Special security measures to protect famous chess pieces cause castle delays

Lews Castle

Special security measures to protect the world’s most famous and valuable chess pieces have caused new delays to the restoration of a Hebridean castle.

It was announced yesterday that the “permanent” return to the isles of some of the Lewis Chessmen has now been put back until the new year.

The 19th century Lews Castle, which has been closed for 25 years, is undergoing an £18million transformation into museum and hotel venue.

Permanent displays in the revamped castle – which overlooks Stornoway Harbour on Lewis – will include six of the world famous 12th century Lewis Chessmen ivory chess pieces. They have been loaned “permanently” by the British Museum.

They were found at Uig, on the west side of the island in 1831. Today, 82 pieces are owned and usually exhibited by the British Museum in London, and the remaining 11 are at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The castle was originally due to have had its first phase opened this month – but today its owners, Western Isles Council, said it would not open its door to the public until “early” next year.

The council’s heritage staff, working with specialist contractors, are said to be in the “final stages” of preparing and fine-tuning the new galleries for the installation of objects, including six of the Lewis Chessmen – which were featured in the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone film.

“Displaying such priceless objects from national museums comes with exacting requirements in terms of security and environmental conditions. The council is working closely with its national partners to ensure that all these requirements are met and to agree dates for installation of their loan objects,” said a council spokesman.

Western Isles Council leader Angus Campbell said: “The council’s Heritage Team is working with a range of specialists and national partners to complete the development. There are stringent conditions attached to the long-term loan of priceless objects and we are enhancing certain aspects of our security system to achieve best practice.

“These additional measures will be delivered over the next few weeks and thereafter we will be in a position to confirm the opening date of the museum.”