Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Stornoway

Stornoway, a parish containing a town of the same name, in Ross-shire, in the NE of the island of Lewis. It is bounded E by the Minch, S by the parish of Lochs, SW by the parish of Uig, and NW by the parish of Barvas. There is a compact main portion with a narrow peninsula running out eastward. The length of the mainland portion, from NNE at a point on the coast 9 miles S of the Butt of Lewis south-south-westward to the boundary with Lochs, is about 20 miles; and the extreme breadth is about 6 miles. Some distance S of the centre of this at the town of Stornoway, an isthmus projects east-north-eastward between Broad Bay on the N, and Loch Stornoway on the S, for 3½ miles, and is at its narrowest point on the E only about 200 yards wide; and from this neck the Peninsula of Eye extends north-eastward almost parallel to the coast-line of the compact main portion of the parish for 7 miles with an average breadth of 2½ miles. The total area is 67, 651.862 acres, of which 2145.419 are water, and 2282 275 foreshore. The coast-line has many indentations, and though there are some fine sandy beaches, the greater portion of it consists of bold shelving rocks or precipitous cliffs. There are a number of caves, one of which, the Seal Cave, at Gress, about 8 miles N of the town of Stornoway, is said to be inferior only to the Spar Cave in Skye. The chief inlets are Broad Bay, Loch Stornoway or Stornoway Harbour, Bayble Bay, and Tolsta Bay. Stornoway Harbour lies to the S of the isthmus already described, and is a triangular space extending 5 miles north-westward from a line drawn from the S end of Eye Peninsula to the mouth of Loch Ranish, along which line the distance is also 5 miles. The inner portion is thoroughly sheltered, and affords good and safe anchorage. The other inlets are separately noticed. From the coast the surface level of the parish rises gradually westward to the watershed of the island, where a height of 800 feet is reached at Monach and 900 at Ben Barvas. Fresh-water lakes are very numerous, but they are mere lochans, and notwithstanding their number do not cover a large proportion of the area. The principal streams are the Gress, Laxdale, and Creed, the last being the fourth best fishing stream in the island of Lewis. The soil is generally mossy, but there are patches of sand, gravel, and loam. The sub-soil is a red till, so hard that it can hardly be broken even with a pick; and the underlying rocks are Laurentian gneiss, with patches of a Cambrian conglomerate along the NW side of Broad Bay, across the isthmus at the S end of it, and in the S end of the Peninsula of Eye. Little more than a narrow belt along the shore was formerly under cultivation, the rest of the surface being a dismal expanse of moor and bog, till after the island passed into the possession of Sir James Matheson (1796-1878) in 1844, when large tracts were reclaimed and improved. Ten out of twelve of the large holdings in th-is parish are the only farms in Lewis on which regular rotation and systematic cultivation are carried out. The rentals of these twelve farms vary from £35 to £320, the total amount being £1500. Sir James also brought about great improvements in cattle rearing, the animals in the Stornoway district being mostly Ayrshires or crosses, much superior to the poor Highland cattle of the rest of the island. There were in the parish, in 1880, 950 crofters paying a rental of £2419, 19s. 7d. The principal mansion is Lews or Stornoway Castle, which stands at the head of Stornoway Harbour, on an eminence to the W of the town, and occupies the site of Seaforth Lodge, the old mansion of the Mackenzies of Seaforth. It is a castellated building in the Tudor style, measuring 170 feet along the principal face to the E, and 153 from E to W. The octagon tower reaches a height of 94 feet, and the square flag tower 102 feet. There are 76 rooms, and the whole was completed in 1870 at a cost of £40, 000. The policies were reclaimed at a cost of £48, 838, from very uneven and rugged ground, but they are now so beautiful and well laid out that both gardens and grounds compare favourably with any in Scotland. They contain a fine monument erected in memory of Sir James. (See Achany.) At the head of the Harbour stands a small fragment of the old Castle Macnicol, which is said to have been built before the Norse conquest of the Hebrides, and to have been taken from the Nacnicols by a Scandinavian leader named Leod, from whom the Macleods of Lewis sprung. Near it was a small fort erected by Cromwell, the garrison of which, tradition says, were all slain by the people of the island.

The parish, which contains the ancient chapelries of Stornoway, Gress, and Eye,* and is divided ecclesiastically into Stornoway proper and the quoad sacra parish of Knock, is in the presbytery of Lewis and the synod of Glenelg, and the living is worth £233 a year, The churches in the town are afterwards noticed, and there is an Established quoad sacra church at Knock, and Free churches at Garrabost and Back. Under the school board Aird, Back, Bayble, Knock, Laxdale, Sandwickhill, Tolsta, and Tong schools, with respective accommodation for 180, 270, 210, 121, 150, 160, 130, and 116 pupils, had (1884) an average attendance of 93, 179, 143, 90, 122, 102, 79, and 58, and grants of £69, 0s. 6d., £28, 13s. 11d., £112, 2s. 6d., £68, 11s., £80, 12s. 8d., £79, 8s. 7d., £59, 9s. 6d., and £30, 15s. There is a chemical work at Garrabost, and the other industries are noticed in connection with the town. The villages are Back, Bayble, Coll, Garrabost, Knock, Sandwick, Swordle, Tolsta, Tong, and Vatskir, all of which are separately noticed. The chief landowner is Lady Matheson. Six others hold each between £500 and £100, 19 hold each between £100 and £50, and there are a number with smaller amounts. Valuation (1860) £8673, (1885) £14, 991, 3s. 1d., of which Lady Matheson has £5715, 1s. 3d. Pop. (1801) 2974, (1831) 5422, (1861) 8668, (1871) 9510, (1881) 10,389, of whom 4724 were males and 5665 females, while 7399 were in the ecclesiastical parish.—Ord. Sur., shs. 105, 106, 1858.

* The ancient church of Stornoway was dedicated to St Lennan, that of Gress to St aula, and that of Eye to St Columba.

(F.H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-4); © 2004 Gazetteer for Scotland)

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a parish containing a town"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Stornoway ScoP       Ross Shire ScoCnty
Place: Stornoway

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