MV Royal Iris
The Royal Iris on the Thames
|Name:||1950 onwards: Royal Iris|
|Port of registry:||1950 onwards: Liverpool|
|Builder:||William Denny and Brothers, Dumbarton|
|Launched:||8 December 1950|
|Maiden voyage:||May 1951|
|Length:||48.46 m (159 ft 0 in)|
|Beam:||14.63 m (48 ft 0 in)|
|Draught:||2.74 m (9 ft 0 in)|
|Installed power:||4 x Ruston & Hornsby diesel engines|
|Speed:||12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)|
Her engines were produced by Ruston & Hornsby Metropolitan-Vickers. Propulsion: 4 oil 4SA, each six cylinders driving four generators, each 300 kW/300v DC-connected to two electric motors, each 730shp and 2 shafts. Her maximum speed is 12 knots. Her weight is 1,234 gross tonnes. She is 159 feet long and 48 feet wide, with a draught of 9 feet. At least during the first decade of her life, the ship's diesel-electric propulsion made her more economical to run than the other vessels in the fleet.
Career in service
The Royal Iris ran her trials on the Skelmorlie Mile on the River Clyde on 24 April 1951. Arriving in the River Mersey on 28 April 1951, she was initially owned and operated by Wallasey Corporation and carried the Borough coat of arms on the front of her superstructure. Upon entering service on 5 May 1951, she was licensed to carry 2,296 passengers on normal ferry duties, or 1,000 for cruising. Originally painted in a green and cream livery, the ship was distinctive in having a forward dummy funnel near her bridge and two exhaust stacks amidships, on both sides. Onboard amenities included a dancefloor and stage, tea room, buffet, cocktail bar, even a fish and chip saloon. The latter likely affording the Royal Iris the nickname "the fish and chip boat".
On Friday 7 September 1951 the battleship HMS Duke of York was under tow on her way to being broken up at Gareloch when she collided with the Royal Iris off Gladstone Dock. The Royal Iris was temporarily out of control and the floodtide carried her against the warship. The ferry was approaching the end of a cruise organised by the Amalgamated Engineering Union. Some people were hospitalised as a result of the accident.
Despite an ongoing financial debt against the Royal Iris from when she was built, capital was made available to refit her at the Harland and Wolff in Bootle in 1971-72. Sporting a new blue and white livery, she was subsequently used, almost exclusively, as a cruise vessel. A sum of £68,000 was also provided for a new steak bar and dining area, replacing the original fish and ship saloon. Up until this refit, she had carried two side slung lifeboats on davits which were removed leaving just a single lifeboat slung from the stern.
Whilst docked for her annual survey on 12 January 1975, a fire broke out in her engine room, causing extensive electrical damage.
On 21 June 1977, the Royal Iris carried Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh on their Silver Jubilee Mersey Review.
The ship was used by Granada Television during the summer of 1979 as the setting for the ITV Saturday morning children's television series The Mersey Pirate. For this purpose, a dome structure was built on the promenade deck of the vessel.
During 1984 the Royal Iris and the other three Mersey Ferries received the red, white and blue livery to mark the 1984 International Garden Festival at Otterspool. In April and May 1985 the vessel left Liverpool Bay for the first time since her delivery from Scotland. She was sent on a 1500 mile round trip to London on a publicity drive for Merseyside, sailing around Land's End, up the River Thames and under Tower Bridge, docking adjacent to HMS Belfast.
Decline, withdrawal and a new beginning in Liverpool
During the early 1990s, funding was found to allow Mountwood, Woodchurch and Overchurch an extensive refurbishment, which included provision for cruising duties. The ageing Royal Iris, the last ex-Wallasey vessel, was considered surplus to requirements due to the fact she had a major survey due and the great cost of bringing her up to modern standards. Over the passing years she had become noticeably slower and a lot more expensive to maintain.
The Royal Iris ran a farewell evening cruise on the 12 January 1991, prior to being taken out of service and laid up awaiting confirmation of her fate. On 21 April 1991, she was granted a one day licence from the Department of Transport to carry 600 people on a cruise to mark the 73rd Anniversary of The Zeebrugge Raid of 1918. On the 16 August 1991, she was placed in the hands of shipbrokers SC Chambers Limited of Liverpool for an asking price of £100,000.
