St James’ Church, Delhi

Exterior: 'Before' and 'after' pictures of the conservation work (from St James’ Church exhibition) (Photo: Ashu Sheikh)
Exterior: ‘Before’ and ‘after’ pictures of the conservation work (from St James’ Church exhibition)
(Photo: Ashu Sheikh)

Founded by Colonel James Skinner (1778-1841) in Delhi in 1836, St James’ Church (also known as ‘Skinner’s Church’), is a prominent landmark near the Kashmere Gate. (Per the exhibition material reproduced above, the inscriptions on the two new plaques unveiled inside the church, and current articles in the Indian press, ‘Kashmere’ is the preferred current spelling).

In recent years BACSA has assisted with projects to repair and conserve memorials in St James’ churchyard: for example, the Skinner family graves in 2015, and the tomb of William Fraser (1784-1835) in 2019. (Colonel James Skinner, the HEIC officer who raised the ‘Skinner’s Horse’ cavalry regiments, is buried in a marble vault below the church. Various members of his family, and their descendants, are buried in the Skinner family graves enclosure in the churchyard. Skinner’s friend William Fraser, agent to the Governor General and Commissioner of Delhi, was assassinated in 1835 and buried in a large sandstone tomb in front of the church).

Over the past two years the 187-year old church building, which was suffering badly from water seepage and cracked masonry, has been thoroughly overhauled under the auspices of the Delhi Chapter of INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), with funds from the DDA (Delhi Development Authority). The project was directed by Mr Ajay Kumar, who partnered BACSA on the 2019 Nicholson Cemetery project.

A photographic exhibition inside the main entrance shows ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of the detailed work carried out on the church exterior, bell tower, parapet, balusters, terrace and dome. After carefully dismantling the old plaster layers, the team replastered the surfaces using lime and mortar, and finished with a lime ‘punning’ (‘skim’). In this way they were able to restore the exterior of the building to its original pink colouring. 

At a ceremony held on Sunday 6 August 2023 Bishop Paul Swarup rededicated the Church and reopened it to the public, before welcoming HE Shri Vinai Kumar Saxena, Honourable Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, into the building. In his speech (reported in the Hindustan Times), the latter made the point that ‘Monuments are like living beings. They have a soul of their own and therefore should be protected and enriched’. He also mentioned how he felt ‘humbled’ at the rededication of ‘this iconic and grand house of faith, renovated and restored by the DDA with the help of INTACH… which has stood witness to the First War of Independence, as indeed our entire struggle against colonialism’.

A plaque commemorating the successful completion of INTACH’s conservation work was unveiled, and commemorative plates were presented to all involved, including Ms Anita Singh, Convenor, and Mr Ajay Kumar, Director of Projects.

Rachel Magowan