Lews Castle is a prime example of a mid-late 19th century ornamental and estate landscape, rare on Lewis, laid out with coastal and riverside carriage drives and walks. The designed landscape comprises a series of distinctive wooded parklands contrasting dramatically with the prevailing openness of the island landscape.
Type of Site
Designed estate and parkland landscape laid out from 1848 onwards, relatively unchanged since the early 20th century.
Location and Setting
Lews Castle is situated on the north- west side of Stornoway Harbour overlooking the town. It commands panoramic views and is prominent on the sea approach to Lewis. The Castle is situated mid-way on the east-facing, heavily wooded hillside and dominates views from Stornoway. Views from Lews Castle and Lady Lever Park overlook Stornoway, the inner harbour and town. Extensive views are obtained from the summit of Cnoc Croich across to Lews Castle, the island's hinterland and Glumlaig Harbour.
The policies of 240ha (593 acres) extend westwards to the A859 Balallan-Stornoway Road and southwards to the Greeta River (or River Creed). Thus Cnoc Croich and the coastline north of Greeta Island and Greeta estuary lie within the extent of the designed landscape.
The designed landscape reached its present extent by the mid 19th century and, despite several design changes and developments within the grounds, remains unchanged. The limiting factor in extending the designed landscape further was the availability of imported topsoil for woodland and shrub planting.
Charles Wilson (1810-63) designed Lews Castle, built between 1848 and 1860. The picturesque, castellated mansion is built of local rubble with imported, contrasting yellow, ashlar dressings.
Wilson designed a number of buildings. These are Creed Lodge now altered, but originally more castellated in form; the Gateway, a convex curved quadrant topped with spiked cast iron railings with stone terminal piers and the Old Driveway Bridge, a single segmental, rubble built arch. Also contemporary are a series of other lodges and features. Lews Castle Lodge with Quadrant Walls (Bayhead) is built in a castellated style, of rubble with ashlar dressings with an entrance leading through a pointed-arched carriage pend. Marybank Lodge and Gateway, is a single-storey and attic L-plan cottage, built of pinned rubble, laid in deep courses with contrasting imported yellow ashlar dressings. The gateway comprises cavetto-curved quadrants with octagonal piers with centre carriage gates flanked by pedestrian gates. The Main Driveway Bridge, is a large single segmental arch built of rubble with rock faced ashlar voussoirs. Wrought iron railings top the parapets.
Wilson's scheme probably included the extensive series of boundary walls, sea walls and a sea gate, enclosing the policies. The majority date from c 1845, although those at Cuddy Point, built on the base of a natural reef with a slip-way at the north end, were constructed in 1868. This complex includes a Lodge at Seagate, near the old garden, which is a single-storey three bay T-plan lodge with rubble built walls, including crenellations. Near the inner harbour, terminating the sea wall to the north is a Tower, square in plan with a dummy tower house and crenellated parapet.
The Matheson Memorial (inscribed 'A Viegl/ Mentone') was erected in 1880 in memory of Sir James Matheson by his widow. It is a French Renaissance marble baldacchino with round-arched openings and engaged Corinthian columns at each angle.
Further architectural features form landmarks and ornament the landscape. These include the Arnish Lighthouse, the Bagh Beag stone causeway and the Creed River retaining wall which supports the riverside drive, along which are artificial grottoes. This drive leads inland at the base of Cnoc Croich, topped with its cairn and past a Memorial Fountain. On Greeta Island there is an artificial cave and rockwork terraces reached from the shore by the Greeta Island Bridge, of which only the footings survive.
Drives and Approaches
Most of the 19th century drives and footpaths are still in use or can be easily traced. The earliest and the principal, landward approach was from the north, through the gothic-arched entrance at Lews Castle Lodge, Bayhead Street. From this point a winding drive climbs gently through parkland to the castle. In the late 19th century the drive was enclosed on its eastern side by a woodland belt. The above-noted modern access road now crosses part of this drive.
South and west of the Castle an extensive network of drives lead over the hills, wind along the shore and along the Greeta River. The shore road has a stone causeway and interlocking retaining stones along certain sections. The westernmost entrance leads off the A859 at Creed Bridge, past Creed Bridge Lodge and across sparsely-treed grassland before meeting several other tracks and entering the more heavily-wooded hills closer to the estuary.
An entrance leads from Marybank Lodge through woodland, then across rough grassland before approaching the Castle and walled garden from the north-west.
The main areas of parkland to the north and east of the Castle are known as Lady Lever Park and Castle Park respectively. Lady Lever Park, now the golf course, is highly maintained as amenity grassland but retains mature groups of trees which include beech, sycamore, lime and horse chestnut. Castle Park lies on sloping land below the Castle and is enclosed by woodland on its north and south sides.
North-west of the walled garden, an area of former parkland, is now rough grassland. Further west and south-west are reaches of extensive rough grassland and heath with areas of scrub and plantation woodland.
The Castle woodlands comprise an extensive mixed woodland area which is rare in a Western Isles context. 208.7ha of the woodlands have be designated as a SSSI. The mixed broadleaf-coniferous woods have a dense understorey of invasive Rhododendron ponticum and Rubus spectabilis (Salmonberry). The major species are sycamore, beech, ash, elm, pine, rowan, oak, horse chestnut and firs. Many conifers were lost in gales in 1989, leaving areas of damaged or unstable trees. The woodlands offer shelter and open space to the people of Stornoway and are of great significance and recreational importance.
