HISTORY OF WOODVILLE
Woodville Palace, located 7000 feet above sea level and half a mile away from the Shimla mall, has its share of timeless romantic history. Its history seeks to trace the grace and grandeur of the Indian Kings as well as the lifestyle of the British Raj and therein lies the essence of Woodville.
Raja Rana Sir Bhagat Chand (K.C.S.I.) of Jubbal State 1888-1951
Woodville's past engulfs you from the moment you walkinto the reception and glance at Raja Rana Sir Bhagat Chand's (Knight Commander of the Star of India ) intimidating portrait. The number of secrets and the untold tales in its furniture, decor and antiques may never rise to the surface but what comes across is a vintage tradition that the Royal family of Jubbal has upheld over the decades and across generations going back a thousand years.
Snuggled in the heart of the deodar pine forest and with the Himalayas as a backdrop, the history of Woodville Palace, with its gabled roofs and turrets, is as romantic as its locale. General Sir William Rose Mansfield, Commander-in-chief of the Imperial British Army, was the first recorded owner of Woodville. Documents prove that Sir William purchased the property from Major-General Sir Arthur Milford Beecher on February 2, 1866, for an exorbitant sum of Rs 22,000, and from then on Woodville became the official summer residence of the Commander-in-Chiefs of India.
In 1876, Woodville was sold to Mrs Henrietta Ruth Maria Alexander, who followed the tradition and leased out the property to the Commanders-in-Chief of India for the next six years.General Sir Frederick Paul Haines spent five summers at Woodville, Handing over to General Sir Donald Martin Stewart,who stayed but one season before shifting in 1882 to Snowdon, which thereafter became the official Commander -in-Chief's residence in Simla, remaining so until the conclusion of the British Raj in India in 1947.
The same year that General Stewart moved, Mrs Alexander sold her property to another Memsahib, Mrs Eliza Maria Walker, wife of Sir James Lewis Walker, the first Manager and later Chairman of the Alliance Bank of Simla, the hill station's leading financial institution. Mrs Walker retained ownership of Woodville for five years until her death. She died in London , England , leaving her Simla Estate to her husband. Sir James Walker retained Woodville until 1919 when he sold the property to the Alliance Bank of Simla for Rupees 125,000 -- a considerable amount in those days.
In 1922, the Alliance Bank moved its headquarters to Kolkata, leading to its collapse and closure in 1923. Woodville was put on sale, as part of liquidation of the Bank's assets. Wishing to purchase the property in 1926, His Highness Maharaja Sir Bhagvat Singh (Grand Commander of the Indian Empire and Great Commander of the Star of India) of Gondal State, Gujrat, Western India, approached the Alliance Bank of Simla, and purchased the property for the princely sum of Rupees 1,50,000. The Maharaja gifted Woodville to his daughter, Rani Leila Ba of Jubbal, in 1930.
Nobody resided in Woodville for about twelve years. In 1938, the old Victorian building was demolished by the Raja Rana of Jubbal State, ( now in Himachal Pradesh ) Sir Bhagat Chand, and the present magnificent summer Palace was constructed at a cost of Rs 500,000. The Jubbal Royal Family resided in the new Palace until 1977, when Raj Kumar Uday Singh , the grandson of Raja Rana Sir Bhagat Chand, converted part of Woodville into a Heritage Hotel.
The Jubbal Royal Family belong to the Rathore clan of Suryavanshi Rajputs who were renowned for their chivalry and bravery and can trace their origins upto two thousand years. Raja Bhagat Chand, K.C.S.I., one of the most enlightened rulers amongst the Simla Hill States, represented the Simla Hill States in the Council of Princes from 1921-1924. He was made a C.S.I. (Companion of the Star of India) in 1928 and a K.C.S.I. ( Knight Commander of the Star of India) in 1936 for meritorious services. Jubbal State had an area of 288 square miles and was famous for its dense forests of 'deodar' trees. Today, Jubbal is reputed for its apple orchards which provide its residents their main source of income. The town of Jubbal is about 100 kilometres from Simla. Jubbal has also given the state of Himachal Pradesh a Chief Minister. He was the late Mr.Ram Lal who was the Chief Minister from 1975 to 1977 and again from 1980 to 1982. Later, he became the Governor of the state of Andhra Pradesh from 1982 to 1984.