Lews Castle – Future, Present &…Past

As plans are in place for the restoration of Lews Castle in Stornoway, I thought I would bring together these pieces that relate to this building:

In 1851 we have these visitors at the castle and the situation that led to their presence is described here .

In 1861 the Matheson’s were in residence (Sir James’ Widow and her daughters were, too, in 1881) but it is ‘Stornoway House’ in London in which we find them in 1871 & 1891.

Other buildings in the Castle grounds were the Porter’s Lodge , the Boatman’s House , Nursery Cottage and the Gardener’s Cottage , whilst the man credited with the design of the grounds is Charles H J Smith .

These pieces on Pigot’s 1837 Directory , including the name of the Manager of Stornoway Distillery ,whose workplace was replaced by Lews Castle, hopefully complete the picture.

Hebridean Light Railway Company

A piece on a proposal in 1898 to construct two railway lines on Lewis can be found here.
There are no ‘rail’-associated returns from the 1901 census for Stornoway so, even if the scheme was still ‘alive’ then, I can add no more information.

An industrial line was that associated with the earlier Peat Oil project of Sir James Matheson can be read here  In the 1871 Census, there was a 30 year-old Perthshire man, David Macgill, who was a ‘Railway Agent’ living at 3 Beach St, Stornoway. His two children, ages 1yr & 5months respectively, were both born in Moray so the family must have moved to Lewis sometime after November 1870. Whether his presence was in connection with the Lewis Chemical Works railway or, perhaps, a line that may have been proposed for the Brickworks is unknown but appears likely.

Gardener’s Cottage, Stornoway

Lews Castle was built during the years 1847-54. At the same time a cottage was constructed for the Gardeners and these are the census records for the men who appear to have occupied it:

(1841 – Alexander Macrae, 49, Seaforth Lodge, b. Ross & Cromarty)

1847 – Castle construction begins

Alexander Mcrae, 55, Gardener’s Lodge, b. Fodderty, Ross
Peter Stoddart, 26, Distillery, b. Dunse, Berwick (Address reminds us that the teetotal Sir James Matheson built Lews Castle where the Stornoway Distillery had stood)

1854 – Castle complete

Peter Liddle, 27, Gardener’s Cottage, b. Carnwath, Lanarkshire
Revere(?) Black, 25, Gardener’s Cottage, b.Ireland
Alexander Macrae, 65, Gardener’s House No 1, b. Kinloch Ussle(?), Ross-shire

John Smith, 35, Gardener’s Cottage, b. Haddington
Alexander Macrae, Nursery Cottage, b. Fodderty, Ross-shire (see Nursery Cottage )

George Macdonald, 45, Gardener’s Cottage, b. Uig, Ross-shire
Alexander Macrae, 86, Nursery Cottage, b. Fodderty, Ross-shire

David Conning, 37, Gardener’s Cottage, b. Haddington

David Conning, 47,Gardener’s Cottage,  b. Haddington

Note: I have included Alexander Macrae because, despite never giving his address as the Gardener’s Cottage, he served as a Gardener, Forester and Head Nurseryman for at least 40 years!

The Mathesons in 1871 and 1891

I have already recorded Sir James and Dame Mary Jane at Lews Castle in 1861 and her presence there again in 1881. However, in 1871 they were at their London home and she is found there again in 1891.

That home was 13 Cleveland Row and British History Online gives a thorough description: Cleveland Row

The building called ‘Stornoway House’, which can be clearly seen on the plans in the document, was the Matheson residence from 1844 until 1896.

It has a large bay-window that looks the few hundred feet across the corner of Green Park to a rather well-known residence – Buckingham Palace…

Lews Castle 1881

Mary Jane Matheson, 60, Baronet’s Widow and Proprietrix, Lewis Castle, b. Quebec, Spencer Wood
Honourable Florence Murray, 27, Peer’s Daughter, Visitor, b. Darnduff, Peebles-shire
Honourable Blanche Murray, 22, Peer’s Daughter, Visitor, b. Paris

Catherine Mackay, 40, Housekeeper, b. Durness, Sutherlandshire
Mary Cameron, 29, Cook, b. Genhie, Inverness-shire

Mary Ann Cunnignham, 35, Lady’s Maid, b. Essex
Helen Pockberger, 19, Lady’s Maid, b. Pyrmont, Germany

Mary Jane Autchins, 24, Housemaid, b. Sunderland
Mary Macsween, 23, Housemaid, b. Stornoway
Jessie Calder, 20, Housemaid, b. Uig

Margaret Mackay, 52, Laundry Maid, b. Durness, Sutherlandshire
Elizabeth Jarrold, 24, Kitchen Maid, b. Suffolk

Thomas Dickens, 38, Butler, b. Herefordshire
William R J Danley, 18, Footman, b. Kent
John Macleod, 28, Groom, b. Barvas

Sir James Matheson had died less than two-and-a-half years previously and here we catch a glimpse of his widow on the evening of Sunday 3rd April 1881.

