Stornoway Town Hall

Stornoway Town Hall opened for the second time 83 years ago today in 1929 following a devastating fire in 1918, which burnt the building down to ruin.  The leaflet above is from the Museum nan Eilean collection, and was distributed following the fire in an attempt to raise funds to rebuild.  The picture below shows a close up of the building in its ruined state.

In 1897 a fund for the original building was set up following a general consensus amongst the town that a municipal building should be constructed.  Contributions came from all over the world, including 10 Guineas from King Edward VII and £1,500 from Andrew Carnegie, as the building was also to house Stornoway’s first public library.  The site of the feu of Carn House, the house Colonel Colin Mackenzie was born in, was chosen for the building, with the foundation stone being laid in Aug 1903 by Major Duncan Matheson of Lews Castle.  In the image below, taken from the Lewis Museum Trust collection, you can see South Beach before the building was constructed.  If you look to the left of the photograph, you can also see the Lewis Coffee House (now the Star Inn).

The stone for the building came from Isle Martin in Loch Broom, and the total cost for the build was £14,000.  It was opened on September 7th 1905 by former British Prime Minister Lord Roseberry, the day being a local public holiday. 


The fire that burnt down the building occurred in 1918, and is believed to have broken out in the canteen area.  The fire quickly spread and the building was decimated.  Many important records were lost in this fire, including that of the Lewis Estate which had an office in the building at the time.  It was not until 1923 that the decision was made to rebuild, with the council initially expecting to have to raise £17,000 for the construction effort.  In fact, the total amount needed to rebuild was £25,000, with a large sum donated by people who had emigrated from Lewis, or had descended from emigrants.  In particular, Dr T B Macaulay donated a large sum, and travelled to Stornoway from Canada in 1929 to open the building.  Many other notable Lewis ex-pats and descendents joined Macaulay on the journey over, including John Bain of Chicago, a banker who was brother to Stornoway Provost Louis Bain.

On June 19th 1929, Dr T B Macaulay opened this new Town Hall, and then, on the same day, went on to open a new wing of the Lewis Hospital, which he had also generously contributed to.  It is interesting to note the differences in design of the buildings, though of all the incarnations of Stornoway Town Hall, my favourite will always be this one.

(Research for post: Stornoway Vignettes by Frank Thompson and Stornoway Historical Society Website)

About David Powell

Project Manager and Archivist with Tasglann nan Eilean Siar
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