Heritage boost for England’s first mosque

Liverpool City Council is to transfer its ownership of the site of England’s first mosque to support a new Islamic Heritage and Enterprise Centre.

A report to the council’s cabinet today (Friday, 14 September) is recommending the council transfer the freehold lease of the Grade II* listed premises at 8-10 Brougham Terrace, Kensington, to the Abdullah Quilliam Society (AQS) so it can progress with its ambitious plans.

The charity aim to celebrate the life of William Henry Quilliam (1856-1932), a Liverpool solicitor famed for pioneering the notion of legal aid, who converted to Islam in 1887 and created “the birthplace of British Islam” when he established England’s first fully functional mosque and Islamic centre in 1889 at 8 Brougham Terrace.

Renamed Abdullah Quilliam, he set up the Liverpool Muslim Institute, which also housed an orphanage, school and publishing house, and is regarded as one of the most influential Muslim converts and important figures in the history of Islam in Britain.

Such was his influence, Abdullah became the first and only appointed Sheik ul Islam of Britain appointed by the last Ottoman Emperor or Chaliph.

After the mosque closed in 1910, it was then used as the city’s registry office for births, deaths and marriages until the office moved and the AQS made its approach to re-establish the mosque.

Since 2006 the AQS have steadily refurbished the three, 5-storey terraced buildings to the cost of £1.2m, providing a new roof, removing asbestos, installing CCTV and various internal works which led to the historic mosque re-opening in June 2014 after 104 years of closure.

The AQS, who have operated on two-year leases, now offer open days and a mosque tour with renditions of Islamic hymns which Quilliam would have sang.

The transfer of the freehold lease will enable AQS to continue to operate the property as a mosque, as well as a training centre with upper floor rented residential accommodation, and would enable them to draw down additional funding to develop a museum, visitor centre, library and study facilities to celebrate the life and era of Quilliam.

The new Heritage and Enterprise Centre, to open in Summer 2019, will include displays of Victorian costumes, horse and carriage rides, Victorian styled candy carts, as well as a Victorian kitchen.

It will also feature new office space, health and wellbeing facilities offering training and learning courses, employment and enterprise support and a community café which will create 10 new jobs.

Councillor Alice Bennett, Mayoral Lead for Heritage and Design, said: “Liverpool played a crucial role in the development of Islam in Britain and this historic centre fits well with our history of justice and fairness, founded by the man who introduced the notion of legal aid and who understood the rights of women and children and acted on those rights. The mosque itself has some beautiful and unique features that Mr Quilliam had a hand in designing. This new heritage centre will shine a light on an over-looked part of Victorian society, when Liverpool’s reputation for religious tolerance was a beacon to the world.

“Mr Quilliam’s life was destined to be a forgotten story of that era, but for the work and plans of the AQS to celebrate his life through this new museum and heritage centre. It will be a fantastic addition to our cultural and heritage offer and the facilities and training services will be invaluable to the local community. The work they have done this past decade has laid great foundations to realise their dream and they are to be greatly applauded for their efforts.”

Mr Galib Khan, Chair of AQS Trustees, said: “We are immensely proud of this great man and Liverpudlian. Because of the many things Abdullah Qulliiam achieved in Liverpool, he was known throughout the Empire as a Muslim Leader and he deserves an important place in the story of this great city and all it stands for as a celebrated seat of tolerance, education and social justice.

“With support from the Muslim community we’ve been able to carry out works to a very high standard and after a decade long journey they are almost complete. The bequeathing of the freehold from the city council will be a huge boost to our plans and we hope to eventually provide a unique heritage and community centre that Liverpool will be proud of.”

Liverpool Waterfront