In November 1991, she was sold to a consortium for conversion into a floating nightclub, restaurant and conference centre, based in Liverpool under the name of 'Mr Smith's Nightclub'. She was delivered to the Stanley Dock complex in early 1992 to begin her new life on Merseyside and was subsequently painted Bright Blue with a red band around the top deck windows.
Leaving of Liverpool
On Saturday, 7 August 1993, the Liverpool Echo carried front page news that the Royal Iris had been sold to Hertfordshire-based Parkway Leisure who had the intention of turning her into a floating nightspot in Cardiff, spending £300,000 on refurbishments. On Wednesday 10 August 1993, the Royal Iris was removed from Stanley Dock. In a two hour operation she broke free from her tow line and smashed into the dock wall twice. The Royal Iris finally left the River Mersey for the last time, under tow, on the morning of Thursday 12 August 1993, after being towed to the Pier Head for a final goodbye.
On Wednesday 10 August 1994, it was reported that a planning proposal regarding the use of the vessel had been rejected by Cardiff Council. No work had been carried out on the vessel in the preceding 12 months and berthing charges had not been paid. A spokesman for her new owners, Parkway Leisure, reported that they were 'open to offers'.
In January 1996, it was reported that a business consortium from Liverpool were in talks to bring the Royal Iris back to the Mersey and make her seaworthy again. The consortium were considering applying for National Lottery funding and launching a £1-a-head public subscription fundraising campaign. This venture ultimately did not come to fruition.
The move to London
On Saturday, 6 February 2010, it was reported that Police and the RNLI had been called out to her berth on the River Thames, near Woolwich, after a passing vessel noticed she had taken on water up to her passenger deck. At the present time, it is unclear how long she has been in this state. There was evidence found to suggest that squatters had been living on board. Also found on board were various items of drug paraphernalia.
The campaign to return her to Merseyside
2014.The Royal Iris is still settled on the mudbank with a hole in her lower side. The cost of taking the vessel back to Merseyside is now estimated to be in 6 figures. And, according to a local Member of Parliament, is unlikely to go ahead.
The Royal Iris on the Thames
- Picture by permission of Keith Chesworth
- Stuart Cameron; Bruce Biddulph, Royal Iris, Shipping Times, retrieved 8 February 2009
- Maund, T.B.; Jenkins, Martin (2003), Mersey Ferries: Volume 2 - The Wallasey Ferries, Black Dwarf Publications, ISBN 1-903599-08-3
- Royal Iris (III) awaits her fate, Irish Sea Shipping, 2006, retrieved 19 February 2009
- Mariners: L Archives, Rootsweb, retrieved 22 February 2009
- Last days of HMS Duke of York, Rootsweb, retrieved 21 February 2009
- Danielson, Richard, The Mighty Mersey and its Ferries, ISBN 0-9513155-4-4
- Mersey Pirate, SatKids, retrieved 19 February 2009
- A Tribute to the Mersey's Famous Love Boat, Liverpool Echo, 23 May 1992
- Royal Iris Sold, Liverpool Echo, 7 August 1993
- Royal Iris Leaves Mersey, Liverpool Echo, 11 August 1993
- Royal Iris planning proposal rejected, Liverpool Echo, 10 August 1994
- Liverpool consortium plan, Liverpool Echo, 2 January 1996
- Royal Iris (photo 2008), Ferry Photos, retrieved 19 February 2009
- Chesworth, Keith, The Royal Iris: Queen of the Mersey since 1951, retrieved 21 February 2009
- Sad end in sight for Royal Iris Mersey ferry, Liverpool Echo, 6 February 2010, retrieved 6 February 2010
- Former 'Ferry across Mersey' sinking, BBC News, 6 February 2010, retrieved 6 February 2010
- Wirral businessman’s bid to save Liverpool's Royal Iris, Liverpool Echo, 20 February 2010, retrieved 20 February 2010
- Online bid to save Liverpool's Mersey ferry the Royal Iris, Liverpool Echo, 4 March 2010, retrieved 4 March 2010
- The Owner of the Royal Iris speaks to Radio Merseyside, Radio Merseyside, retrieved 9 March 2010
- Picture by permission of Dave Wood
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