Her companions were two daughters of Alexander Oliphant Murray, 9th Lord Elibank, and his wife Emily Maria Montgomery. The Honourable ladies had been orphaned on the death of their mother in 1879. This Murray family later became the Erskine-Murray family.

Supporting the three ladies are an assortment of servants, a dozen in number, half of whom were born in Scotland but only three of these were from Lewis, although they do ‘represent’ 3 of the 4 Parishes!

Ref: http://www.cracroftspeerage.co.uk/online/content/index322.htm

Lewis Chemical Works

Sir James Matheson pursued a scheme to turn Peat into Paraffin.

It began in 1852 and lasted 22 years before closing due to embezzlement in 1874.

Searching for evidence in the censuses of 1861 and 1871 reveals the following:


Paragen Works No 1
John Makay, 30, Pargine Labourer
Mary, 25, Wife
Christina, 5
Mary, 4
? , 2
Ann, 4 months

Paragen Works No 2
Donald Morrison, 32, Mason
Effy Morrison, 27, Wife
Angus, 6
James, 1
Donald, 3 months
David Lewis, 70, Tinsmith
David ? , 54, Engineer Smith

Clearly ‘Paragen’ is a transcription error, but were these people part of the peat to paraffin process?


Millboon Cottage
Henry Carter, 62, Manager of Lewis Chemical Works and Fire Works Jardine James Matheson
Annabella Macleod, 42, General Servant
Donald Macleod, 16, Servant

Creed Chemical Works Bothy
Donald Mckennan, 25, Labourer at Chemical Works
John Smith, 24, Labourer at Chemical Works
Christina Morrison, 54, Working at the Chemical Works

Happily, the results from 1871 are rather more reliable and give us the names of the Manager and three of his employees.

Whether Henry Carter was directly involved in the events that led to the demise of the Lewis Chemical and Fire Works remains unknown.




Lews Castle 1861

It is the evening of Sunday 7th April 1861 and we are observing Sir James Nicolas Sutherland Matheson, 64 and his considerably younger wife, Dame Mary Jane Matheson, through the eyes of their Butler, 28 year-old William Edward Martin.

William has been keeping a close eye on the table-clearing activities of the two Housemaids, Isabella Maciver(19) and Jessie Fraser(28)

He found himself paying particularly close attention to the young Isabella.

Cook Alexandrina Mackay (a somewhat formidable figure approaching her 40th birthday) had already been stood-down for the night but Christina Matheson, the 19 year-old Scullery Maid ,still has several tasks to complete and Christina Macleod is tut-tutting over the state of the napkins that she will be laundering in the morning.

Mary Milne, the matronly mid-forties Dairy Maid, accompanies Cook to their sparse accommodation somewhere in the distant draughty heights of the castle. Simultaneously, but in somewhat more sumptuous surroundings, early-thirties Lady’s Maid Sophia Ann Chatfield is ensuring that her Lady’s boudoir is just as it should be.

Servant Alan John Cerus (a 21 year-old couth-lacking upstart in the mind of William) has just returned from a pointless errand, the point of which was to keep him as far away from Isabella as possible.

William presents the Census form to his master on a silver tray and Sir James, having checked that all his titles and positions are correctly recorded, signs it, sighs slightly and then tells William to deal with ‘That damn man’ (the Enumerator) when he collects it in the morning.

All is good in the world of the Mathesons and the nine people who serve their every whim can take a brief break now that their duties are done.

After all, it is a Sunday on Lewis…

PS I should mention that in nearby Creed Cottage, the Watcher of the Grounds, 73 year-old Malcolm Macdonald, was dozing in his chair whilst his daughter, 23 year-old Isabella, attended to her duties as Teacher of Ayrshire Needle Work.


1)The players in this scene are each as recorded on the 1861 Census return for Lews Castle, the precise details as described, however,  are not…

2) All Scotland’s censuses recorded those present on a Sunday evening and were supposed to be completed on that day, a fact that may not have gone down to well, perhaps?

Ref: http://thecroft.wordpress.com/2009/04/29/top-trumps-2/