Seaforth Lodge was a 17th century tower house which was later incorporated into the 19th century Lews Castle.
The Isle of Lewis passed from the MacLeods to the Mackenzies in the 16th century and it was they who built Seaforth Lodge. Towards the end of the 16th century an attempt was made to settle the Western Isles with people from Fife loyal to the Crown. The islands were considered to be a wild and untamed part of the Scottish kingdom at this time, an almost lawless fiefdom of the MacLeods of Lewis. In order to reassert the King’s control over the islands an Act of Parliament was passed in 1597 requiring chiefs to present their titles to the Lords of the Exchequer on Whitsunday in 1598 and to provide security for any rents owed to the Crown. When the chiefs of Lewis, Harris, Dunvegan and Glenelg failed to produce their titles their estates were declared forfeited.
Lewis was granted to a company of adventurers from Fife which included Sir James Anstruther, younger, of Anstruther, Sir Patrick Leslie, Commendator of Lindores, Sir William Stewart, Commendator of Pittenweem, James Learmonth, younger, of Balcomie and James Spence of Wormiston, led by Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox, who was later involved in the Plantation of Ulster and the colonisation of New England. They set out for Lewis in October 1599 on an ill-fated expedition to colonise the island hampered by the weather, disease and conflict with the MacLeods.
By the early 17th century Lewis was owned by Sir James Elphinstone, 1st Lord Balmerino, however he fell from grace over letters sent to the Pope that he forged in the name of James VI. In 1608 the King granted many of Balmerino’s possessions, including Lewis, Balmerino, Restalrig, Over Barnton, Ballumbie and Dunvegan, to Alexander Drummond of Midhope.
In 1844 Sir James Matheson bought the Isle of Lewis and Great Bernera from Mrs Stewart-Mackenzie of Seaforth for £190,000 and commissioned the architect Charles Wilson to build Lews Castle. Work continued from 1847 until 1851 and cost some £60,000. For many years it was assumed that Seaforth Lodge had been entirely demolished before work commenced however it is now thought that parts of the older building were actually incorporated into the new one.
In 1917 William Hesketh Lever, Lord Leverhulme, bought the castle and in 1923 gifted it and 64,000 acres of parkland to the people of Stornoway.
The castle was used as a naval hospital during the Second World War and from 1953 was administered by Ross & Cromarty County Council. It was subsequently used as accommodation for Lews Castle College, which was built within the grounds, until 1988 but by 1996 it was empty and in disrepair.
During conservation work at the start of the 21st century elements of the older building were uncovered, particularly in the kitchen and hallway where a lime-harled wall was revealed. Two original doorways were identified in the hallway, one of which was blocked during the construction of Lews Castle. Two reworked corbels, one featuring a water spout and a possible stringcourse, from the old tower can be seen on the new bell tower.
Lews Castle was awarded £4.6 million in 2011 by the Heritage Lottery Fund in order for it to be restored and converted into a bilingual museum and cultural centre. In 2016 the ground floor of the castle reopened with public access to the restored ballroom and a café.
Alternative names for Seaforth Lodge
Lewis Castle; Lews Castle