Fazl Mosque

Overview

Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II

List Entry Number: 1454338

Date first listed: 09-Mar-2018

Statutory Address: 16 Gressenhall Road, London, SW18 5QL

Map

Ordnance survey map of Fazl Mosque
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Location

Statutory Address: 16 Gressenhall Road, London, SW18 5QL

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Greater London Authority

District: Wandsworth (London Borough)

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Grid Reference: TQ2466073988

Summary

Mosque of 1925-1926 by TH Mawson and Sons. The later uPVC lean-to extension on the east side of the south-west wall of the mosque is excluded from the listing.

Reasons for Designation

Fazl Mosque, 1925-1926, by TH Mawson and Sons, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* for its gentle and harmonious fusion of formal and decorative traditions of mosque design with restrained 1920s British classicism, built using modern materials and construction methods;

* as a neatly proportioned and delicately composed design by the nationally renowned firm TH Mawson and Sons.

Historic interest:

* as the first purpose-built mosque in London and only the second in Britain;

* as an important manifestation of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s missionary activities in the early C20 and for its significance as the centrepiece of the movement’s international headquarters since 1984.

History

Whilst the presence of Muslims in Britain can be traced back centuries, the earliest Muslim prayer halls were to be found in port cities from the late C19, as Muslim sailors (lascars) created the first settled communities. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 saw numbers increase from the Yemen area and by the early C20 there were around 10,000 Muslims in Britain. The first purpose-built British mosque was the Shah Jahan Mosque, which opened in Woking in 1889. The history of mosque building continued to be closely related to trade, Empire and post-colonial migration. From 1887 up to the Second World War there were only a handful of mosques in the country. It was only after the independence and partition of India that Muslim migration from certain parts of India and newly formed Pakistan increased rapidly, and subsequently so did mosque establishment. Into the 1960s new migrant communities started opening mosques in the neighbourhoods of the towns and cities where they settled.

The mosque at Gressenhall Road, Southfields was the first purpose-built example in London, and only the second in Britain after WI Chambers’ design for the 1889 Woking Mosque. The search for a suitable site to serve as a centre for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community outside India began in 1914. The Ahmadiyya community was in the early C20 a growing Islamic missionary movement that had been founded in Punjab in the late C19 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908), who was regarded by followers as a prophet, Messiah and divinely-appointed Mujaddid (renewer) of Islam. The community sent a missionary to England to inspect potential sites and in 1920 purchased the plot on Gressenhall Road in suburban Southfields, which at the time comprised two detached houses and a small orchard. Soon after, TH Mawson and Sons were commissioned to produce plans for the new mosque. A foundation stone was laid by the second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya, Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, in October 1924. Construction work, aided by volunteers from the community, commenced in September 1925 with a blessing by the London Imam AR Dard. In 1926 construction was completed at a total cost of £6,223 – money that was raised in India, mostly by women who ‘took on the task after being addressed by the head of the Movement’ (Naylor and Ryan, 2002).

It was reported in the contemporary press that the building was designed by JH Mawson, ‘who, with his father, the well-known town planner, was able to study the architecture of mosques during the reconstruction of Salonika’ (Manchester Guardian, 4 October 1926). At the time of the commission, JH Mawson’s father, Thomas Hayton Mawson (1861-1933), was recognised as the leading landscape architect of his period and was appointed as the first president of the Institute of Landscape Architects in 1929. He was also the writer of seminal works on landscape design and planning including ‘The Art and Craft of Garden Making’ (1900) and Civic Art (1911). Throughout his career he completed over 200 park and garden commissions in England, Scotland, and Wales, in addition to designing several major projects in the US and Europe from 1905. Alongside the firm’s celebrated landscape work, TH Mawson and Sons were also responsible for several notable buildings and structures, including the Pavilion at Belle Vue Park in Newport (1910; listed Grade II in Wales), the Temple Summerhouse (around 1912, Grade II*; National Heritage List for England 1113199) and pergola (around 1906-1910, Grade II*; NHLE 1113202) for Lord Leverhulme at Inverforth House, Hampstead and the Morecambe and Heysham War Memorial (1921, Grade II; NHLE 1292855). Stylistically, their architectural work was eclectic, but demonstrated the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement in the early 1900s and, into the 1920s, the restrained classicism of Edwin Lutyens.

