Muslim Burial Ground receives Heritage Funding
The Muslim Burial Ground on Horsell Common, located just off of Monument Road in Woking, is to receive much needed repairs following an announcement by English Heritage that they will fund up to 80% of the cost. The Grade II listed structure has a red brick square pavilion entrance, which features an Islamic ogee profile arch at the centre of a domed roof, with arched walls and corner piers of a minaret style forming the enclosure. It was built during the First World War, and completed in 1917, for the burial of Muslim troops killed in combat. The site is owned by the Horsell Common Preservation Society (HCPS) who are responsible for the upkeep of the structure, but vandalism and deterioration through lack of funds for maintenance has meant this unique building has declined over many years.
HCPS Trustee, Elizabeth Cuttle, who is overseeing the project, said “HCPS are thrilled that, after a lot of hard work by Zafar Iqbal of Woking Borough Council and by the Trustees of HCPS, English Heritage have agreed to grant us 80% of the cost of restoring the Muslim Burial Ground to its original state, with Woking Borough Council contributing the balance. We are looking forward to the building work starting at the end of this year and the Muslim Burial Ground once more being a worthy memorial to those servicemen who gave their lives fighting on the side of the British during and after World War I”.
Work to restore the structure, which is a Registered War Memorial, will commence in the autumn, but a second phase of the project under consideration will be to restore the grounds. A public consultation is being conducted by HCPS to gather the opinions of local people so that a plan for its design can be formulated. Questionnaires have been distributed at local events and it would seem Woking residents are keen on a symmetrical Islamic design, perhaps with a water feature as a centrepiece. People wishing to comment on the landscape design can submit their thoughts to HCPS by firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to HCPS P.O. Box 53 Woking GU21 4YU
Over one million troops from India, including what is now Pakistan, fought for Great Britain during World War I. Soldiers wounded in battle were brought to special hospitals on the south coast of England, in particular Brighton, and those who died received burial rites according to their religion. Hindu and Sikh soldiers were cremated in special crematoria at Patcham, Netley and Brockenhurst but there was not a special burial ground for Muslim soldiers until 1915. In this year, the War Office felt the need to respond to German propaganda that suggested Muslim soldiers were not being buried in a respectful way concordant with their religion. The propaganda, aimed at Indian Army troops serving on the Western Front, promoted the German alliance with Turkey as a holy war and tried to win over the support of Muslim soldiers. It was decided to build the burial ground in Woking because at that time it was home to the only purpose-built mosque in Britain The burial ground was designed by T. Herbert Winney, India Office Surveyor, and built by the local firm of Ashby and Horner Ltd.; the landscapers were Messrs Neal of Wandsworth. A proposed waiting room and mortuary, and extensive landscaped grounds within the burial area seem not to have been carried out. Documentary sources from the time of its completion suggest that the Viceroy and the India Office were keen to reproduce images of the burial ground and publicise its opening, all with a view to counteracting the negative propaganda, which was shown to be so false by the provision of this special consecrated place. The burial ground was completed in 1917 by when it had received 17 burials and each were marked with round arched headstones facing west, in accordance with Islamic tradition. A Sandhurst cadet was buried in 1920 and the War Graves Commission took over the burial ground’s upkeep in 1921. A further 8 Muslim soldiers were interred during and shortly after the Second World War, including 3 from the Free French forces. In 1968, due to vandalism, all the burials were removed to Brookwood cemetery and the ground de consecrated.
English Heritage Head of Operations Russell Walters and members of his staff from the National Planning Department are greeted at the Muslim Burial Ground by HCPS Chairman, David Robbins.