5 Palace Gate

3 - 5 Palace Gate in 1975, Photo: London Metropolitan Archives. © City of London.

By Navyn Naran

it was home away from home
the only place you could plant your feet
and know you belonged;
5 Palace Gate, 1970s

before ’57 it was at Kensington Court
Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah’s memoirs
a photo with young Ismaili children
and parents who envisioned
a better life for them

now, for us,
usurped from our ‘homes’ and familiarity,
a strong building, white columns outside.
a plaque on one, i think it read;
“HH Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Center”
step inside.
Ah, this is the entrance –
here in a new country,
this is the entrance
this is our  space…
a wide hallway,
doors to the right to enter the main jamatkhana  hall,
broad stone stairs rising infront,
to the left a hallway, rooms,
in back a place for nandi
and to go downstairs.
you could imagine…
a young Mawlana Hazar Imam
going up those stairs
to the third or fourth floor
quickly, as was his gait
greeting everyone by name in that council office.
I imagined it.
Because it was  ‘Mawlabapa’s house’,
and our jamatkhana.

And imagine the scene.
Mawlana Hazar Imam phones,
a volunteer at reception picks up;
her surprise was a story
the council president of the time
may still share,
as Mawla shared
at the president’s house when He came for dinner
–  delighted to have surprised His murid
to communicate His visit in 1979

Ismaili children are seen greeting their 48th Imam, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, during his visit on July 18, 1953 to the Ismaili Cultural Centre located at Kensington Court. The centre was at this venue until the late 1950s, when it moved to 3/5 Palace Gate. Please click photo for enlargement. Photo credit: Ilm magazine

It was Mawlana Hazar Imam’s home
as all jamatkhanas are,
and it was somewhere good
as a girl of eleven, you knew you were safe there.
it was a place of belonging,
in the new land, we gathered here.
6:35 du’a time as i remember,
in the main hall.
happy to have caught the buses
the 49, 159,137…
and reached on time.
jamatkhana was full:
overflow across the hall
and downstairs.
many a weekend eve
teenagers blushing
eyeing a heart throb
perhaps able to connect.
adults buzzing around
to us, not a concern
but to respect
and from whom to learn
It was the strict volunteers
like Baby Bai, and others
keeping our behaviour a model,
the respect for the time and place
for which we had gathered
Thursday mornings, safai committee
brushing the carpets, spic and span
for if Mawla came through,
not a speck you’d want Him to see.
I don’t remember when Fridays at
Westminster began…
But it was not home.
5 Palace Gate was home.

The above block, 3 - 15 Palace Gate, pictured in 1975 includes the Ismaili Jamatkhana at the near end. Photo: London Metropolitan Archives. © City of London.

Saturday morning: religion classes upstairs,
on the second floor in a room by the window.
Mrs M – strict, her big glasses,
skirted and bloused, trying her hardest
to keep us quiet and attend.
Jokesters teased, ducking heads to desk;
her back to us, she wrote
on the blackboard.
“Class!”  i can hear the giggles –
but not name the  boys:
they are in leadership now!
If you paid attention,
it was where basic religious education
cemented in this noggin.
Du’a meanings, ginans, majlises, firmans,
history of Prophet Muhammad, Bibi Khadija,
the Hijra. Hazrat Ali, the Imam’s family…
we’d come down laughing
for everyone teased how strict she was
and who were her favorites.
IYO practices, ping pong after jk,
meetings in the council chambers,
majlises and mayats…
5 Palace Gate was central.
they said you could stay in rooms upstairs,
if you  came from out of town.
in the heart and life of individuals
growing up,
these spaces, integral –
now memories –
an inner foundation
of belonging.

© Simerg.com

Date reading posted on Simerg: April 20, 2011
Date updated: April 27, 2011 (Photos as received by Simerg from London Metropolitan Archives. Previous versions were temporary – they had watermarks)

Photos of Palace Gate reproduced with the kind permission of City of London. Copyright. Not to be reproduced without permission from the City of London Corporation.


About the writer: Dr. Navyn Naran was born in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, to Anaar and Badrudin Naran. After beginning her high school in the UK, her family immigrated to the USA where she has lived since.

Dr. Naran went to medical school at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, MA. She currently works in Paediatric Critical Care in New York State.

She has been an active volunteer in various organizations, medical and otherwise, including Doctors of the World, the Aga Khan Education and Health Boards in the Northeastern United States. Navyn has also offered short term services as a primary care physician in Philippines and also at the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar-es-Salaam.

Amongst her other endeavors, Navyn enjoys her spare time in nature and in literary and creative pursuits such as writing poetry, from which she finds a certain contentment and inner happiness.


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32 thoughts on “5 Palace Gate

  1. Never lived in London but have heard beautiful stories about 5 Palace Gate. This great piece is the stuff memories are made. May all those that experienced this memorable place be blessed. Thank you Simerg and Navyn.

