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A new book, soon to be published by Stornoway Historical Society, has been given a grant of £5,000 by local wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust (PST).

‘A considerable town: Stornoway’s built heritage’ has been extensively researched by three writers – Catherine MacKay, Ian Wilson and Jessie Murray – to collate images and stories that celebrate the unique architectural heritage and tell the story of the townscape.

The illustrated book will explore the history of the Stornoway from a new perspective, through its buildings and architecture, highlighting features and traditions of building that give the town a highly distinctive character.

The book considers the many challenges faced in the creation of modern Stornoway, especially the lack of locally available building materials such as timber and usable stone, its remoteness from the mainland, and the consequent cost of building work. These led to innovative and distinctive building techniques, some recognised at a national level. The impact of new materials such as Portland cement was transformative in enabling a new level of creativity.

Beginning with an exploration of the town in the 19th century, the core of the book focuses on the previously untold story of town expansion in the 20th century, from the villas built by affluent merchants to the provision of social housing to meet the demand for good quality homes from throughout the island. 

Photograph by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos

Writer Jessie Murray, left above, said, “Early in the 19th century, the present-day Cromwell Street took shape and buildings such as the Sail Loft, Lewis Hotel, and Amity House indicated growing prosperity. It may be hard to believe now that by 1840 the town boasted 11 builders and joiners, 19 masons and slaters, many ancillary trades, as well as 44 ship owners and 11 shipbuilders! 

"The research behind this project to uncover and explore the built heritage of our town has been exhaustive and we are so pleased to bring the book towards publication. The grant from PST has been vital in allowing us to print the number of copies we needed in one go, instead of piecemeal, with the implications of that for added cost, and also allows us to have the book available for visitors from the Lewis diaspora who we expect to welcome this year as part of the events marking the centenary of the Emigration ships of 1923”.

DJ MacSween of PST added, “One of our founding aims is to promote the arts, culture and heritage and in supporting this book we are pleased to help the Stornoway Historical Society do just that.  The three writers, Catherine, Iain and Jessie have carried out some fantastic research to retell the story of Stornoway’s growth over the years from a village into a thriving town, including rarely seen maps and insight into many of the buildings still in use today.  We’re pleased to have been able to contribute towards the publication costs and look forward to seeing the book on local shelves”.

Malcolm MacDonald, Chair of Stornoway Historical Society said, “The Stornoway Historical Society hopes that, as well as adding to our knowledge of our town, this book will help foster a sense of belonging and pride in the environment, and a recognition that more recent buildings and developments make as distinctive a contribution to the townscape as that of more established communities.

"It acknowledges with gratitude the contribution made by architects, planners, builders and residents consulted by the writers, as well as the assistance given by Point and Sandwick Trust in printing the book”.

The book is set to be published in April 2023 and will be available at local bookshops in Stornoway, via the Society directly by email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or from Stornoway Town Hall during the Stornoway Historical Society summer exhibition.