Sir Richard Branson’s Edinburgh roots uncovered

Sir Richard Branson's great-great-grandfather, Reverend Chrkles Jenkins, is immortalised in the fresco at St James' Episcopal Church. Pic: Scott Taylor
Sir Richard Branson's great-great-grandfather, Reverend Chrkles Jenkins, is immortalised in the fresco at St James' Episcopal Church. Pic: Scott Taylor
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Sir Richard Branson has spoken of his delight after research revealed his great-great grandfather was a hard-working Edinburgh Church Minister with a strong work ethic, as Kaye Nicholson finds out.

Famed for his voracious appetite for work and remarkable achievements from a young age, he traversed the globe and inspired those he met.

Sir Richard Branson. Picture: PA

Sir Richard Branson. Picture: PA

The remarkable life story of Reverend Charles Jenkins may be largely forgotten in his native Edinburgh, but it deserves to be celebrated in its own right - and offers an intriguing insight into where Sir Richard Branson may have got his enterprising character and work ethos.

For the kirk minister was the great-grandfather of the Virgin tycoon who today is worth £3 billion, owns his own Caribbean island and plans to venture into space.

Sir Richard’s humble family links to the Capital - and a manse in Goldenacre - were unknown even to the billionaire businessman himself. Until now.

The 63-year-old businessman is proud of his Scottish roots and spoke of his Edinburgh-born maternal grandmother, Dorothy Huntley-Flindt, nee Jenkins, during a recent visit to the city.

Reverend Charles Jenkins. Picture: Scott Taylor

Reverend Charles Jenkins. Picture: Scott Taylor

But the committed atheist had no idea his Edinburgh-based great-grandfather was a high-profile man of the cloth whose achievements were celebrated in his lifetime. And, despite their differences, a hard-working can-do attitude seems to bond them.

Reverend Charles Jenkins was rector of St James’ Episcopal Church at Goldenacre from the age of 28 – by which time he had already spent several years in Australia working as a sheep farmer before getting a divinity degree from Sydney University.

He also founded a successful mission church in Canonmills, which later became St Philip’s Church.

The current rector of St James’ and St Philip’s churches, Rev Tembu Rongong, discovered the records of Sir Richard’s ancestors after being contacted by the Evening News. They reveal his grandmother was born at 56 Inverleith Row in June 1898, while her father was at St James’.

Her mother, Mary Hawkins – Sir Richard’s great-granny – is described on their 1896 marriage certificate as a “spinster” from Queensberry House in Granton.

Incredibly, the Rev Jenkins’ integral role in the church’s history is immortalised in the St James’ frescoes. The chancel at St James’ is entirely covered in painted murals, by William Hole, the artist who also painted now refurbished murals in the National Portrait Gallery.

Rev Jenkins’ figure is on the south side of the chancel. A book on St James’ – A Church In Goldenacre – written by Gilbert Cole in 1988 to mark its centenary, describes Rev Jenkins as a key figure in St James’ history. Mr Cole writes: “His achievements in the church bordered on the legendary. Membership topped the thousand in less than ten years and he founded the mission church at Canonmills.”

Like his jet-setting descendant, Rev Jenkins was a 

He worked so hard it damaged his health, with the Scottish Chronicle reporting in 1906 that he had “increasing nerve exhaustion”.

He took a five-month sabbatical to an “elegant homestead” in Armidale, New South Wales, Australia, to try to rest.

When he returned, St Philip’s Church was being built, a development which stemmed from his Beaverbank Mission project in Canonmills.

But he continued to suffer from ill health, particularly from heart problems, and died in 1917, aged 53.

“His death was a shattering blow,” said Mr Cole. “For 25 years he had been the very rock from which St James’ had derived its strength.”

Hundreds gathered for his funeral before he was buried at Warriston. Despite wartime austerity, his congregation raised £600 to pay for a sculpted rood beam in his memory.

Sir Richard was delighted today to learn about his distinguished ancestor. He told the Evening News: “This is magical news to me. I’ll make sure I go to church this Sunday so as not to upset him.”

The Virgin tycoon has talked in the past about his pride in his Scottish connections, including during a whistle-stop tour of the Capital last Monday.

He said: “We’ve got rather a lot of family here. My kids are half Scottish and my grandmother was from Edinburgh, so I’ve got a smattering of it.”

Members of the Inverleith Row community said they were surprised and delighted to hear about Sir Richard’s links.

Rev Rongong said: “We knew about Rev Jenkins, but not about the connections at all. I certainly will be telling the congregation about it on Sunday.”

Mario Inzuege, who owns XXL Pizza in Inverleith Row, said: “I would like him to come and visit now. He could maybe use his hot air balloon, why not?”

Kat McHugh, who runs Zuba Hair and Beauty, also on Inverleith Row, said: “It’s nice that his roots are so close to Edinburgh. I know he does a lot of charity work and he’s done very well for himself.”