Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Stornoway

Stornoway, a police burgh, burgh of barony, seaport, and the chief town in the Outer Hebrides, in the parish just described, on the neck of land between Broad Bay and Stornoway Harbour, near the head of the latter. It is 22 miles in a straight line S by W of the Butt of Lewis, and by steamer 43 miles NW of Poolewe, 44 W of Lochinver, 51 WNW of Ullapool, 59 N by W of Portree, and 180 N by W of Oban. It was made a burgh of barony by James VI., but long remained a mere hamlet inhabited by poor fishermen, and though some improvement took place when attention was first directed to the Hebridean fisheries, its present importance is largely due to the exertions of its former proprietor, and more particularly to the energy and enterprise of Sir James Matheson, and the large sums of money which he cheerfully spent on improvements from which he could never expect a return adequate to his outlay. Before his time the place had been dependent for all communication with the mainland on a sailing mail packet, but on his various attempts to introduce steam communication, over £180, 000 were lost; while £6000 were spent on the construction of a patent slip, £2225 for a quay for the steamers, and large sums on the erection of curing-houses, the introduction of gas and water, the construction of roads and bridges, and the erection of schools and payment of teachers' salaries. In late years, owing to the Princess of Thule and others of Black's novels, ` Styornoway has become known all over the English-speaking world, and, indeed, apart from the halo of romance which has thus been thrown around it, visitors are astonished to find such a flourishing place in such a remote corner. The town now consists of ten fairly well-built streets. with a number of straggling suburbs. There is a good public hall-containing a news-room, a public library, and a meeting-room for the masonic lodge (Fortrose, No. 108)-a drill hall, a court house, a prison, a custom house, a sailors' home and dispensary, Established, Free (2), U.P., and Episcopal churches, and several schools. The parish church, built in 1794 and repaired in 1831, has 568 sittings. The English Free church was built in 1878, and contains 630 sittings. The U.P. church was erected in 1873, and the Episcopal church (St Peter), with sittings for 120, was erected in 1838; but neither of them calls for particular notice. At Lady Matheson's Seminary instruction is given in the ordinary branches, and in Ayrshire needlework, by a mistress and two pupil teachers; and education is also given at Nicolson's Institution -partly endowed by Sir James Matheson-and a Free Church school. Stornoway is a head port, including not only all the creeks and harbours of the Outer Hebrides, but also those of Skye and Mull; and the vessels belonging to it, in Jan. 1884, were 17 sailing vessels, whose total capacity was 927 tons, and 1 steamer, with a capacity of 66 tons. The harbour proper, at the upper end of Stornoway Harbour or Loch Stornoway, affords safe and ample anchorage, being sheltered on the S by Arnish Point, and on the W and N by high land. There is a good stone pier, with quays and breast-walls; while the patent slip is capable of accommodating ships of 1000 tons. Harbour affairs are managed by a body of 7 commissioners. Guidance is afforded to vessels entering or departing at night, by a lighthouse (1852) on Arnish Point, which shows a bright white revolving light every half-minute. This, which is visible at a distance of 12 nautical miles, illuminates two arcs, one towards the entrance to the loch, and the other up the harbour; and by means of reflection from glass prisms placed on the top of a beacon, it also marks a low-tide rock about 200 yards distant, by an apparent light. The tonnage of vessels entering all the harbours belonging to the port, from and to foreign and colonial ports and coastwise, with cargoes and ballast, was:—


There is a custom house, with a collector and receiver of wreck, an examiner, and an out-door officer; but the dues are practically nil. The great article of export is fish, but cattle, horses, sheep, and wool are also despatched. The imports are miscellaneous, including coal, lime, slates, timber, dress-goods, and provisions. Steamers ply daily in summer and three times a week in winter between Stornoway and Ullapool; between Glasgow and Stornoway twice a week; between Granton and Stornoway every week in summer; and between Liverpool, Dundee, and Aberdeen, and Stornoway every week.

Stornoway is also the centre of the greatest of the Scottish fishery districts, embracing the whole of the Outer Hebrides. In 1883 the district contained 203 first-class boats, 419 second-class boats, and 476 third-class boats, finding employment for 4185 fisher men and boys and 3628 other persons. The value of the boats was £34, 401, of the nets £25,742, and of the lines £9208. In the same year 1117 boats fished in the district, and employed 6387 men and boys and 2895 other persons, while there were 68,163 barrels of herrings cured. About half the number of barrels exported go to St Petersburg, about a fourth to Stettin, and the rest to Danzig and Hamburg. In the same year the number of cod, ling, and hake cured was 444,490, while the value of the different kinds of fish sold fresh was over £34,000. There is a small boatbuilding yard, rope and sail works, a distillery, and a chemical work, which is, like that at Garrabost, intended for the manufacture of paraffin and lubricating oils from peat; and there are the usual local industries. The feuars and burgesses obtained in 1825 a charter from the superior, empowering them to elect 2 bailies and 6 councillors to manage the affairs of the community; but municipal affairs are now attended to by a senior magistrate, 2 junior magistrates, and 6 commissioners acting under the Police and General Improvement Act of 1862. The waterworks were transferred to the police commissioners in 1870, but gas is still supplied by a private company. The town has a head post office, with money order, savings' bank, insurance, and telegraph departments, branch offices of the British Linen Company, Caledonian, and National Banks, agencies of 19 insurance companies, and several good hotels. Among miscellaneous institutions may be noticed a company of Artillery Volunteers, a Coffee House Company, an Incorporated Trades Society, a Farmers' Society, a Horticultural Society, a Choral Union, a Boating Club, a Literary Association, and a Free Church Young Men's Christian Association. Horse and cattle fairs are held on the first Tuesday of July and the last Tuesdays of August and October. The sheriff-substitute for the Lewis district is resident here, and ordinary and small debt courts are held every Tuesday during session. Pop. of town (1841) 1354, (1861) 2587, (1871) 2525, (1881) 2627, of whom 1152 were males and 1475 females. Houses (1881) 369.

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

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a police burgh, burgh of barony, seaport, and the chief town"   (ADL Feature Type: "capitals")
Administrative units: Ross Shire ScoCnty
Place: Stornoway

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