Highlands & Islands

First minister formally opens new museum in Stornoway

Nicola Sturgeon at Lews Castle Image copyright Scottish government
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon takes a closer look at Lews Castle's historic chess pieces

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has formally opened a new museum and archive on the Isle of Lewis.

The museum forms part of the redevelopment of Stornoway's Lews Castle, a 19th Century property which had previously been closed for 25 years.

The new museum uses Gaelic as its first language and documents island life.

In its collection are six pieces from the 12th Century Lewis Chessmen set on loan from the British Museum.

The museum and archive has been open to the public since July last year.

Image copyright David Maclennan/Geograph
Image caption Lews Castle had been closed for more than 20 years before it was redeveloped as a tourist attraction

Ms Sturgeon told BBC Alba: "This is hugely impressive. To see a Stornoway landmark so beautifully and lovingly restored is just incredible."

The first minister added: "The museum and archive is hugely impressive, bringing together all the different strands of Hebridean heritage - the first-ever Gaelic-led museum as well."

The castle was redeveloped in a £19.5m project led by Western Isles Council - Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland, the Scottish government, European Regional Development Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Gaelic language organisation Bord na Gaidhlig helped to fund the work.

Image copyright Handout
Image caption Decoration in the refurbished Morning Room of the 19th Century property

Lews Castle was constructed in 1847 for James Matheson, who made his fortune from the opium trade. Opium exported from China and India was often mixed with tobacco by smokers.

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

He installed central heating, electric lighting and internal telephones.

Mr Lever also had the ballroom extended to accommodate his parties.

The ballroom, including its ceiling, and the Morning Room were among the historic parts of the former stately home that were restored during the redevelopment.

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