Lews Castle, Stornoway

Lews Castle, situated on the Isle of Lewis in Stornoway, is an important historical and architectural landmark. The castle, built in the mid-19th century, is now a significant cultural attraction that houses a museum, archive, and various other facilities.

Lews Castle was commissioned by Sir James Matheson, a wealthy Scottish merchant and landowner. Matheson made his fortune through the opium trade in China, and in 1844, he purchased the entire Isle of Lewis. He envisioned a grand estate for himself and his family and commissioned the construction of Lews Castle.

The castle was designed by the renowned Scottish architect Charles Wilson, who blended the popular Victorian Gothic style with traditional Scottish baronial elements. Construction began in the early 1850s and was completed in 1857. The estate featured extensive landscaped grounds, which included exotic plant species and trees imported from around the world.

In 1918, the Isle of Lewis was sold to Lord Leverhulme, a successful businessman and philanthropist who had ambitious plans for the island’s economic development. Leverhulme resided in Lews Castle for a brief period before gifting it to the people of Stornoway parish in 1923. Following this, the castle served various purposes, including a hospital during World War II, an accommodation for local technical college students, and a local school.

Today, Lews Castle is a beautifully restored and maintained heritage site that offers visitors an opportunity to learn about the rich history and culture of the Isle of Lewis and the Outer Hebrides. The castle’s restoration project, completed in 2016, has preserved its historical features while providing modern amenities for visitors and residents.

Some of the key attractions and facilities at Lews Castle include:

  1. Museum nan Eilean: The museum within the castle showcases the history, archaeology, and culture of the Outer Hebrides, with fascinating exhibits on various aspects of island life and history. It also houses the famous Lewis Chessmen, a collection of 12th-century chess pieces carved from walrus ivory and whales’ teeth.
  2. Archive and Research Centre: The archive centre provides access to a wealth of historical records, photographs, and other documents related to the Outer Hebrides, offering researchers and historians valuable insights into the region’s past.
  3. Event and Conference Facilities: The castle’s restored rooms and halls provide a unique and elegant setting for weddings, conferences, and other events.
  4. Accommodation: The castle offers luxury self-catering apartments, allowing visitors to stay within the historic building and experience its charm.
  5. Grounds and Woodlands: The castle’s grounds, which include extensive woodlands, offer picturesque walking paths and opportunities to spot local wildlife.

Lews Castle has become a focal point for the community and visitors alike, providing an insight into the Isle of Lewis’s rich history and culture while preserving an important architectural gem.