  2. Thank you very much Dr. Naran for bringing back old memories. I came to London in 1969 to do my electives at St Thomas’ Hospital. Met all my cousins, after Jamatkhana, who were living in London there. What a reunion. Most importantly met my future wife after Friday prayers at the most important and heartwarming address for the Ismailis – 5 Palace Gate.

  3. What a memorable picture. My Uncle Tajdin Jiwan Hirji was the Mukhi standing behind at the door and my cousin Alnoor Jiwan Hirji is the first child on the right and I am opposite him second girl on the left row; I was 3 years old and Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah had given me my name just a few months before that in France.
    Namoonah (Jamal) Juma.

  4. 5, Palace Gate, a museum of memories for generations of Ismailis who were fortunate enough to experience the nostalgia of bygone days. Who can forget Babibai, Mr. Tutti and and Mrs. Florence? I wish Dr. Naran (and others) would explore deeper into the history of this place with more images and accounts of people, in whose hearts, this location was the center of their lives, when living in London.

  5. Absolutely nostalgic! Brings back beautiful memories. I arrived in London in 1968. I was based in Brighton but always managed to catch a fast train to London anytime I was off-duty. 5 Palace Gate was a home to many of us. I was always lucky to get a room even at last minutes notice. Babybai was certainly a mentor to all of us. Bless her. 5 Palace Gate brings back a lot of cherishable memories. I first met my husband at 5 Palace gate!!
    Ya Ali Madad and Allah bless you all.

  6. Wonderful piece of history. Palace Gate evokes so many cherishable memories. I was very young in the seventies and remember Mrs, M – the religious education teacher. What a wonderful job she did single handed. She was just marvellous. God bless her.

  7. Wow, this piece brings back the sweet memories of half a century. 5 Palace Gate was my first home in London, UK in the year 1960. Back then we were allowed to enter Jamatkhana with our shoes on and sit on chairs. Babybai was a mentor to all of us and Mr. Tutti was our guide and adviser.

  8. Wow! Brings back very fond memories. I also remember when Kennedy was assassinated. We had just walked out of 5 Palace Gate when we heard the news.

    Great stuff. Thank you. Zul

  9. Many thanks for the beautiful memories of 5 Palace Gate. This is where we got married in the 70s and started a life of BLISS which continues….

    Shiraz and Shayidabegum Walji

  10. Ya Ali Madad Dr. Naran,

    Your mum was my teacher in Dar-es-Salaam. Palace Gate brings lots of fond memories from 1967 – 1975. Good old friends are still in mind.

    Nizar K. Samji

  11. Dr. Navyn

    I live in Sydney and moved from London in 1981. Wow, a beautiful write up. 5 Palace Gate was a hostel and we all lived there and went downstairs to Jamatkhana, even in the morning. And who could forget breakfast with Mrs. Francis and Mr Tutti with his pipe! Those were the days. Memorable and Unforgetable. Thank you.

  12. Thanks for sharing the photos of 51 Kensington Court and 5 Palace Gate. I was in London in 1978 when Hazar Imam gave Didar in London. I visited Kensington Jamatkhana several times and loved it. In 1990 when I was returning back to Toronto from Mombasa, I visited the Ismaili Centre and the London Darkhana. I loved Hazar Imam’s image created by the late Ismaili artist Gulgee that is on the stairs.

    Dr. Naran, keep up the good work and wish you all the best.

  13. Wow, 5 Palace Gate is where we met after University, work to be with friends and share our trials and tribulations. The IYO and the IVC organized some excellent programs and trips. The Jamatkhana on Fridays, Khushiali and Chandraat was held at the Westminster Abbey because 5 Palace Gate was not big enough. Thanks for the excellent write-up.

    Best Wishes,


    • Nazir couldn’t agree with you more – those were good memories and shaped our lives today. Thank you Navyn!

  14. Hi Navyn: You brought back such wonderful memories of my youth in London. Those were the best 4 years of my life which revolved around 5 Palace Gate. The Beatles were on top of the charts and the Rolling stones were trying to get onto Sunday Night at the London Palladium. I am in Canada and every time I visit London, I stroll through the Kensington area – La Tosca, Salma Blue, Hyde Park, and the straight bus to Piccadily. I remember monthly dances in the basement of Palace Gate. Does anybody remember all that? Thanks for reminising about those good old days of London. Hope to hear a lot more about it from the crowd who enjoyed the place in early 1960’s.

    • Amir, I recall the dances, “lets twist again” was so popular at the time, and I also rememeber playing table tennis with friends, (you loose, you buy dinner), going to La Tosca, and Salma Bleu (Friday after Jamatkhana) in Queensway/Bayswater. The lounge at Palace gate was a meeting place. Gives me a lump in the throat when I recall those unforgetable days.

