Remnants of Victorian Stornoway: the Lews (now Lewis) Hotel

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The Lewis (formerly Lews) Hotel in May 2017, still an imposing presence on North Beach after nearly two centuries.

It is intriguing to imagine how the Hebridean town of Stornoway would have looked in the 1860s, when Charles Morrison was writing his diary.

The Lews Hotel, located close to Macdonald & Morrison’s shop on North Beach Street, was Stornoway’s principal inn at this time. It was built in 1829 by a local couple, Captain John Mackenzie and his wife Agnes Murray Reid. This was recorded on a date stone, set in the centre of the main frontage.

Construction probably involved heightening an existing building which resembled the properties standing to the right of the hotel. Any untidy conjunction of old and new would have been masked by a coating of render, incised with lines to imitate masonry. Few buildings in the vicinity rose to three storeys in height and the new hotel must have dominated the waterfront.

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Lewis Hotel: datestone.

Unfortunately, Captain John Mackenzie died a year after completing the hotel, in 1830, followed by Agnes in 1845. Nevertheless, the building continued to be owned by their descendants for many years to come.

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Lewis Hotel: rolled skewputt.

The hotel is probably the establishment named ‘McKenzie’s Inn, Stornoway’ in a newspaper of 1831 (Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 31 January 1831, 4). It may have been renamed ‘Lews Hotel’ in 1845, when Sir James Matheson was first welcomed to the island with a dinner in the Mason’s Hall catered by ‘Mrs Macleay, of the Lews Hotel’ (Inverness Courier, 3 September 1845, 5).

Charles Morrison’s landlady at 7 North Beach, Miss Betsy Macdonald, was Agnes Reid’s niece. As such, she must have enjoyed a close relationship with the cousins who owned the Lews Hotel. The hotel itself, however, was leased to a succession of proprietors, such as the aforementioned Mrs Macleay (or ‘McLea’). By 1848 it was run by Messrs Campbell & Hart (Ordnance Survey Name Book OS1/27/72/17). Campbell – one Neil Campbell from Argyllshire – later became a baker in Govan.

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The Lewis Hotel in May 2017.

In 1863-64, when Charles Morrison’s diary was written, the hotel was kept by James Mackenzie from Contin. Upon his death on 16 February 1866 (recorded in Angus Macdonald’s Cash Book), his furniture and other effects were sold and the hotel was let by Mrs Daniel Lewis Mackenzie (1827-1912; John and Agnes’s widowed daughter-in-law) to Lachlan Ross from Skye. On the evening of 25 September 1863 Charles Morrison noted that he paid a visit to ‘Mrs D. L. Mackenzie’, who lived at 5 South Beach, seemingly the site of the Caledonian Hotel.

In 1870 Ross left Stornoway to take charge of the Royal Hotel in Portree. The Lews Hotel was once more advertised to let. It included two public rooms, a bar, nine bedrooms, stables and a coach-house. It also boasted gas, water and a W. C. (Inverness Courier, 21 April 1870, 4). The incoming proprietor was Allan Clark (d.1879), followed by Alexander F. Macdougall (d.1893). Part of the building, however, seems to have housed a shop: a grocer’s or spirit-dealer’s premises which may originally have been rented by the Mrs Macleay mentioned above.

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The rear of the Lewis Hotel (Castle Street/Point Street) in May 2017.

Until the Posting Department was wound up by Macdougall in 1885, the following horses were stabled behind the hotel: Ben, Gipp, Wilkie, Bebbie, Monarch, Jeanie, Dick and Nors (Inverness Courier, 19 December 1885, 1). Sold with them were several vehicles: a ‘break’ capable of carrying 14 people, two large ‘wagonnettes’, one small ‘wagonette’, a covered phaeton, two dog carts and a cart.

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The Lewis Hotel in 1999.

The Lewis Hotel was listed Category B in 1971. Despite this, between 1999 and 2017 the wooden (hornless, four-pane) sash windows were replaced with UPVC, new dormers were added, and the stables to the rear were demolished.

