City’s oldest church stands under her family tree | delhi | Hindustan Times
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City’s oldest church stands under her family tree

delhi Updated: Oct 19, 2009 23:47 IST
Nivedita Khandekar
Nivedita Khandekar
Hindustan Times
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For 72 years, Diana Brooks lived five generations removed from her roots in Delhi. This art historian and curator from England is the great-great-great granddaughter of the legendary Colonel James Skinner, who built Delhi's oldest standing church between the years 1823 and 1836.

On her first visit to India now, Brooks has been drawn 'home' by the church - St James' at Kashmere Gate. She will visit the edifice on Tuesday morning. For her, the place has added importance, as some of her ancestors lie buried there.

There is a sense of urgency about Brooks' visit. The idea being to make the pilgrimage "before it is too late."

The Skinners

Brooks has come armed with well-researched documents about Col Skinner and an almost 40-year-old, yellowing family tree beginning with the Englishman David Skinner in 1713.

Col James Skinner was one among the three sons and three daughters born to Hercules Skinner (a descendent of David Skinner) and a Rajput princess. "The Rajput wife was shocked at the thought of sending her daughters to school. What followed was the most horrendous thing… she committed suicide," said Brooks, sharing a piece of family history.

Col Skinner's son, who was also named Hercules, had a daughter named Helen Mary Skinner. "She was my great grandmother, whom I distinctly remember," said Brooks.

The Brooks still have 19th century India-made silver cups that they use during christenings. There are many family portraits, too. While the heirlooms kept the India connection alive, Brooks' mother made it a point to attend the annual get-togethers of British officers of Skinners' regiment, till she died in 1985.

Brooks has no siblings but "many of the cousins are interested in knowing their family history." Vikram Chandra's Red Earth and Pouring Rain and William Dalrymple's The City of Djinns helped her a lot in her research. "Not to mention my friends Nigel Warrington and Lau Thorbjorn, who had come here in January 2009 and brought back a lot of photos of the church. Besides, Nidheesh Saxena of Pragema Travels did all the coordination and ground work for my visit here."

And has her research thrown up any reasons for why the church was named after St James? "Oh well, there are a lot of St James' Churches in England, too. It is quite a popular name."