  15. Thanks for the memory. Came to London in 74. Lived in Sheppard’s Bush and took the 49 bus. Enjoyed playing table tennis on Sat nights and hanging around and rushing off to home in time to catch Kojak. Visit the area everytime in London.

  16. Thank you, Dr. Naran. During the expulsion from Uganda we were on holiday in England. We never got back to Uganda and made our home in Wimbledon, a London suburb. Best opprtunity was to attend Jamatkhana regularly in time for the 6.30 prayers at 5 Palace Gate, and all the fun and meeting Ismailis from various parts of the world. We have good memories of this Palace Gate Jamatkhana and its caretaker Mr. Tooti and the very famous Babybai Visram for her strict clean upkeep of the Jamatkhana. Also we remember Dr. Kurwa and Mr. Virani as well as Noordin Jivraj and Nizar Dhanani who were the Mukhi/Kamadia of 5 Palace Gate. What a wonderful memory of this 5 Palace Gate for the members of my entire family. Thanks Navyn for bringing back these memories. Best of Luck.

  17. I came to London in 1968 for my education. I went to 5 Palace Gate on Friday and it was right away MY HOME. I still remember for nyaz cha cha’s (a volunteer) voice…keep on moving. This brought my memories back that 5 Palace Gate was a big family. IYO’s movie night was lot of fun.

  18. Great memories. Came to 5 Palace Gate in 1967. Met my first amazing Ismaili friends some of whom I still keep in touch with..our first dates, first Ismaili soccer team established..practised across in Kensington Park, visited The Goat for refreshments ….oh the good old days! Thank you for the memories flashback!

  19. I first came to London in Sept 1963. On Fridays it was over crowded and we were asked to move inside, though not for long. There was no nandi as it is now. I remember Mawla went from one room to another for didar. Music party was informal.

  20. With a goup of students for further studies, I came to London in Aug/Sep 1969 and our first stop was 5 Palace Gate. We were so homesick but this place welcomed us and we felt better after a while. On March 30th, 1974 I got married in the same Jamatkhana to my wife Nasim. Our reception took place in the basement. Thanks for the pictures, they bring back wonderful memories!

    Kabir & Nasim
    Toronto, Canada

  21. Those were special days. 5 Palace Gate was a safe haven for all. You have captured it all in your beautifully written piece.

    A bunch of us girls use to practice for our IYO dance performances, in one of the downstairs rooms, of course we never knew which room was available, as you so well describe, the multifunction usage of these rooms! Somehow, it always worked out, and we all found a space.

    To this day, whenever I drive past 5 Palace Gate, I have a smile on my face. If my daughter is in the car, she says, ” Yes mum, I know, this is where Jamatkhana use to be”. 

  22. Very surprised to see the old memories of Palace Gate and Kensington, London. Please keep it up, Dr. Naran, our prayers are with you.

  23. Absolutely nostalgic! Brings back beautiful memories some 40 years ago. Beautifully written!
    All the best.

  24. I am not at all related to this place.. I was born in 1987 and have never been to England… but it is so beautifully written…that while reading I felt I was there in the classooms…climbing the stairs…and this was my childhood…amazing…amazing piece by Dr. Navyn Naran.

  25. Ah! Good old England. Palace Gate, London was my Post Office, my face book, advice and orientation Center.

  26. Navyn, this is absolutely nostalgic! It evokes memories of some 40 years ago when we migrated from Dar es Salaam. Everyone who came in those heady days of early 70’s gave 5 Palace Gate as the London address to the immigration officers at Heathrow!!!.

    You have “poeticised” a lot of events that happened at Palace Gate beautifully.

    Wishing you all the best. Keep up the good work. Bravo!

  27. Navyn,

    Thank you for reviving my memory of Jamatkhanas of 8 Kensington Court and 5 Palace Gate. I was 12 years old in January of 1955, sent to study in a a boarding school in England unaccompanied by parents. These houses of worship acted as a home to me and sustained me emotionally and spiritually, living in a environment that was so different and conflicting at times from that of Kisumu, Kenya where I was born.

    The photograph of Mowlana Sultan Mohamed Shah reminds me of his April 1956 Padhramni to Kensington Court.

    Thank you,
    Ya Ali Madad

  28. Thank you Dr. Naran for taking us back to those days when I remember staying there for a month in July 1963. Mrs. Francis was one of the head warden and Mr. Tutti and Akbar were in charge of Hostel. I believe ChandRaat Jamatkhana at Westminster started sometime in the Spring of 1966.
    Rashid NYHQ

  29. Thanks for sharing the photos of 51 Kensington Court and 5 Palace Gate. Brought back wonderful memories. Excellent writeup.

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