St. James Church
St. James Church also formerly known as 'Skinner's Church' is situated at the junction of Lothian Road and Church Road in Delhi and is easily approachable by local transport and from Kashmiri Gate Metro Station. The Viceroy of India attended the Services held in this Church up till the completion of the Cathedral Church of the Redemption India. The perfect landmark is William Frazer Bungalow which is one of the famous tourist attractions in Delhi and is situated right behind this Church.
The St. James Church was officially constructed under the orders of Colonel James Skinner CB aka 'Sikandar Sahib' who was a renowned Anglo-Indian Adventurer born in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in 1778 to Lieutenant-Colonel Hercules Skinner of Scottish origin and an officer with the East India Company who married an Indian Rajput Princess. She was taken as a prisoner of war at the tender age of 14 years and kept under the care of Lt.-Col. Hercules Skinner who was then just an Officer of the lower ranks. Later, he married her and together had 6 Children of which 3 were Girls who were later married to East India Company Officers and 3 were Boys named David Skinner who later went to Sea, James Skinner who became the famous Colonel of British India and Robert Skinner who later became a Soldier. James Skinner's mother committed suicide when he was just 12 years old for unknown reasons and he was sent to Boarding School after completing his basic education from an English School in Kolkata.
James Skinner could not serve as an Officer under the East India Company due to his partial Indian origin but this did not deter the young man. A French Commander named Benoît de Boigne of the Mahratta Army ruled by the Forces of Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior was impressed with the ancestral background of Skinners who served the King of England during the 11th Century and allowed James Skinner to join the Mahratta Army as a low rank officer at the age of 16 years under his command. Skinner exuded excellent Military Skills but still remained in the same ranks after Boigne retired and Pierre Cuillier-Perron, a Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Maharaja Scindia took over. Skinner and all Anglo-Indians were dismissed from the Mahratta Army in 1803 when the second Anglo-Maratha War broke out.
James Skinner then joined the British Indian Army under the command of Lord Lake who was the Commander-in-Chief of British India. On 23rd February 1803, Skinner raised a regiment of light cavalry and named it as '1st Skinner's Horse' or 'Yellow Boys' as their uniforms were yellow in colour. After the immense success of this first regiment, skinner raised another regiment of light cavalry named as '3rd Skinner's Horse' (renamed today as '2nd Skinner's Horse). Both these regiments of light cavalry exist even today as a part of the Indian Army. Skinner contributed brilliantly during the Bharatpur siege and was awarded Hansi within the Hisar District of Haryana or 'Jagir of Hansi' and commissioned an annual salary of INR 20,000. In 1828, he earned the rank of a Lieutenant-Colonel while his brother, Robert Skinner, earned the rank of a Major. James Skinner eventually became the Colonel of British India and was honoured as CB.
Col. James Skinner CB could write fluently in the Persian language and wrote several books including the famous 'Kitab-i Tasrih al-Aqvam' translated as 'History of the Origin and Distinguishing Marks of the various Indian Castes' and another one named as 'Tazkirat al-Umara' based on biographies of the Sikh and Rajput Princely Families and their Territories along with 37 portraits of their existing generation which was first translated from the Persian language to English by Col. James Skinner CB. In fact, all avid readers can find his books at the Library of Congress.
St. James Church came into existence when Colonel James Skinner CB vowed and promised God that he would construct a Church if he came alive from the battle field at Uniara where he lied badly wounded in 1800. God answered his prayers and Skinner survived the battle and to keep his promise, financed an amount of INR 95,000 to construct a Church. The Church was designed by Major Robert Smith and its construction commenced in 1826 and was completed in 1836. Rev. Daniel Wilson, the Bishop of Kolkata consecrated the Church on 21st November 1836 and named it as 'St. James Church' after Colonel James Skinner CB which makes it one of the most ancient and oldest Churches in Delhi. Col. James Skinner CB was also known to construct a Temple and Mosque in Delhi but detailed Information about them remains unknown.
The St. James Church depicts excellent Renaissance style seen in the shape of a 'Cruciform' or 'Greek Cross' which reveals a octagonal dome shaped central roof that imitates the Florence Cathedral in Florence in Italy and three portico porches which is an open front platform with a roof supported by massive columns that forms the entrance of this Church and the large framed windows are seen covered with elaborate and colourful stained glass. The Church has a Copper Ball and a Cross on top which is an imitation of the Church in Venice but unfortunately got damaged during the 1857 Uprising (Sepoy Mutiny); however, they were reconstructed and every effort was made to ensure that they maintain their original shape.
Col. James Skinner CB died on 4th December 1841 at Hansi and was buried with complete rituals within the compound of the Cantonment Burial Ground at Hansi. After 40 years, his grave was disinterred and the coffin was moved to Delhi which was escorted by 200 men of the 'Skinner's Horse' Regiment Cavalry. On 19th January 1842, he was buried within the Cemetery grounds of St. James Church and inside a vault made of white marble that lies just below the Communion Altar Table. The Cemetery grounds of this Church also buried the famous British Commissioner named Sir William Frazer whose grave lies beside a large Memorial Cross which was erected in the memory of the soldiers who perished during the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. Towards the rear end, Sir Thomas Metcalfe (1795 to 1853), a British Agent and Commissioner to the Governor-General of British India who lived in Delhi for 40 years and famous for his 'Metcalfe Houses' was buried within his own Family Plot which he had acquired before his death.
The Family burial plot of Col. James Skinner CB lies towards the Northern end of St. James Church which is beside the burial ground of a Lady who died in England but wanted her ashes to be buried here. Col. Skinner CB was known to have 14 wives and many children, some of who are buried within the Skinner family plot within this Church. Amongst his descendants, the one known to all is Skinner CB's grandson also named as James Skinner, who was famous for establishing Queen Victoria's statue at Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi at his own expense. In 1960, Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Skinner who is the great-great-grandson of Col. James Skinner CB took command over the Skinner's Horse Regiment Cavalry.
During a special prayer service and function that was held at St. James Church to commemorate the 200 years of Skinner's Horse Regiment of Light Cavalry; Patricia (Skinner) Sedwards (niece of Lt.-Col. Michael Skinner), Margaret Skinner (great-great-granddaughter-in-law of Col. Skinner CB), Col. Douglas Gray who is now over 90 years of age and had once commanded the Skinner's Horse Regiment between 1935 and 1947, Admiral Sushil Kumar (Retired Chief of Naval Staff) and many former British Officers were present.
St. James Church is also well lit up and decorated during various Christian festivals, cultural and social events that are being organised on a frequent basis. Everyone is welcomed to witness this ancient and magnificent Church that sits quietly within a peaceful ambience and nestles the Graves of a few famous and renowned British Commissioners, Officers and their families tucked away at the confluence of Church Road and Lothian Road near Kashmiri Gate.