Interior of prayer hall.
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A History of the English Mosque

Discover the architectural evolution of the mosque in Britain, from the conversion of houses to contemporary expressions of mosque architecture.

Records trace the presence of Muslims in Britain back centuries, initially arriving for work and trade. 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 between 1888 and 1889).

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.

Brougham Terrace, Liverpool
8 Brougham Terrace, an early 19th-century terrace house, was the first fully-functioning mosque in England. © Historic England Archive. DP169614.

The Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking, Surrey

The Shah Jahan Mosque was the first purpose-built mosque in England (and all of northern Europe).

Exterior view of the entrance to the mosque from the west
The Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, Surrey, is thought to be the first purpose-built mosque in northern Europe and Britain. © Historic England Archive. DP148120.

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.

Part-funded by the Sultan Shah Jahan Begum, ruler of the Indian state of Bhopal, the mosque was built between 1888 and 1889. Architect William Isaac Chambers designed it.

General view of the Muslim burial ground from the north-east, looking from the Peace Garden towards the domed entrance gate
The Muslim Burial Ground in Woking, Surrey. © Historic England Archive. DP184422.

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 between 1925 and 1926, 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.

Exterior view of the mosque from the north
The London Fazl Mosque, Gressenhall Road, Southfields, London. © Historic England Archive. DP148053.

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.

Exterior view of the north elevation of Shahkamal Jamae Masjid and Madrasha, 2 Rowland Terrace, Beeston, 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. © Historic England Archive. DP029179.

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.

Exterior view of the mosque from the south-west
The Jamia Masjid was the first mosque to be established in Bradford. The terrace of sandstone houses dates from the mid to late 19th century. © Historic England Archive. DP143430.

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 between 1743 and 17444 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.

Interior of Brick Lane Jamme Masjid
Brick Lane Jamme Masjid was built in 1743 as a Huguenot church. © Historic England Archive. DP153532.

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.

Exterior view of the mosque from the south-east
The Apollo Picture House was built in 1914. © Historic England Archive. DP132023.

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.

Purpose-built mosques

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.

General view of the mosque's east elevation from the south-east
Designed by Jack Godfrey-Gilbert, Wimbledon Mosque was built between 1975 and 1977. © Historic England Archive. DP148103.

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.

Interior view of the mosque's prayer hall, with an ornate chandelier above
The Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque were built between 1970 and 1977 to designs by Sir Frederick Gibberd and Partners. © Historic England Archive. DP148090.

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.

Detail view of the small dome and minaret on the north-east corner of the mosque
Designed by Najib Gedal, Shahjalal Mosque was built in 2001 on the site of a former working men’s club. © Historic England Archive DP137693.

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.

General view of the Islamic centre from the south-west
Sheffield’s Madina Mosque was built between 2004 and 2008. © Historic England Archive. DP169304.

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.

Exterior view of the Northolt Mosque from the west
Designed by architect Aliasger Jivanjee, the Northolt Bohra Mosque is inspired by the principles of Fatimid architecture. © Historic England Archive. DP195263.

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.

Exterior view of the mosque's Baggrave Street elevation from the north-east
The Jame Mosque was built on a former industrial site converted into a mosque in the 1970s. © Historic England Archive. DP137457.

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.

View of the Bradford Grand Mosque
Also known as Bradford Grand Mosque, this landmark mosque was built between 2002 and 2014. © Historic England Archive. DP143566.

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.

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 learn more about them from the National Heritage List for England.

These are just a small selection of some of the mosques in England. If you’d like to share more of these gems with readers, let us know about them in the comments.

Further reading

2 comments on “A History of the English Mosque

  1. Abdul Kadir

    Great Archtecture excellent work accomplished

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