Context 158 - March 2019

28 C O N T E X T 1 5 8 : M A R C H 2 0 1 9 continued to be used for educational purposes until structural problems were discovered in the ‘80s. By the late ‘90s the castle was unoccupied, a poignant reminder of Leverhulme’s unfulfilled development plans for the islands. After a generation of uncertainty, and time spent on the Buildings at Risk Register, the Lews Castle vision has become a reality. The building has been reinvented as a new cultural and heritage hub for the islands. The years since 1923 have been problematic, but by restoring the castle, the islanders have finally delivered a project that is an embodiment of heritage and modernity coming together to bring life to a cherished building, landscape and community. Identifying an economically sustainable end use for the castle was a vital requirement in securing external funding for the project, which combines heritage development, public access to a major historic environment asset, and top-quality hospitality and accommodation facilities. In March 2017 the development was officially opened by Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. A feasibility study identified that developing the building into a hotel, museum and cultural centre would ensure the most economically and culturally beneficial future for the building and its grounds. The castle restoration was part of a £19.5 million partnership project involving funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Government, European Regional Development Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Bòrd na Gàidhlig. A modern annexe has been added to house Museum nan Eilean (Museum of the Islands) and the islands’ first archive facility. The first phase of external repairs was com- pleted in 2013, enabling the restoration of the external stone work and fabric. The second phase saw the ground floor rooms renovated to their former gothic-revival glory, including new hand-painted walls and plasterwork. The renovation of the upper floors of the castle respected and in many cases reinstated much of the original room layout, with planning permis- sion and listed building consent conditions imposed to protect and retain original features such as Sir James Matheson’s safe, fireplaces, doors, windows, cornicing, skirting, ironmon- gery and wallpaper. Non-original partitions were removed to create well-proportioned rooms. Twenty-three bedrooms were designed in a flexible configuration of individual suites and apartments, retaining the castle’s unique layout and blending traditional features with contem- porary boutique hotel style. The space in the castle has been leased to hospitality company Natural Retreats. The new extension, which holds the museum and archive, was designed by award- winning architects Malcolm Fraser Associates. Established museum consultants Redman Design created the integrated interpretation and gallery layouts. Six of the famous Lewis Chessmen are on long-term loan from the British Museum and take pride of place as the showpiece exhibits in the new building inspired by the castle’s former glasshouses. Leverhulme would have been impressed by the spirit and determination of the islanders in rising to the challenge he gave them, securing his legacy for generations to come. Further reading Buchanan, Joni (1998) The Lewis Land Struggle: Na Gaisgich , Acair Hutchinson, Roger (2003) The Soap Man: Lewis, Harris and Lord Leverhulme , Birlinn Nicolson, Nigel (1960) Lord of the Isles: Lord Leverhulme in the Hebrides , Weidenfeld and Nicolson Susan Rabé is a planning officer at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Western Isles Council. A postcard showing Lews Castle (the conservatories were demolished after the second world war), with the tennis court marked out (Stornoway Historical Society), and an invitation to tennis and dancing at the castle (Collection of Marie MacLennan). The present author is the grandniece of the recipient of the garden party invitation, Miss MacPherson, an employee of Leverhulme at the time.

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