Stornoway is the capital of the Outer Hebrides and is found on the east coast of Lewis. The name Stornoway (Scottish Gaelic-'Steornabhagh') derives from 'Sjornavagr', the Old Norse for 'steering bay'. The town has a population of around 9,000 and is the largest settlement in the Western Isles. Stornoway has a very colourful history, with many invasions - clan fights - Norse domination. many factors contribute to making the History of Stornoway so interesting - not least the Fishing Industry. The main street in Stornoway is called Cromwell Street as Cromwell's Parliamentary forces fought to take control of the town.
Stornoway also played a great part in both World War 1 and the second World war.
In the middle ages there was a lot of fighting. There were clans like the MacLeods who were much despised by the government in Edinburgh. King James VI attempted to remove their influence in 1597, but did not succeed. In the 1600s the castle of Stornoway was crushed by forces led by Oliver Cromwell. The town came under control of the MacKenzies.
The land on which Stornoway stands has been settled since perhaps 6000BC and there are many monuments which show prehistoric man’s presence. There is a Neolithic burial cairn at Gallows Hill and also there is evidence of a Bronze Age or perhaps earlier crannog (artificial island) that has been found on a loch there too.
6th Century - Christianity
It is thought that Christianity arrived on Lewis in the 6th century.
9th Century - Norsemen Dominate Stornoway and The Isle of Lewis - Vikings
The Norse domination of the Stornoway and indeed the Hebrides occurred from 800 to 1266 AD. When the Vikings arrived, taking The Isle of Lewis under their control in the 9th Century they actually converted to Christianity themselves.
Early Medieval Era
The Nicholson family - MacNicols (as they were called), Lords of Lewis in the early medieval era, were of Viking descent. They built the original Lewis Castle in the early 1300's overlooking Anchor Bay.
The Nicholson's selected the site in Stornoway harbour for the imposing castle as they thought here it would assist both defence and fortification. It is believed that the Nicholsons held a high position in society at that time in fact as important as the MacLeods, by whom they were superseded about the twelfth or thirteenth century.
The MacLeods succeeded the Nicolsons as controllers of Lewis in roughly the second half of the 12th century.
From about the beginning of the 14th century - Stornoway and The isle of Lewis were under the control of the Macleod's of Lewis also known as 'Siol Torquil' ('Torquil's Seed').
1506 - Castle Captured by Earl of Huntly
In 1506 the Castle was captured by the Earl of Huntly., When insurrection broke out in the Western Isles in 1505, the Earl of Huntly was sent to quell the northern area. The Earl stormed and took the stronghold of Stornoway away from Torquil MacLeod’s.
1500 - 1600
Notorious among the leaders in this period was Roderic, almost the last of the MacLeods of Lewis. Roderic lived to be4 quite old and is reputed to have become "famous for the massacring of his own kinsmen". King James wanted to meet Roderic during the Royal Expedition to the Western Isles in 1540.
Fife Adventures - 1598
The King was keen to collect dues which were supposedly owed by the Macleods. So the Fife Adventurers, or the Gentlemen Adventurers from Fife, as they are sometimes called went to Stornoway made their first expedition to Lewis late in 1598 to try to gain a hold on Lewis. Though they took Stornoway Castle, they were unable to make much headway. The hostility of the Islanders who grouped together against them under the leadership of Neil MacLeod, one of Roderic’s five bastard sons, soon proved to them that they would have to abandon the project
1594 King James V1 granted Dutch fishermen rights
King james V1 who later also became King James 1st of England - he was the son of Mary Queen of Scots granted immigrants including Fife settlers and the Dutch certain right. Many settled near in and around Stornoway. King, James believed that bringing in the DItch immigrants would help to dilute the influence and power of the MacLeods and help collect the substantial duties that the MacLeods allegedly owed to the Scottish Crown. James VI was convinced that, with the assistance of the Fife settlers, the island would offer even greater opportunities for increasing Crown revenue from northern Scotland. However, from the outset the settlers were to encounter difficulties.