The Woodland Garden lies directly south-west of the castle and retains numerous specimen trees, including Deodar cedar, Monkey puzzle, copper beech, lime, sweet chestnut, horse chestnut, Douglas fir, fir (Abies procera), various pine (Pinus densiflora, Pinus nigra, Pinus silvestris and Pinus thunbergii), Western Hemlock, Thujas (Thuja plicata and Thujopsis dolabrata) and cypresses (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, Chamaecyparis obtusa, Chamaecyparis pisifera and Chamaecyparis macrocarpa). Invasive Rhododendron, salmonberry and self-seeding Gunnera are found throughout the Woodland Garden. The terrace and walls of the late 19th century terraced garden survive, which were linked to a series of glasshouses and a conservatory.
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The following is from the Historic Environment Scotland Gardens and Designed Landscapes Inventory. For the most up-to-date Inventory entry, please visit the Historic Environment Scotland website:
Reason for Inclusion
A prime example of a mid-late 19th century ornamental and estate landscape, rare on Lewis, laid out with coastal and riverside carriage drives and walks. The designed landscape comprises a series of distinctive wooded parklands contrasting dramatically with the prevailing openness of the island landscape.
Main Phases of Landscape Development
Mid 19th century, developed further c 1875 and during the early 20th century.
By the late 18th century Lord Seaforth had a property, Seaforth Lodge, remnants of which are incorporated into the kitchen quarters of Lews Castle. This stood on 'a lawn wh'ch rises from the head of the bay, and being perfectly white, has a good effect' (Knox, 1786). It was laid out with a short approach from the east, with woodland in the valley of the Ault na Broage and commanded spectacular views over the bay. Seaforth Lodge is shown on a watercolour painting by Thomas Daniel (1819) and John Wood's Plan of the Town and Harbour of Stornaway (1821).
In 1844 James Sutherland Matheson (1796-1878), co-founder of Jardine, Matheson & Co., bought the island of Lewis for £190,000 from Mrs Stewart-Mackenzie of Seaforth. In 1847 he demolished Seaforth Lodge and started the construction of Lews Castle, to Charles Wilson's design, eventually costing some £60,000. He embarked on extensive landscape development and improvements, spending £49,000 up to 1850. This provided for local labour at a critical period caused by the potato famine. Matheson was also associated with clearances, reorganised farmland and developed Stornoway harbour.
Two public roads leading westwards from Stornoway were enclosed within the policies and a new public road (A859) was built around their northern and western perimeter. The area thus enclosed became the North Park which by 1850, was surrounded by and planted with, trees. The line of the southernmost public road was retained as a drive leading from Creed Bridge. Carriage drives were laid out, leading around and across the estate. To the south-west of the Castle, an informal pleasure ground was planted with trees and shrubs. A small kitchen garden, possibly originally associated with Seaforth House, was situated to the south-east of the Castle. This resulting scheme offered a dramatic contrast between the well-wooded policies of Lews and the surrounding, treeless countryside, and enclosed a significant area as private parkland and policies.
Following Matheson's death, his successors James and Donald Matheson developed the landscape further: a series of ornamental ponds, in the pleasure grounds west of the Castle, were replaced by an extensive range of glasshouses; a formal terrace was built along the south-east front of the Castle; a new kitchen garden was built in a sheltered position to the north-west of the Castle; the North Park was planted with clumps and other areas of parkland were modified with woodland areas reducing and subdividing the extensive, interconnected parkland areas. To the north, at Bayhead, a new lodge and entrance gate was constructed and Creed Lodge was built at the western entrance. Further carriage drives and walks were laid out at Cuddy Point, around the Matheson Monument, at Gallows Hill and the mouth of the Greeta River (1895, OS 25"). By 1882, the landscape was described as 'so beautiful and well laid out that both gardens and grounds compare favourably with any in Scotland. They contain extensive hothouses, 10 miles of Carriage drives, 5 miles of foot walks and a fine monument erected in memory of Sir James' (Groome, 1882).
In 1917 the estate was sold to William Hesketh Lever, 1st Lord Leverhulme (d.1925), the entrepreneur and philanthropist who commissioned the landscape architect, Thomas Mawson (1861-1933), to prepare a major redevelopment plan for Stornoway. This was only partially implemented, the major work being a shore road to the mouth of the Greeta River, which involved significant engineering works to the former tracks and along the riverside. He also refurbished the Castle. In 1923, Leverhulme gifted Lews Castle and policies to the town of Stornoway, stipulating that the park should be named Lady Lever Park, in memory of his wife. The year following he sold the island.
In 1953 the Castle became a college and new buildings were built within the walled garden. An access road to service the college now severs the line of the original main drive.
The majority of the north parkland is now the Stornoway Golf Course, while the Stornoway Trust manages the policies of Lews Castle.
- Associated People
- Features & Designations
Historic Environment Scotland An Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland
- Mansion House (featured building)
- Description: Charles Wilson (1810-63) designed Lews Castle, built between 1848 and 1860. The picturesque, castellated mansion is built of local rubble with imported, contrasting yellow, ashlar dressings.
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- Key Information
Open to the public