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A Wilde adventure sees Reading landmarks meet a prince

Happy Prince
Pages based on Reading Town Hall and the Gaol

Talented artist Sally Castle has created a magical book for children and adults based on a classic story where good deeds are rewarded.

The Twyford-based artist used the quietness of covid lockdown to illustrate Oscar Wilde’s children’s story, The Happy Prince.

Sally Castle
Sally Castle hard at work in her studio

She has lettered the Irish writer’s words in a style loosely based on copperplate, written with a pen dipped in Quink. The end result is a beautiful art book edition, with a sketchbook feel.

A professional artist, Sally was born in Reading, the town where Oscar Wilde became the local gaol’s most famous inmate. He was imprisoned there in 1895.

For these reasons her drawings set The Happy Prince story in the town.

Sally went out and about gathering details with her sketchbook and camera.

 Readers will be able to spot the local landmarks: the prison and town hall are on the front cover which includes gold foil blocking.

Inside, delightfully, the picture of Wilde’s beautiful Palace of Sans-Souci is in fact the Co-op store at Cemetery Junction. The upper section with its mouldings and window framings inspired Sally to think of it as a palace.

Sally Castle Happy Prince
Cover to The Happy Prince, with some familiar Reading landmarks

She has other amusing references. The drawing of Wilde’s lion that roars is of course the war memorial Maiwand lion in Forbury Gardens.

“It started just as a personal project during covid. I’d really wanted to do one of Wilde’s fairy stories. The Happy Prince appealed because it shows good deeds being rewarded. It’s a book adults will buy for children. It just looks so lovely,” she says.

Sally, 68, has worked closely with Reading Museum.

“The book will be launched there and they will have the artwork in their collection,” she says.

“I’ve also devised a route around the town, about three miles long, so people can look for the book’s landmarks. Details of the online map will be published later,” she said.

She has designed covers and illustrated over 40 books for Reading-based Two Rivers Press, the publishers of her latest book. She is a director of the company.

Oscar Wilde
The Palace of Sans-Souci based on the Co-op Cemetery Junction Reading

The company says she has “a reputation for original hand lettering and a particular interest in linocut printmaking, environmental lettering and mixed media artwork.”

Her work is on panels at Chatham Place and on the Forbury Square Stone in Reading.

It’s also on items in Reading Museum’s shop, including tea towels and mugs, and most recently biscuits and sweets packaging which includes Wilde’s words: “I can resist everything except temptation”.

Sally was part of the Save Reading Gaol campaign, designing T-shirts for it.

Wilde expert and collector Michael Seeney’s introduction to the book says it is “beautifully written and illustrated.”

He adds: “By setting the story in a recognisable town rather than the stereotypical middle-European towns often used as a setting, Sally Castle allows us to see the universal application of Wilde’s moral, and the whole lives up to his wish that we should ‘find in simplicity a subtle strangeness’.”

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