1607 - Stornoway given privileges
In 1607 the king granted Stornoway the rights and privileges of a burgh of barony
1628 - Charles 1st is requested to raise the status of the town of Stornoway to a Royal Burgh
The 1st Earl of Seaforth applied to Charles I for a charter that would raise the town's status to a royal burgh. The king did agree to this but it was cancelled as the Convention of Scottish Burghs said that if granted this would threaten the trade of Inverness and Tain.
The Seaforths - from 1610 - 1844
1610, the Mackenzie's of Kintail (later of Seaforth) acquired the island. The Seaforth family held possession of Lewis until 1844 when Lady Hood Mackenzie sold the island to James Matheson
1844 Sir James Matheson purchases the Island
Sir James Matheson bought the Isle of Lewis and it was he who was responsible for the construction of the Stornoway castle (the first having been destroyed by OLiver Cromwell's forces)
1863 - Stornoway - a Police Burgh
The town became a police burgh in 1863.
The last vestiges of the Old Castle were removed in 1882; and nothing now marks the historic and romantic site on which it once, stood but a flag pole.
1891 and 2001 - Population drops by third
During this period islanders were evicted from their crofts - in the Highland Clearances. This was to make way for large commercial sheep farms. Islanders left their birthplace in search of new opportunities elsewhere in the UK or further afield in North America. Indeed the population dropped by one-third between 1891 and 2001.
1912 - Thriving Herring Industry
Stornoway was one of the main towns that were very important at this time for the fishing industry - the herring being the main popular fish.
1914 - The Herring Girls of Stornoway
Part of The Islands history envelopes and centres around the fishing industry which over the years has been of great importance. The Herring Girls played a major role in the fishing industry. The girls were really "hardy" and have contributed greatly to The Islands history
1919 - Iolaire Disaster
The largest shipping disaster to happen in British Waters took place near the Stornoway harbour on New Years Day 1919. Nearly two hundred men were drowned when the Iolaire went off course in a storm and hit rocks. Most of the victims were soldiers and seamen returning from the Great War. How sad that they survived the war only to die within yards of their homes. There is a monument to these brave men on the hill above the site of the disaster.
1975 Stornoway Town Council Disappears
In 1975, the old Town Council disappeared as part of local government reforms and a single tier local authority for the Western Isles was finally established
First World War - 1914 - 1918
In the first World War Stornoway and the Isle of Lewis gave a great deal more in percentage terms as more of its population were used and indeed lost in the conflict than anywhere else in the British Empire
During the First World War, thousands of islanders served in the forces, many losing their lives, including 208 naval reservists from the island who were returning home after the war when the Admiralty yacht HMY Iolaire, sank within sight of Stornoway harbour.
Lord Leverhulme 1918 - plans - 1923 Leverhulme gifts the rights to Stornoway Trust
The Isle of Lewis was sold again to an outsider - to Lord Leverhulme. Leverhulme bought it from Colonel Duncan Matheson. This gentleman had great plans for Stornoway. There were many unfortunate incidents and the islanders did not want the changes that he was advocating and many of these were therefore not brought to fruition and in 1923 gifted his rights to the town to the Stornoway Trust in fact back to the people of Stornoway.
World War Two
Stornoway aerodrome was opened in 1937, but was taken under military control in 1941 during WWII. During the 2nd World War Stornoway was the site of an RAF base for anti-submarine planes and was also used as a refuelling base for aircraft ferried across the Atlantic. The Lews Castle was actually used as a naval hospital and accommodation for the air and ground crew of 700 Naval Air Squadron who operated the amphibious bi-planes from a slipway in the grounds.
When the war ended ended Stornoway returned to its peacefully existence as a quiet town and the island perhaps once again was famous for its determination to keep the Sabbath
1986-1993 - NATO Forwarding Operating Base
During the period 1986-1993 the airport was used as a NATO Forward Operating Base for Air Defence aircraft protecting the fleet, being taken over by the military for six weeks a year.
Stornoway Castle Originally Built 1300's - re built 1847 - 1857
The Stornoway castle ruins were finally demolished in 1882, however it was originally built around 1300 by the Nicolsons who were themselves of Norse origin. The castle now sits in a commanding position overlooking Stornoway
and is currently vacant and indeed is on the Buildings at Risk Register.