Lews Castle museum project gets Heritage Lottery funds

Lews Castle Lews Castle will be turned into a museum

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The conversion of a castle built for a 19th Century opium trader into a museum for the Western Isles has attracted £4.6m from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Stornoway's Lews Castle will use Gaelic as its first language and will also offer four-star hotel accommodation.

About £14m is to be spent on restoring and converting the property, which has been shut since 1988.

The islands' local authority is involved in finding £1.6m, which is needed to complete the funding package.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has committed £4.5m and Highlands and Islands Enterprise £1m to the project.

Last year, the Heritage Lottery Fund provided a £240,000 grant.

The castle was constructed as a residence for James Matheson who made his fortune exporting opium from China and India.

It cost £60,000 and took seven years to complete, according to Stornoway Historical Society.

William Lever, whose family business went on to become food and household products maker Unilever, owned the castle from 1918 to 1923.

He installed central heating, electric lighting and internal telephones and extended the ballroom to accommodate his parties.

During World War II it served as a naval hospital and accommodation for the air and ground crew of 700 Naval Air Squadron who operated a detachment of amphibious bi-planes from a slipway in the castle grounds.

Angus Campbell, of the restoration project steering group, said it was hoped to open Lews Castle in 2014.

He told BBC Radio Scotland: "It will be a huge rebuild but keeping the integrity and the structure of Lews Castle together, but also giving the community so much more."

Mr Campbell added: "There is a huge interest in the history of the Outer Hebrides and the culture of the Outer Hebrides, not only from locals but from many, many people who come from the islands and living all over the world."

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