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Lews Castle History

1680 - 2024

An Outstanding Designed Landscape and Community Asset

The Lews Castle Grounds are located in Stornoway, on the North East coast of the Isle of Lewis. The ‘Grounds’ as they are known locally, cover over 270ha which include woodland, parkland and gardens associated with Lews Castle.

The Grounds were originally laid out in the 1850’s by Sir James Matheson and have been in community ownership since 1923. The close proximity of the Grounds to the town means it has a long history as a public park and ‘playground’ of the town.

The Grounds are an outstanding example of a mid-to-late Victorian ornamental and estate landscape, with fine elevated views over Stornoway and beyond to the sea. Carriage drives and an extensive network of paths provide access through and around the Grounds, creating numerous circuits and providing a variety of vantage points.

The main vehicle entrance into the grounds and to Lews Castle is from Willowglen Road. This is near the Porter’s Lodge which was the original entrance and is now used as a pedestrian access. The main pedestrian access from the town is from Bayhead Street, beside the Bridge Centre.  There are other pedestrian access points at the Marybank and Creed Lodges.

Seaforth Lodge Built


Lord Seaforth (MacKenzie of Kintail) built Seaforth Lodge as a summer residence on the current site around 1680.  The lodge was later extended c1750s.

Sir James Matheson Purchase of Lewis


Sir James Matheson purchases Lewis from Mackenzie Trustees for £190,000.

Construction of Lews Castle commences


The foundation stone of Lews Castle is laid with due Masonic ceremony on 30

Lord Leverhulme Purchase of Lewis


William Hesketh Lever purchases the Isle of Lewis in 1918 for £143,000.  Leverhulme modernises the Castle and makes many improvements including; installing electric lighting, central heating and numerous bathrooms and intercom telephones.  He also extends the ballroom by combining it with an adjacent drawing room.  Leverhulme undertook further planting and road building,  including the present shore road to the mouth of the River Creed.

Public Ownership

On his departure in 1924, Leverhulme gifts the parish of Stornoway, including Lews Castle and 64,000 acres of land to the people of Stornoway parish.  Stornoway Trust is formed to manage the new public estate on the behalf of the community.

World War II – Conversion of Castle into Naval Hospital


The Castle is requisitioned by the Admiralty and used as a naval hospital.

As described in Peter Cunningham’s book ‘The Castle Grounds’ – “this period of change allowed the woods to degenerate to a wild state and led to the destruction of the splendid glass house which had housed exotic plants, including a New Zealand tree fern which survived out in the open until the 1950’s”

Castle and Grounds sold to Ross and Cromarty Council


The Stornoway Trust sell the Castle and approx. 10 acres of ground to Ross & Cromarty County Council, who turn the building into the first home for Lews Castle College – a residential technical school.

Local Government Reorganisation


Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the newly created islands council, is formed.  The Castle continues in educational use up to 1988, when structural problems were discovered and the Lews Castle School had to vacate the building.

Lews Castle College


The College and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar continue to use the building until 1997.

Vacant building


The building is no longer used.  Lottery funding bid for library/Gaelic Archive Scheme turned down.

Lews Castle Working Group


Lews Castle Working Group is established to investigate options for developing the Castle and the grounds.

Lews Castle Trust


The Castle is now completely unoccupied.  The last occupiers (college janitors) move out in mid-2002.  The building is heated and inspected regularly by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar staff.  Lews Castle Trust Ltd is formally incorporated in July 2003 as a partnership vehicle.

Feasibility Study


A feasibility study is completed, recommending a mixed use development comprising of Museum and small Hotel.

HLF Development Approval


Heritage Lottery Fund approves development funding.  Innovative proposals for repair and mixed use of Lews Castle are drawn up by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, in partnership with the Stornoway Trust and other organisations.

HLF Approve Funding


A funding package including an HLF grant of £4.6m is assembled.  Comhairle nan Eilean Siar allow the Phase 1 contract to repair the exterior of the Castle.

Main Works Commence


The main works contract starts on site – this includes the new Museum and Archive and restoration of the Castle ground floor.

Main Works Complete


The main work contract is complete, with the Museum fit-out and object preparation under way.



Lews Castle by Together Travel and the new Museum and Archive opens its doors to the general public in July 2016.  Alongside the Museum, Together Travel offers public ground-floor rooms available for hire, the Storehouse Café and the Outfitters retail store.