Stornoway was originally a Viking settlement and developed around its well sheltered natural harbour. Reflecting this, the name Stornoway itself is derived from ‘Stjórnavágr’, an Old Norse word for ‘steering bay’. Medieval development of the town was spurred by the construction of the original castle in the High Middle Ages by the Nicolson (or MacNicol) family, themselves of Viking descent. Infighting between rival clans continued throughout the Late Middle Ages and resisted an attempt by the then King of Scotland James VI to colonise Lewis in 1597.
The castle was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in the aftermath of his Scottish campaign in the mid 17th century, and the ownership of Stornoway - and by extension, Lewis - passed from the MacKenzies of Kintail through the Seaforth family and Sir James Matheson (and his descendants) to William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme finally gifted the town’s parish to the Stornoway Trust, whose ownership remains to this day.
by Billy Currie