5 Magnificent English Mosques

Every year in February mosques around the UK open their doors to welcome thousands of visitors to the annual Visit My Mosque Day.

Here we highlight five buildings that reveal the fascinating history and variety of mosques in England.

1. 8 Brougham Terrace, Liverpool. Grade II

8, Brougham Terrace, Liverpool grade II (list entry number 1062593)
© Liverpool Records Office

The first recorded mosque in Britain, this handsome Georgian terrace was converted in 1889 by a British solicitor, known as Abdullah Quilliam after he had converted to Islam in 1887. A mihrab (a niche indicating the direction of Mecca) and a mimbar (from which the congregation would be addressed) were installed and the call to prayer was made from a first-floor balcony (now gone). The house included a library, reading room, museum, lecture hall and a prayer hall in a building extending from the back.  The interior was refurbished significantly although retained many of its Georgian features too. This interior no longer survives but this image shows it in its former glory.

2. Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking. Grade II*

Shah Jehan Mosque, 149 Oriental Road, Woking, Surrey. General view of exterior. (C) English Heritage.
© Historic England

The first purpose-built mosque in England is a masterpiece of Victorian Orientalism found in Woking. It was designed by William Chambers in 1889 and was the centrepiece of an Oriental Institute created by Dr Leitner, a Hungarian-Jewish linguist who converted to Islam after working in British India. Funded by the female ruler of the Indian Princely state of Bhopal, the Sultan Shah Jahan Begum. The late Mughal-inspired design was influential in making the dome a key element in mosque British design thereafter. It had a direct influence on the nearby Muslim Burial Ground, constructed in 1917 for soldiers who fell during the First World War.

3. Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, London. Grade II*

© Martin Pettitt via Flickr
© Martin Pettitt via Flickr

The Jamme Masjid in Brick Lane is a building which embodies the rich migration history of East London. In 1743 a French Hugenot community constructed a chapel for worship. Once the community had moved on it housed the London Society for Propagating Christianity among the Jews, and then in 1819 it was reformed as a Weslyan Methodist chapel. This was succeeded by the London Hebrew Talmud Torah Classes, which established a synagogue here. In 1976, once the local Jewish community had moved out of the area, it was opened as a mosque and has undergone many changes including, most recently, the construction of a 29 metre minaret on brick Lane itself.

4. Fazl Mosque, Southfields, London.

©Historic England
©Historic England

The second ever purpose built mosque exists in a leafy suburb of London. This was created by the foundation of the first missionary post outside India of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and was completed in 1925 to designs by Mawson and sons. It uses Mughal inspired designs for the cupolas but adopts a modernist approach. Its architectutal repertoire can be compared to the much larger, and now lost, twin towers of British Empire stadium Wembley built in 1923 by Sir John Simpson and Maxwell Ayrton. Both show an awareness of the work of Edwin Lutyens’ work in New Delhi which was seminal in modernising traditional Mughal styles.

5. Regent’s Park Mosque, London.

© Historic England

During the early 20th century the public and more institutional face of British Islam had its roots, namely in the foundation of the London mosque fund in 1908. The justification for a mosque worthy of British colonial subjects was further fuelled by the role Muslims had taken in the First World War. Finally in 1940 the government provided money for the acquisition of a site for a mosque in London and after a series of unsuccessful attempts at planning permission, a competition, held in 1968, was won by Sir Frederick Gibberd – considered by some to have fathered the emergence of modern architecture in Britain. Gibberd was also the winner of the competition for the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool in 1962 and in both used traditional religious iconography but with an emphasis on modern technical approaches.

Historic England will be publishing a monograph entitled  The British Mosque: An architectural and social history authored by Shahed Saleem next year (ISBN 978 1 84802 076 4).

Further reading:

Where Was Britain’s First Recorded Mosque?

Research newsThe mosque in Britain, Research News 


4 responses to 5 Magnificent English Mosques

  1. 76jermyn says:

    There’s a beautiful irony in that the Brick Lane Jamme Masjida building, which at one time housed the London Society for Propagating Christianity among the Jews, later became a cheder (Talmud Torah class) and then a synagogue.

  2. debeauvoirli says:

    Sadly it doesn’t seem to be taking part in the “Visit My Mosque” event this weekend? They are not listed, and it’s not on their own website. A pity: I’m sure many would love to visit.

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