The Isle of Lewis forms the northern part of the 'Long Island' of Lewis-with-Harris in the Outer Hebrides. Separated from Harris to the south by a range of hills, Lewis is dominated by the extensive Black Moor, a low peatland that gives the island its name in Gaelic (Leodhas or Eilean Leodhais). Crofting townships are spread around the coast, the island's chief settlement being Stornoway, the only town in the Outer Hebrides and administrative centre of the Western Isles. Southern Lewis is deeply indented with half a dozen sea lochs penetrating the east coast and sandy beaches can be found on the west coast especially at Uig and Valtos.
Until the early 14th century, the island was controlled by the Nicholsons, who were of Norse origin. Thereafter control was taken by the MacLeods and their period of stewardship was marked by barbarism and in-fighting which eventually brought their down-fall when King James VI intervened. He decided to contract the Fife Adventurers to establish a colony at Stornoway in an attempt to civilise the islands and, undoubtedly, raise some funds for the Royal treasury. When this venture failed, James granted the island to the Mackenzies of Kintail in 1610, who were to become the Mackenzies of Seaforth. In 1844, they sold Lewis for £190,000 to the wealthy businessman James Matheson (1796 - 1878), who had made his fortune through trade in China. Matheson is said to have gone on to spent nearly £350,000 in attempt to develop and improve the economy of the island and this policy was continued by the island's next owner the soap baron, William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme (1851 - 1925) who bought Lewis in 1918 for £143,000. Leverhulme added the Island of Harris to his estate the following year and is said to have spent £2 million on a variety of industrialisation schemes in an attempt to transform social and economic conditions. Leverhulme gave the burgh and parish of Stornoway to its people in 1923, establishing the first community-owned estate in Scotland, managed by the Stornoway Trust. The population of Lewis has fallen from 23344 (1951) through 21614 (1961), 20047 (1971), 21253 (1981), 19634 (1991) to 18256 (2001).