The design of the Fazl Mosque was distinguished from the only preceding British mosque design at Woking; departing from the highly ornamented C19 Orientalist style in favour of a gentler fusion of Mughal architectural forms with contemporary British stylistic trends, built using modern construction methods. The mosque’s finial-topped corner cupola minarets bear the influence of Mughal architecture under Emperor Akbar, notably the Diwan-e-Khas hall in the C16 Fatehpur Sikri complex in northern India. Other elements appear to draw upon architecture rather closer to Southfields, such as the spherical dome on its buttressed square base which resembles the contemporary twin towers of the Wembley British Empire Exhibition Stadium by Sir John Simpson and Maxwell Ayrton (built 1923, later becoming Wembley Stadium and since rebuilt); the design for the twin towers itself referencing in a stylised manner Indian architectural forms. In terms of its construction, the mosque was built to modern standards. A steel-framed concrete structure was employed and the plans show that the design was intended to accommodate possible future extensions, demonstrating a progressive approach focussed on function and adaptability. In this sense, the Fazl Mosque brought together distinct Indian and British architectural traditions, reflecting established tropes of mosque design ‘without striking too exotic a note in a South London suburb’ (Building, 1926).

The inauguration of the Gressenhall Road mosque took place on 3 October 1926. It was reported at the time to have been a grand affair, with 600 attendees including dignitaries, ambassadors, mayors, clergymen, ministers and other political representatives. The ceremony was covered by local and national newspapers and was also filmed and relayed around the country as part of the Pathé news reels shown before the feature screenings at cinemas. However, the opening of the mosque was not without controversy. The Emir Feisal, Viceroy of Mecca who was due to inaugurate the mosque was instructed by his father, Sultan Ibn Saud, King of the Hejaz, to withdraw shortly before because of sectarian differences with the Ahmadiyya. As The Times reported, the Sultan had initially taken the view that the benefit of a mosque in London would outweigh any disputes, but eventually, after a series of unfavourable representations of the Ahmadiyya in the Arab press, the Sultan was moved to withdraw his endorsement (The Times, 2 Oct 1926). The planned inauguration nevertheless went ahead and Khan Bahadur Sheikh Adbul Qadir, ex-Minister of the Punjab Legislative Council, formally conducted the opening.

The discord surrounding the opening was to be a portent for later divisions. After the Partition of India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the Ahmadiyya community moved their headquarters to a town 100 miles from Lahore, anticipating that their interests would be better served in a Muslim state. However, they faced increasing discrimination and persecution in Pakistan from vocal elements of society who campaigned against them as heretics principally because of their belief that the movement’s founder was a divinely-sent Messiah. Eventually, the movement was formally declared ‘non-Muslim’ by the Pakistani leader Zia-ul-Haq in 1984. Consequently, the then Ahmadiyya Caliph relocated the headquarters from Pakistan to Gressenhall Road. Southfields therefore became the new world headquarters for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

Into the post-war years, the growth of the Ahmadiyya community through post-colonial migrations from India and Pakistan and the increase in international visitors as London became the community’s new global centre, necessitated significant development at Gressenhall Road. A three-storey brick building was built in 1970 to replace the two houses on the site, comprising facilities for the community as well as residences for their Caliph. A TV studio and media centre has since been added to the building, and from here the Ahmadiyya satellite channel now broadcasts across the world. Into the 1980s and 1990s, as the community coalesced around the mosque, the requirement for more space was met through the purchase of houses on surrounding streets. However, by the end of the C20 it became clear that the Gressenhall Road site would be insufficient for the growing community. In 1996, a 2.1 hectare site in Morden was acquired and a new complex for the community was completed in 2003. The new mosque, the Baitul Futuh, is claimed to be the largest in western Europe, being able to accommodate 6,000 worshippers. Despite this, the Gressenhall Road mosque, with the residence of the Ahmadiyya Caliph, remains the community’s spiritual home and international headquarters.