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5 Responses to Remnants of Victorian Stornoway: the Lews (now Lewis) Hotel

  1. Sandra Brittain McBain says:

    Alexander Frazer McDougal, married Euphemia Scott, my Gt Grandmothers sister, My G Grandmother was Jessie Scott, who lived and worked in the hotel for many years, when she Married Ernest Brittain. it was in The Lewis Hotel, she had my grandma whom she named Euphemia McDougal Brittain born 1895 in the Lewis Hotel, it has a special place in my heart


  2. musicfun532 says:

    Mrs Daniel Lewis Mackenzie (nee Helen Mylne Mackay) was my first cousin 4 times removed. She had a very interesting life. She was born in Cawnpore in India on 1 March 1827 to Lieutenant Donald Aeneas Mackay and his wife Agnes Ann Spottiswoode, and had a sister Agnes Ann, and brother Aeneas James. Her father died in Agra in 1831, and the family returned to Scotland. Some 12 years later her mother married again to the Independent Minster James Cameron. 3 years later she was sent to her aunt Margaret Maria (Mrs Purvis), whose husband was a shipping agent in the new colony of Singapore, and a personal friend of James Matheson of Jardine Matheson. (Her brother Aeneas James left home the same time and went to Amoy in China to work at a firm dealing with the emigration of Chinese labour).

    In Singapore Helen met and married the widowed Captain Donald MacDonald, who had the helm of one of the Jardine Matheson opium clippers The Sylph in 1846. A year later she gave birth to her daughter Agnes Maria, and a year later again gave birth to twins on board the Sylph during a typhoon in the South China Sea. Her husband saved the ship, but she lost the babies. Basil Lubbock in his book about the Opium Clippers says ” And when in after years her grandchildren asked: “Grand – mama, wasn’t grandfather a fine sailor?” She would answer: “A very fine sailor, my dears, but no mid- wife!!”

    Helen and Agnes Maria were left at Hong Kong whilst Helen recovered from a miscarriage in 1849. Her husband and his ship never made it to Singapore, and it was assumed the ship and the very expensive cargo were taken by Hainen Pirates in the South China Sea.

    Helen then accepted the proposal of her husband’s cousin Daniel Lewis Mackenzie, and married in Stornoway in 1851. (Donald and Daniel’s mothers were sisters). Daniel was a ship builder, owner, and had interests in most financial dealings in Stornoway at the time, and owned a great deal of land along the beachfront/docks.

    They appear to have been happily married, with three children being born in 1851, 1853 and 1856. Unfortunately, the fit and active Daniel became ill suddenly in July 1857 and died just a few days later.

    All Helen’s daughters married men named McIver/MacIver.
    Agnes Maria married Charles McIver the Superintendent of Police in Karachi in 1873.
    Agnes Ann married Murdoch MacIver, a Stornoway born but London based Bill broker in 1873.
    Helen Isabella married Daniel Lewis McIver, a Bombay born and based merchant and brother of her sister Agnes Maria’s husband Charles McIver, in 1880.

    Their brother brother Donald Aeneas Mackay Mackenzie remained in Stornoway and took over the businesses that belonged to his father. He was involved in ship building, ship owning and broking, wreck salvaging and timber importation. He owned “The Princess Thule” and built the “D L Mackenzie” that was launched by his mother in memory of his father.
    He built a fine house at 32 James St Stornoway (now Tower Guest House), and the grand staircase was built from salvaged timber of the wreck of HM Lively. He married Christina Fowlie in 1883 and they had two daughters. In later life his health started to fail, and his businesses were affected. He died in 1912.

    Helen Mylne Mackay/MacDonald/Mackenzie died six months later. She had travelled the world, been married twice, survived typhoons, had birthed at least six children, had four survive, and had 20 living grandchildren.


  3. Pingback: Introducing Charles Morrison, A Stornoway Shopkeeper | Building Our Past

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