Design for the Muslim Burial Ground, Woking
The Woking Muslim Burial Ground at Horsell Common, Woking, Surrey was originally created by the India Office, with War Office funding, in response to casualties amongst Indian Army soldiers on the Western Front. The bodies of Muslim soldiers who died in hospitals along the south coast of England had to be buried in accordance with their beliefs, but there was very little such provision available.
There was one Muslim burial plot within the private cemetery at Brookwood near Woking, not far from Britain’s only purpose-built mosque. This was used at first and it was agreed that Woking Mosque would organise the individual burials. At first, Maulvi Sadr-ud-Din from the mosque arranged the troop burials at Brookwood and ensured that they were carried out with military honours. However, costs at the private cemetery were found exorbitant and the War Office decided to requisition a plot of land for a dedicated military Muslim Burial Ground at Horsell Common near Woking.
The army put up a 6ft high wooden fence round the new site and marked out some rough paths. A wooden hut was provided as a mortuary and shelter for mourners. The ground was waterlogged and bare when they handed over the keys to Sadr-ud-Din in May 1915.
Dissatisfied with this crude arrangement, Sadr-ud-Din campaigned to get a suitable permanent enclosure created which would also be a lasting memorial to the Muslim war dead. He contacted leading Muslim converts such as Lord Headley, wrote to Lord Kitchener at the War Office and also got the Agha Khan to visit Woking. He pushed the India Office to come up with plans for a properly built perimeter wall with “some oriental decoration including a gateway”.
IOR/L/MIL/7/17232 Coloured elevation drawing for the burial ground enclosure by T.H. Winney, India Office Surveyor
The India Office, ever mindful of public opinion in the sub-continent, felt the necessity of improving the Horsell Common site and recommended that Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob be approached to design it. Swinton Jacob had retired to Weybridge near Woking after more than 40 years in service as architect to the Maharajas of Jaipur. He was a leading exponent of the “Indo-Saracenic” style based on historic Indian models. In the event, Swinton Jacob could not design the Horsell Common burial ground enclosure because of failing health. The work was done instead by T.H.Winney, India Office Surveyor, but the influence of Swinton Jacob’s “Jaipur Portfolios” is very evident in the detailing of Winney’s graceful design preserved in the India Office Records.
Recently, the Muslim Burial Ground has been restored as a Peace Garden to mark the centenary of the First World War. Full details of the site and its history can be found here.
Heritage and diversity consultant and researcher