Records trace the presence of Muslims in Britain back centuries, initially arriving for work and trade. And during the First and Second World Wars, around half a million Muslim soldiers fought for the British Empire.
From 1887 up to the Second World War there were only a handful of mosques in the country. After the independence and Partition of India in 1947, Muslim migration increased, particularly from India and the newly formed Pakistan.
As new communities settled across England, they established new mosques to provide for their religious and social needs.
How many mosques are in England?
Before the 20th century, only a handful of mosques existed in Britain. By 2012, there were an estimated 1,500 mosques. They range enormously in design and scale and illustrate the diversity of Britain’s Muslim population.
It’s thought that fewer than 20% of Britain’s mosques are purpose-built. The majority are converted houses or other adapted buildings.
What was the first mosque in England?
The house at 8 Brougham Terrace in Liverpool was the first fully-functioning mosque in England. The first purpose-built mosque was the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking (built in 1888-9).
William Abdullah Quilliam Mosque, Liverpool
In 1889, William Henry Quilliam, a Liverpool solicitor and Muslim convert, bought the house on Brougham Terrace for the Liverpool Muslim Institute and built an extension to the rear that was the first fully-functioning mosque in England.
At its peak, the Liverpool Muslim Institute had approximately 200 people.
The Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking, Surrey
The Shah Jahan Mosque was the first purpose-built mosque in England (and all of northern Europe).
The mosque was commissioned by Dr Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner, a Hungarian Jewish linguist. He wanted to establish an educational Oriental Institute to enhance the study of Indian and Islamic culture and history.
The Muslim Burial Ground in Woking was established nearby in 1917 for Indian Muslim soldiers who had died in England after fighting for Britain in the First World War.
Fazl Mosque or London Mosque, Wandsworth, London
The Fazl Mosque, built in 1925-6, was the first purpose-built mosque in London and the first to be made in Britain since the Shah Jahan Mosque opened in Woking in 1889.
Built for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, it was designed in a restrained classical Mughal style by TH Mawson & Sons. The design incorporated modern materials and construction methods.
Adapting and transforming buildings
The use of domestic buildings for religious worship is a centuries-old tradition, and the vast majority of mosques in England are conversions of houses or other structures.
The Shahkamal Jamae Masjid, Leeds
The Shahkamal Jamae Masjid and Madrasha mosque are an example of a modest brick terrace house in the Beeston area of Leeds converted into a mosque.
The basic conversion of a house usually involves the creation of open floor space to accommodate the maximum number of worshipers possible.
The Jamia Masjid, or Howard Street Mosque, Bradford
The Jamia Masjid in central Bradford was the city’s first mosque. The Pakistani Muslim Association established it in a mid-19th century house at 30 Howard Street in 1958.
Prayer halls were created on the lower and upper ground floors by removing internal partitions. It later extended into numbers 28 and 32.
Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, or Brick Lane Mosque, London
The current Brick Lane Mosque reflects the changing nature of local communities over time. It was built in 1743-4 as the Neuve Eglise, a French Protestant chapel serving Huguenots who worked in the Spitalfields silk-weaving industry.
In 1819 it became a Wesleyan Methodist chapel. At the end of the 19th century, it was converted into the Spitalfields Great Synagogue.
With the local Jewish population dispersal to London’s suburbs in the second half of the 20th century, the Synagogue fell into disuse. A new wave of Muslim immigrants from India and Bangladesh populated the area, and in 1976 the building became a mosque.
Aziziye Mosque, Hackney, London
The Aziziye Mosque began life as a cinema. Built in 1914 as the Apollo Picture House, it was designed in an ‘oriental’ style.
In 1980 the local Turkish Muslim community-acquired the building and gradually converted it for use as a mosque. The cinema auditorium functioned as the main prayer hall until a significant refurbishment created a new upper-level prayer hall. The exterior was also covered with Iznik tiles, a traditional Ottoman style.
English mosques built in the 1980s and 90s are often an exciting amalgamation of Islamic and local architecture, where local materials and styles underpin domes and minarets.
In the 21st century, mosque design often reflects traditional Islamic architecture.
Wimbledon Mosque, Merton, London
In 1973 the Wimbledon Mosque Building Fund appointed local architect Jack Godfrey-Gilbert to design a purpose-built mosque on the site of three lock-up garages.
The mosque opened in 1977. Its design evokes the architecture of Mughal India. In 1988 it was extended over the site of two adjacent terrace houses, and in 2010 the accommodation was further increased with a roof extension.
Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque, London
The London Central Mosque was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd and completed in 1977. It is considered the first building of its type to bring together British modernism and historic Islamic forms.
A movement to create a central mosque in London emerged during the early 20th century. The government gave support in 1944, providing funds for a site adjacent to Regent’s Park.
An international competition was launched in 1968, and the winner was London-based architect Sir Frederick Gibberd. The mosque is concrete with polished Portland stone and has a dome clad in gold-coloured copper alloy sheeting.
Watch: Building the London Central Mosque
In this video, students conduct interviews with people who constructed London Central Mosque using photographs from Historic England’s Archive.
Shahjalal Mosque and Islamic Centre, Manchester
The Shahjalal Mosque was established by Manchester’s Bangladeshi community in the late 1960s.
A purpose-built mosque was built in 2001. Designed by Libyan-born architect Hajib Gedal, it incorporates the former working men’s club used as a mosque since 1968. A new prayer hall, minaret, ablution facilities and classrooms were constructed, and further additions were made in 2005.
Design inspiration came from several sources. The minaret was based on the Malwiya minaret at the Samarra Grand Mosque in Iraq.
Sheffield Islamic Centre and Madina Masjid, Sheffield
The biggest mosque in Sheffield, the Islamic Centre, is situated on a site formerly occupied by a Co-op store converted into a mosque in the late 1970s.
The former Co-op and adapted houses proved inadequate for the local community’s needs. Led by a group of British Muslims, architect Atba Al-Samarrie was asked to design a new, purpose-built mosque.
The mosque committee were keen on designs based on the architecture of the Middle East and North Africa.
Northolt Bohra Mosque (Masjid-ul-Husseini), Northolt, London
In London, the Bohra Muslim community are served by a purpose-built mosque in Northolt, which opened in 2010.
Designed by architect Aliasger Jivanjee, Fatimid architectural principles inspired the new mosque. The Bohras trace their religious and cultural roots to Fatimid Egypt.
Jame Masjid, Leicester
Set on a former industrial site among terraced houses, Leicester’s Jame Mosque stands out as a distinct landmark.
Inspired by new architecture in the United Arab Emirates, an ambitious, purpose-built scheme was conceived to replace an adapted mosque.
Designed by architects appointed by the Architectural Academic Office practice, the new mosque opened in 2010. Lavishly decorated, the Fatimid architecture of medieval Cairo inspired the mosque.
Al-Jamia Suffa-Tul-Islam Grand Mosque, Bradford
Also known as Bradford Grand Mosque, this expressive building is situated on the site of a disused railway line and station.
With its pink-red sandstone, sourced from Agra in India, the Grand Mosque is one of England’s most visually dramatic mosques.
Building work began in 2002, and after seven phases of fundraising and construction, the mosque eventually opened in 2014.
It is stylistically eclectic, taking inspiration from North African, Middle Eastern, Fatimid, Abbasid and Mughal architecture. It also has fourteen minarets, probably more than any other mosque in Britain.
The role of Historic England
In 2018, we published ‘The British Mosque: An Architectural and Social History‘, the first overview of Muslim architecture in Britain. Several of these mosques are protected as listed buildings. You can find out more about them from the National Heritage List for England.