Stornoway Port Authority is re-thinking its future plans to help preserve a newly-found piece of the town’s history.

The authority has stopped a project to extend its office at Amity House on Esplanade Quay, after archaeological investigations revealed remnants of a substantial and historic stone wall on the site.

Experts believe the structure, more than 2.5m thick and 1.5m tall, is part of a fort built by Oliver Cromwell’s army in the 17th century and occupied by a garrison until the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

The office extension was proposed to cater for new staff as the Port Authority develops its 20-year Master Plan which will bring substantial economic benefits to the islands. Alternative accommodation has now been identified and the potential for additional office space in another location may be revisited at a later date. 

Alex Macleod, Stornoway Port Authority’s Chief Executive, said: “This is a significant, historic find and an integral part of the town’s past.

“As the Master Plan progresses, the Port will need additional office space. However, our current priority is to advance projects, including the new marina and deep-water port, that will stimulate new economic growth for our community which themselves will also be part of Stornoway’s story in time.” 

Mary Peteranna, of AOC Archaeology, said, “We have uncovered one section of a substantial wall surviving up to 1.5m high. The wall face is very well-built and comprised a battered, or slightly sloping outer face; and this, together with its breadth of about 2 metres, tells us that it’s not just a building wall. The structure was built for a more substantial purpose, and we believe it formed part of the Cromwellian defensive rampart.”

Fred Silver, editor of welovestornoway.com and author of Glimpses of Stornoway, a history of the town, published 10 years ago, says this is the massive foundation of the Cromwellian Tower built in 1654 to overawe Stornoway and the rest of Lewis after a battle the previous year  If it was like ones built elsewhere, 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 is reported 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.”

Malcolm Macdonald, co-author of the recent publication, The Darkest Dawn: The Story of the Iolaire Tragedy, said: “The Stornoway Historical Society is delighted that the recent discovery of walls belonging to the 17th century Cromwellian fort, establishing the precise location, permits historians to mark the site for posterity.”