History of the Royal Hotel Stornoway
Hospitality in the Outer Hebrides
…dedicated to quality.
The Royal Hotel was originally built in 1845, the year after the Matheson family purchased Lewis from the Mackenzie Trustees, the successors to the Earls of Seaforth. – so it’s possible that the Royal was a business enterprise of the Mathesons. It has been extended a number of times during its long history.
Building of the Lews Castle, which replaced Seaforth Lodge, across the water opposite the Royal, commenced in 1847. Although there’s a local legend that Lord Leverhulme sat at the suspended first floor bay window watching building work at the castle, we think it’s more likely to have been James Matheson. Perhaps he stayed at the Royal while waiting for the builders to complete the job, which took seven years.
Stornoway was then a very busy sea port, dealing with many fishing boats and cargo craft. In addition to local craft, the harbour had been a regular stopping point for Dutch vessels and you can see Dutch influences on the architecture of the harbour areas. Presumably, the hotel would have provided on-shore accommodation for the officers of those ships.
The first building would have included much of the right hand portion of the current hotel, what is now the bar, the Boatshed restaurant and probably around ten bedrooms on the two floors above.
It’s not possible from our records to tell exactly when various additions have been made to the building’s fabric, but the photo at the top, taken in 1937, shows the left hand side extension of the hotel looking quite new – perhaps up to 10 years old. This added the remaining bedrooms, plus a parade of shops on the ground floor, which is now the location of the HS-1 café bar. At that time, the owner was a Mr. Sutherland – on the right of the photograph, with a gentleman presumed to be a guest.
Photographed in 1990, the right hand end of the building was still in use as a public bar. It was later converted to the Boatshed Restaurant. One of the shops on the left hand side (now HS-1 cafe-bar) was the British Airways office.
Recent refurbishment work has been completed during 2012 and was carried out in close co-operation with local conservation officers. All of the front windows have been replaced with double glazed hardwood units, specially made to match original fixtures and modern plastics hotel signage resembles that of the 1930s much more closely than that of the late 20th century.
During the last 35 years, Cala Hotels has shown major commitment to the Western Isles economy, as the one of very few investors in hotel development. This has helped to create employment and career development opportunities, plus constant improvements in facilities for visitors. The Royal Hotel was acquired from Scottish & Newcastle Brewers in 1989, as part of the investment programme to expand the Cala Group.
We are proud of the fine tradition of fine Hebridean hospitality, established by the Royal during its 150 year history, and we are determined to maintain the tradition in this new millennium..