Lews Castle refurbishment to begin again

19th century Lews Castle, in the Western Isles. Picture: complimentary
19th century Lews Castle, in the Western Isles. Picture: complimentary
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WORK ON refurbishing the historic Lews Castle in the Western Isles will begin again – three months after the main contractor went into administration.

The £2million project to transform the 19 th century castle – built for Scots heroin baron Sir James Matheson – into a museum and hotel fell into doubt with the downfall of Northern Ireland-based Patton Group.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has now awarded completion continuation of Phase One to local firm Neil Mackay and Co who worked as subcontractors and also incurred massive losses as a result.

A spokesman for the company said they delighted to be awarded the contract and expected to take on more workers to carry out the work, set to start in two weeks time.

He added: “The contract is about half way through, when we get the green light to start we will be looking to take on workers. It is an iconic building and it deserves to be completed.”

The downfall of Patton had an impact on many local firms, with Neil Mackay and Co writing off about £400,000.

He admitted the company had also been haemoraghing money following the collapse of Patton due to equipment on hire at the Castle, which was costing £100 a day since November.

A council spokesperson said: “An agreement in principle has been reached between the Comhairle and Patton’s Administrator to transfer the Lews Castle Envelope Works contract to local firm Neil Mackay and Co Limited.

“The Comhairle is in discussion with project funders on the proposals for the completion of the works.”

He continued: “It is anticipated that works will begin on site as soon as possible after the agreement is signed and all the necessary contractual requirements are in place.

“The Envelope Works is the first phase of the £13.5m Lews Castle Museum and Archive project which is funded by the Comhairle, Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Scottish Government.

“The second phase main works are currently at tender stage and, subject to award of contract, it is anticipated that work would begin immediately following completion of the Envelope Works which is scheduled for June 2013.”

The Patton Group, who main offices were in Ballymena, won the £2million contract last year, despite making a £17million loss in the last two financial years.

Lews Castle was built in the years 1847-57 as a country house for Sir James Matheson, who had bought the whole island a few years previously with his fortune from the Chinese Opium trade.

In 1918, the Lewis estate including the castle was bought by industrialist Lord Leverhulme from the Matheson family. He gifted the castle to the people of Stornoway parish in 1923.

During WWII the Castle was taken over as accommodation for air and ground crew of British forces.

After the war, the Castle was also used for accommodation for students of Lews Castle College, which is located in the grounds.

Today the building is owned by the local council and is category A listed building.