Interior of prayer hall.
A brief introduction to Architecture Religious Architecture

The 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 for centuries, initially arriving for work and trade.

Around half a million Muslim soldiers fought for the British Empire during the First and Second World Wars.

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 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 were the first mosques in England?

The house at 8 Brougham Terrace in Liverpool was England’s first fully functioning mosque. The first purpose-built mosque was the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking (built between 1888 and 1889).

The 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 England’s first fully functioning mosque.

At its peak, the Liverpool Muslim Institute had approximately 200 people.

A photograph of a 3-storey 19th century terraced house painted white.
The Grade II* listed 8 Brougham Terrace, an early 19th-century terrace house and England’s first fully functioning mosque. © Historic England Archive. View image DP169614.

The Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking, Surrey

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

A photograph of a grand mosque decorated in gold, white and green.
The Grade I listed Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, Surrey, thought to be the first purpose-built mosque in northern Europe. © Historic England Archive. View image 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 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.

A photograph of a memorial garden.
The Grade II listed 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.

The 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.

A photograph of a grand mosque painted white with a green dome.
The Grade II listed Fazl Mosque in Southfields, London. © Historic England Archive. View image 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 into mosques

Using domestic buildings for religious worship is a centuries-old tradition, and most mosques in England are conversions of houses or other structures.

The Shahkamal Jamae Masjid, Leeds

The Shahkamal Jamae Masjid and Madrasha mosque are examples of modest brick terrace houses converted into a mosque in the Beeston area of Leeds.

The basic conversion of a house usually involves the creation of open floor space to accommodate the maximum number of worshipers possible.

A photograph of a brick end of terraced house.
The Shahkamal Jamae Masjid and Madrasha mosque are examples of modest brick terrace houses in the Beeston area of Leeds converted into a mosque. © Historic England Archive. View image 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.

A photograph of sandstone terraced houses.
The Jamia Masjid was the first mosque to be established in Bradford. The terrace of sandstone houses date from the mid to late 19th century. © Historic England Archive. View image 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.

A photograph of the interior of a mosque with a blue and gold patterned carpet.
The Grade II* listed Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, 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.

In 1980, the local Turkish Muslim community acquired the building and gradually converted it into a mosque.

A photograph of an ornate mosque decorated in an Ottoman style.
The Apollo Picture House was built in 1914. © Historic England Archive. DP132023.

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 in England

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.

A photograph of a grand mosque decorated in white tiles at the end of a row of terraced houses.
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’s considered the first building to combine British modernism and historic Islamic forms.

A photograph of the interior of a mosque's prayer hall, decorated in blue and white tiles and with an ornate chandelier.
The Grade II* listed Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque, 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.

Shahjalal Mosque and Islamic Centre, Manchester

Manchester’s Bangladeshi community established the Shahjalal Mosque in the late 1960s.

A purpose-built mosque was built in 2001. Libyan-born architect Hajib Gedal incorporated 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.

A photograph of a red brick mosque with green domes.
Designed by Najib Gedal, Shahjalal Mosque was built in 2001 on the site of a former working men’s club. © Historic England Archive. DP137693.

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.

A photograph of a town's street with a grand mosque on one side and terraced houses on the other.
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 was keen on Middle East and North African architectural designs.

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.

A photogrpah of a grand mosque in a Fatamid style.
Designed by architect Aliasger Jivanjee, the Northolt Bohra Mosque is inspired by the principles of Fatimid architecture. © Historic England Archive. DP195263.

Jame Masjid, Leicester

Leicester’s Jame Mosque stands out as a distinct landmark in a former industrial site among terraced houses.

Inspired by new architecture in the United Arab Emirates, an ambitious, purpose-built scheme was conceived to replace an adapted mosque.

A photograph of a grand mosque.
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 a disused railway line and station site.

With its pink-red sandstone sourced from Agra in India, the Grand Mosque is one of England’s most visually dramatic mosques.

A photograph of a grand mosque with green domes.
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.

Further reading

5 comments on “The History of the English Mosque

  1. Abdul Kadir

    Great Archtecture excellent work accomplished

  2. Alison Burroughes

    The link to the named architect of the Woking mosque is sadly incorrect. The architect in the article died in 1796, nearly 100 year before the Shah Jehan mosque was built. Could you please correct it?

  3. Beautiful architecture and very interesting history on how buildings change purpose with movement and time

  4. London’s first Mosque was established by Haji Mohammed Dollie in 1895, Albert Street, Camden Town.

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