which was published in 1898, about the execution of Charles Thomas Wooldridge in 1896. During his time in the prison he wrote 'De Profundis' which was published posthumously in 1905.

In January 1916 the last prisoners left and the prison was reclassified as HM Place of Internment, Reading. During the First World War it held aliens under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 (DORA) and from July 1916 also took in Irish internees following the Easter Uprising. The Irish prisoners were housed separately in E Wing (which had formerly held the female prisoners). The last internees were either released or transferred by October 1919 and the prison closed.

Between 1920 and 1938 the prison was used for various purposes including as a surplus clothing store for the army, the Berkshire driving test centre, and a headquarter for ARP wardens. In 1938 the prison was handed over to Berkshire County Council to be used as a local government administrative centre. In August 1940 the prison was temporarily reopened to house boys from Portland Borstal, following the bombing of the borstal on 15 August. These boys were all transferred or released by October 1940 and in 1943 part of the prison was handed over to the Royal Canadian Air Force for use as a detention barracks, with the whole prison coming under their control from 1945.

In August 1946 the prison was reopened as a local prison and was initially used as an overflow prison. In December 1951 the prison was reclassified as a Borstal Correctional Institution, taking boys who had rebelled against the regime in training borsals. They would go to Reading for a period of correctional training before being sent back to a training borstal to complete their sentence. Reading became a Borstall Recall and Correctional Centre in 1961. In 1968 an enquiry into the brutal regime at Reading led to the closure of the borstal in January 1969 and the prison reopening as a local prison soon after.

At this stage a major rebuilding scheme was undertaken with the original buildings being reconditioned and several modern blocks being added. In April 1970 the prison became a 'Rule 43 Prison' taking in vulnerable prisoners (such as paedophiles and other sex offenders) who were isolated from the other prisoners, and housed in B and C Wings. In 1980 Reading was reclassified as a Category B prison, taking both adult and young offenders, both on remand and following conviction. Again, the layout of the prison was rearranged in order that the different types of prisoners could be housed separately.

In Spring 1992 the prison became a remand centre for young offenders, aged 17 to 21. On 26 December 1992 a riot broke out with the prisoners taking over much of the prison for several hours and causing over £120,000 worth of damage. This led to an inquiry and major changes were put in place. In 1996 the prison was again reclassified as a remand centre and young offenders institute and a pre-release unit (the Kennet Unit) was opened.

The prison was closed in November 2013.

Most of the earliest records in this collection relate to the prisoners themselves and nominal registers and photograph albums survive for the last part of the nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth century. After the prison was reopened in 1946 the records are more complete, with a series of governor's journals running from 1946 to 2010 (with only the journal for 1969 to 1976 being missing). Chaplain's journals cover the later years of the prison, running from 1961 to 2013, and there is a large collection of papers relating to the Boxing Day 1992 riot. The records also include a large series of plans, ranging from copies of some of the very early plans of the prison from the 1840s to plans for alterations in 2006.


Southerton, Peter, Reading Gaol by Reading Town. Berkshire Books, 1993.

Stokes, Anthony, Pit of Shame: The Real Ballad of Reading Gaol. Winchester: Waterside Press, 2007.

Home Office, Standing Orders to be followed in carrying out the Rules (made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department) for the Government of Convict Prisons. 1902.
AcquisitionDeposited in February 1977 (acc. 2188); February 2000 (acc. 6550); October 2003 (acc. 7290); October 2013 (accs. 9291, 9294); November 2013 (acc. 9333); and January 2014 (acc. 9361)

Schedule of accessions
Acc. 2188: 1/1-9; 2/1-6; 3/1-2; 4/1/1-2, 4/1/1A-2A; 5/1-4; 6/1-2, 2A; 7/1; 8/2/1; 9/2-3; 10/1
Acc. 6550: 8/1/1; 11/1/1, 11/2/1; 13/1; 14/1; 15/1; 16/1
Acc. 7290: 9/1
Acc. 9291: 1/10; 4/1/4, 4A, 5-6, 6A, 7, 7A, 8, 8A, 9-15, 15A, 16, 16A-B, 17, 17A, 18-22; 4/2/2-3; 7/2; 8/1/2-5; 8/3/1-2; 11/1/2-11, 13, 15-16; 11/2/2-3; 12/1; 16/2, 4-8, 30-32; 17/1-15 (part); 18/1-8, 10-13
Acc. 9294: 4/2/1; 8/1/6-10; 16/3, 9-29; 18/9
Acc. 9333: 11/2/4; 15/1-15 (part)
Acc. 9361: 8/3/3-4; 11/1/12, 17-22
ArrangementArrangement of the catalogue

1 Records of admission
2 Records of convictions of prisoners
3 Recommittal books
4 Governor's records
5 Photograph albums of prisoners
6 Visiting committee minutes
7 Visitors books
8 Home Office records
9 Registers of staff pay
10 Cash books
11 Chaplain's records
12 Medical records
13 Remission and discharge books
14 Registers of execution
15 Burial records
16 Property records
17 Records of 'Boxing Day 1992 riot'
18 Miscellaneous
Related MaterialRecords in other collections

D/EX343/1-5: Papers relating to financing the buildings, 1842-1870

D/EX485/1-2: Plans of Reading Gaol, 1826-n.d.[1842]

D/EX1444/2: Warrants for remission of sentences and discharges of prisoners, 1946-1949

D/EX1452/1: Visiting Justices' records for the old gaol, 1787-1801

D/EX1847/1: Visiting Justices' reports, 1860-1878

Q/AG1/1-3,5: Papers relating to the building of prison, 1842-1844

Q/AG1/4: Couterpart deed of prison, 1879

Q/FG3: Printed abstract of expenditure, 1848

T/A119: Photocopy of execution register, 1742-1877

HO23/12: Prison register, 1847-1855 (at The National Archives)

PCOM2/392: Entry book of pardons of prisoners, 1818-1867 (at The National Archives)

PCOM2/393: Entry book of pardons of prisoners, 1868-1896 (at The National Archives)

PCOM2/394: Order book of visiting Justices, 1841-1863 (at The National Archives)

PCOM2/395: Judges' orders at Reading Assizes, 1847-1883 (at The National Archives)
Access ConditionsA note on closure

Many of the records in this collection are closed. Any records which include sensitive information about adult prisoners or staff are closed for 75 years, whilst records relating to young offenders are closed for 100 years.
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