Where Was Britain's First Recorded Mosque?

The Muslim Institute
8 Brougham Terrace, West Derby Road, Liverpool

Listed: 1985
Grade: II
NHLE entry: Listing details for Brougham Terrace

The earliest recorded mosque in Britain was founded in a Liverpool terrace house in 1889. The Muslim Institute was established by a group of 20 British converts to Islam, led by Sheikh Abdullah William Henry Quilliam (1856-1932). A local solicitor raised in a Methodist family, Quilliam had converted to Islam during his travels in Morocco.

Before the founding of the mosque at 8 Brougham Terrace, meetings had been held in a small rented room in nearby Mount Vernon Street. The social and religious mores prominent in Victorian Britain and held dear by local residents resulted in hostility towards this small group of predominately British converts to Islam. They were pelted with eggs and stones and eventually forced to leave the premises due to the landlady's vehement objections.

After Quilliam purchased the house in Brougham Terrace, Liverpool's Muslim community finally enjoyed a stable home. Although the Muslim Institute was adversely affected by continued unrest and demonstrations by local residents, it remained at 8 Brougham Terrace until Quilliam left Liverpool in 1908. After that, the building was used as council offices and then fell into disrepair. Recently, it has been refurbished by the Abdullah Quilliam Society and reopened as a mosque.

A Georgian terrace house adapted for Muslim worship

Brougham Terrace, originally comprising of 12 houses, was built in about 1830 to the designs of local architect James Allanson Picton. Named after the Whig politician and statesman Henry Brougham, the Georgian terrace consisted of genteel suburban houses for the more affluent classes of Liverpool.

The exterior design of the white stucco-fronted houses is balanced and refined. The principal doorways, positioned below elegant shallow bracketed hoods, are accessed via low flights of steps. The first floor features a succession of tall, evenly spaced windows supplying light to the fine interior spaces.

After the terrace house was acquired by Quilliam, its interior was adapted for Muslim worship with the addition of various elements typical of mosque architecture These alterations were carried out in 1895 to the designs of John McGovern. The 'mihrab', a niche positioned to indicate the direction of the Ka'ba in Mecca and so the direction of prayer, was built in the Saracenic style and inspired by the ornate 'mihrab' at the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo. A 'mimbar', a platform used by imams to lead prayers and deliver sermons, was also installed and the 'adhan' - call to prayer - was delivered from a first-floor balcony, which unfortunately has not survived.

A British centre for the Muslim faith

A significant Muslim community developed around the Muslim Institute at Brougham Terrace: at its peak, the mosque served approximately 150 worshippers. With the help of donations from across the Muslim world, the institute purchased the adjoining terrace houses and established a printing press, lecture hall, orphanage and school. Its aim was, in Quilliam's words, to establish 'Islam on a permanent footing in this country'.

The atmosphere at the Muslim Institute was inclusive and progressive. Non-Muslims were invited to participate in its busy programme of public evening classes and lectures, which offered opportunities for local working people to learn new vocational skills. Out of grave concern for the plight of illegitimate and orphaned children in Liverpool, Quilliam opened the Medina Home for Children at Brougham Terrace in 1896.

The institute with its mosque was an active organisation with a wide sphere of influence. Not just a centre for the Islamic faith, it was a force for good that strove to improve social conditions within the local community. For more information on the restoration and reopening of Britain's earliest recorded mosque, visit the Abdullah Quilliam Society website.