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Recording Your Heritage Online

Event ID 567313

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Recording Your Heritage Online

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/event/567313

Lews Castle, Charles Wilson, 1847-51 Sir James Matheson's Tudor gothic mansion was Wilson's largest country house, reminiscent of Lennox Castle by David Hamilton (with whom Wilson trained) and very similar to Thomas Mackenzie's Drummuir in Banffshire. With its skyline of crenellated towers rising from wooded parkland, this is a unique landmark in the treeless Outer Hebrides. Even in its present derelict state it could not represent a greater contrast to the small, bustling town over which it presides. The policies suffered devastating neglect during the 20th century, but are now being regenerated. The part known (since 1923 ) as Lady Lever Park is now a golf course; Castle Park is the parkland below the castle, beyond which grows extensive mixed woodland. The principal public rooms open off a long, fan-vaulted corridor with an entrance hall at one end. Their huge mullioned and transomed windows overlook a formal terrace and sweeping lawns, now colonised by rhododendrons. On the north elevation is a four-storey entrance tower with portecocherè; on the south, a single-storey dining room extension (an afterthought), with huge gargoyles grinning from its parapets. A long, curving palmcourt and conservatories, c. 1870, attributed to Alexander F. Sutherland, were demolished after the Second World War. In 1919, Leverhulme altered the interior, introducing a ballroom with Ionic columns and Adamstyle ceiling by Ernest Prestwich (assistant to Lomax-Simpson). In the dining room hung seven Gobelin tapestries (now in Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight). He installed electricity, heating and an internal system of telephones and bells and planned an abortive scheme for a hotel by Lutyens and Lomax- Simpson for the castle precincts. In 1923 , Lews Castle became the property of the people of Stornoway; it served as a naval hospital during the War and was taken on by Ross & Cromarty County Council in 1953. Used as a college until 1988, it has been unoccupied since 1996, stripped of its chimneypieces and furnishings. Lews Castle College, recently earmarked as one of the University of the Highlands and Islands' nine colleges, now operates from a complex of campus buildings in the grounds - brightly coloured, barrel-roofed teaching sheds by the Miller Partnership, 1998.

In the 1840s Matheson began an extensive planting programme, which transformed the bare slopes of Gearraidh Chruaidh and removed large numbers of people from their grazing lands, eradicating existing settlements. However, in this decade of potato famine, he provided welcome employment. There were private pleasure grounds and woodland gardens to be planted, a park and glen walk to be landscaped, carriage drives and paths to be made, and estate buildings to be constructed. The later 19th century saw further landscaping, the introduction of specimen trees, a terraced garden and new kitchen garden, and foreshore works leading to Cuddy Point, a sham forework of 1868 with battlemented seawalls. Overlooking a curved terrace on the slopes above, the Matheson Monument, erected by Sir James's widow, 1880, is a domed baldacchino of marble, restored 2005, when its missing statue was returned. Various later 19th century lodges, also designed by Charles Wilson c.1840s, include: Creed Lodge, with a diagonally-set turret and rare surviving polygonal cast-iron gatepiers (its drive usurped the former public road); Porter's Lodge, a gothic gatehouse straddling the main drive from Bayhead, and Marybank Lodge, guarding an imposing entrance to the castle, with carriage and pedestrian gates between quadrants and octagonal piers. In its garden, octagonal kennels, a roofless version of those at Grimersta and Uig, c.1870

Taken from "Western Seaboard: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Mary Miers, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press http://www.rias.org.uk

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