The oldest surviving man-made structure in Stornoway is being unearthed by researchers behind Amity House on Esplanade Quay.
This is the massive foundation of the Cromwellian Tower built in 1654 to overawe the town of Stornoway and the rest of Lewis after a battle the previous year in which Islanders, organised by the Mackenzie landlords, launched an all-out attack on the garrison established by the solders of the Commonwealth and Protectorate.
At the time of the battle, the central town area along present-day Point Street was protected by two trenches or moats, 20ft wide and 15ft deep – one running roughly between Lazy Corner and South Beach across the front of where the Town Hall now is, and the other along the line of Castle Street.
Then in 1654 the fort was added to guarantee Government security for Lord Protector Oliver Comwell. It was a large, square building with very thick walls to absorb artillery impacts and was probably three stories high. It is likely that it reused stones from the Macleod Castle which once stood at the end of where Number 1 pier now is, and which had been rendered ineffective earlier in the Cromwellian occupation.
The name Esplanade Quay may reflect the existence of the fort on that site as one definition of esplanade is “an open, level space separating a fortress from a town.”
The fortress was supposed to have been demolished after 1660 after the Restoration of Charles II as King of Scotland and England but as late as 1753 it was noted that the remains of the fort were visible. By 1796 it was said that nothing remained of the fort – although the memory of its location remained. And that was recorded again as late as 1870. In 1911, “the remains of rubble-work, about 8ft thick, were found 2 or 3ft from the surface, in the course of some drain repairs.” And as late as the 1990s, it was stated that the demolition of a thick stone wall alongside the road behind Amity House removed the last vestige of the fort, although it’s unlikely that wall was actually part of the fort. It possibly reused the stones.
A detailed report from the team involved in the archaeological dig being undertaken at present is expected later.