Butetown has one of the longest established Muslim communities in the UK, established primarily by Somali and Yemeni seafarers arriving in Cardiff Docks in the mid-1800s.
During the late 1930s, nos. 17, 18 and 19 Peel Street were adapted for use as an Islamic cultural and worship centre and, on 11 November 1938, building approval was granted to erect the first purpose-built mosque in Wales – designed by Cardiff architect, Osborne V. Webb – behind the three houses. Some sources imply that Webb’s mosque was not actually built. That might be so, but a contemporary newspaper report of the Cardiff Blitz clearly refers to ‘the mosque at the rear of the Islamic headquarters’.
The night of 2 January 1941 saw Cardiff’s worst aerial bombardment of the Second World War; 165 people were killed, 427 injured, and more than 300 homes were destroyed. This was a raid which saw the devastation not only of Llandaff Cathedral but also of the Peel Street Mosque. The South Wales Echo reported that some thirty people were praying in the mosque when it was hit. Fortunately, they seem to have escaped serious injury.
On 18 March 1943, building approval was given for a temporary replacement structure on the same site. The mosque itself was a wooden Tarran hut, while the adjacent cultural centre was housed in a prefabricated Maycrete hut. Building was funded by donations from the Muslim community together with aid from the Colonial Office and British Council. The new centre, now known as the Noor El Islam Mosque, was opened on 16 July 1943.
Building consent for the temporary structure was initially granted only for one year, though that was later extended. However, on 20 November 1946, plans were approved for a permanent new Mosque – again designed by Osborne V. Webb. This traditional building, with dome and minarets, forms the main part of Mary Traynor’s drawing and replaced the Tarran hut. The Maycrete hut appears to have remained and a small part of its roof can also be seen in the picture.
One of the founders of the Noor Ul Islam Mosque was Sheikh Abdullah Ali al-Hakimi, leader of the Yemeni communities in Britain during the late 1930s and 1940s and, subsequently, a prime mover in the Free Yemeni Movement.
With the re-development of Butetown, Peel Street was swept away in the 1960s. Only the Mosque and Islamic Centre remained, with access via a short spur of Maria Street. It was finally demolished in 1997 and replaced by a two-storey brick building, which continues to serve the local Muslim community.
David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer
- Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/39]
- Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan of Mosque, Peel Street, 1938 [BC/S/1/33198]
- Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan for conversion of houses into accommodation for Mosque, 17, 18 & 19 Peel Street, 1939 [BC/S/1/33848]
- Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan for temporary Mosque, Peel Street, 1943 [BC/S/1/34485]
- Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan for Mosque in place of wood buildings, 17,18,19 Peel Street, 1956 [BC/S/1/35865]
- South Wales Echo, 31 Jan 1941
- http://thesaurus.historicengland.org.uk/thesaurus_term.asp?thes_no=1&term_no=159298 (Definition of Maycrete hut)
- Various Cardiff directories, 1930s – 1970s
- Hilling, John B & Traynor, Mary, Cardiff’s Temples of Faith (Cardiff Civic Society, 2000)
- Halliday, Fred, Britain’s First Muslims (I B Taurus & Co. Ltd, 2010)
- Gilliat-Ray, Sophie, Muslims in Britain – An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2010)