Details

Fazl Mosque, built 1925-1926 to the designs of TH Mawson and Sons (JH Mawson as lead architect) for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

MATERIALS: steel-framed concrete structure with brick infill panels, finished in painted stucco.

PLAN: rectangular plan consisting of a single prayer hall with an inserted entrance vestibule on the north-west side and a mehrab niche in the centre of the opposing wall, oriented south-east towards Mecca. The mosque was built a few degrees off from the correct direction of the Qibla. Consequently, the prayer direction within the building has been reoriented (as expressed by the prayer lines in the hall which are not orthogonal with the mosque plan).

EXTERIOR: stucco rendered hall divided into equal-sized bays by five pairs of steel-framed concrete piers. A green dome with a gold finial set on a buttressed rectangular base occupies the two bays above the entrance to the north-west. The main prayer hall is 5.4 metres in height and the apex of the dome stands at 10 metres. The corners of the hall are marked by small cupola minarets with green ogee domes and gold finials (slightly altered from their original form). The elevations are restrained in their detailing, the only applied decoration being the stucco arcading above the windows of the hall and dome base, which create a crenelated effect. Tall, narrow windows with round arches to each elevation light the hall, whilst five shortened arched windows are positioned on the four sides of the square dome base; all windows are uPVC replacements.

The frontal elevation to the north-west has a large central door surround with an arched inset adorned with a painted Quranic inscription (72:19) with an English translation. Either side of the central doors are carved stone tablets (later additions) in English (left) and Urdu (right) which record the message delivered by the second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya, Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, to mark the 19 October 1924 foundation laying ceremony. The rear elevation has a pair of windows flanking the protruding mehrab niche, which features the original pair of stone tablets carved with the same inscription as the plaques to the entrance (the top tablet in English with Urdu below). The side elevations both have four narrow windows with rounded arches evenly distributed between the concrete piers. A lean-to uPVC structure has been built against the east side of the south-west wall (formally excluded from the listing) and an additional door to the hall has been inserted here.

INTERIOR: plain rendered walls painted white throughout, with the mehrab niche in the centre of the back wall picked out in turquoise. Concrete piers support structural concrete cross beams, with simple stepped detailing where they meet. A moulded cornice runs beneath the windows under the dome. On the north-west side of the hall a modern uPVC vestibule has been inserted.

Sources

Books and journals
Saleem, S, The British Mosque: an architectural and social history, (forthcoming)
Willey, R, Chambers London Gazetteer, (2006), 455
Naylor, S, Ryan, J, 'The Mosque in the Suburbs: Negotiating Religion and Ethnicity in South London' in Social & Cultural Geography, , Vol. 3 (1), (2002), 39-59
'Moslem Mosque for Southfields' in South Western Star, (2 October 1925), 5
'London's First Mosque' in Manchester Guardian, (4 October 1926), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/04/fazl-first-mosque-london-opening-southfields-1926 (accessed 1 February 2018)
'London's First Mosque' in Building, , Vol. 1 (8), (November 1926), 371
'Mosque at Southfields' in The Builder, , Vol. 131 (4366), (8 October 1926), 564
'First Mosque in London' in The Times, (2 October 1926), 7
'The First London Mosque' in The Times, (4 October 1926), 11
Websites
British Pathé: Islam in London (inauguration of Fazl Mosque), accessed 1 February 2018 from https://www.britishpathe.com/video/islam-in-london-version-1-of-2-cuts/
British Pathé: London's First Mosque, accessed 1 February 2018 from https://www.britishpathe.com/video/londons-first-mosque/
Dictionary of Scottish Architects: Architect Biography Report, Thomas Hayton Mawson (1861-1933), accessed 1 February 2018 from http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/architect_full.php?id=201147
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Thomas Hayton Mawson (1861-1933), accessed 1 February 2018 from https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/37748
The Review of Religions: 'London’s First Mosque' by Asif M Basit, accessed 1 February 2018 from http://www.reviewofreligions.org/6651/londons-first-mosque-a-study-in-history-and-mystery-part-1-of-2/
Other
Fazl (Ahmadiyyah) Mosque, Southfields, T H Mawson and Sons Architectural Plans (1925), Cumbria Archive Centre, Kendal (WDB 86/2/10)

End of official listing