TSS Duke of Lancaster (1956)

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Coordinates: 53°18′23.23″N 3°14′8.52″W / 53.3064528°N 3.2357000°W / 53.3064528; -3.2357000

Duke of Lancaster beached, 2010.jpg
TSS Duke of Lancaster beached near Mostyn,
North Wales, 2010
Name: TSS Duke of Lancaster
  • 1955–63: British Transport Commission
  • 1963–79: Sealink
Port of registry: United Kingdom Lancaster, United Kingdom
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast
Yard number: 1540
Launched: 1955
Maiden voyage: 1956
In service: 1956–79
Out of service: 1979
Identification: IMO number: 5094496
Status: Out of service; in permanent dock
General characteristics
Type: Turbine steam ship
Tonnage: 4,450 GT
Length: 114.63 m (376 ft 1 in)
Beam: 17.46 m (57 ft 3 in)
Draught: 4.54 m (14 ft 11 in)
Installed power: 2 x Parmetrada steam turbines
Speed: 21 knots
Capacity: 1800 passengers

The TSS Duke of Lancaster is a railway steamer passenger ship that operated in Europe from 1956 to 1979, and is currently beached near Mostyn Docks, on the River Dee, north-east Wales. It replaced an earlier 3,600 ton ship of the same name operated by the London Midland and Scottish Railway company between Heysham and Belfast.

In service[edit]

The Duke of Lancaster off Mull, Scotland

Along with her sister ships the TSS Duke of Rothesay and the TSS Duke of Argyll she was amongst the last passenger-only steamers built for British Railways (at that time, also a ferry operator).[1] She was a replacement for the 1928 steamer built by the London Midland and Scottish Railway, RMS Duke of Lancaster.

Built at Harland & Wolff, Belfast and completed in 1956, she was designed to operate as both a passenger ferry (primarily on the Heysham-Belfast route) and as a cruise ship. In this capacity, the Duke of Lancaster travelled to the Scottish islands and further afield to Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Spain.[1][2]

From the mid-1960s, passenger ships such as the Duke of Lancaster were gradually being superseded by car ferries.[1] Rather than undertake the expensive option of renewing their entire fleet, British Railways instead began a part-programme of conversion. In order to maintain ferry services whilst these modifications took place, the Duke of Lancaster's duties as a cruise ship ceased.[2] On 25 April 1970 the ship returned to service, having had her main deck rebuilt to accommodate vehicles via a door at her stern. The ship now provided space for 1,200 single-class passengers and 105 cars, with a total cabin accommodation for 400 passengers.[2]

The three ships continued on the Heysham-Belfast route until the service was withdrawn on 5 April 1975.[2] The Duke of Lancaster was then briefly employed on the Fishguard-Rosslare crossing, before becoming the regular relief vessel on the HolyheadDún Laoghaire service until November 1978.[2] The ship was then laid up at Barrow in Furness, Cumbria.[1]

The Fun Ship[edit]

The Duke of Lancaster arrived in Llanerch-y-Mor, North Wales, in August 1979 to start her new life as "the Fun Ship". Despite Delyn Council's own resolution in favour of the project (which led to the financial commitment) they subsequently refused numerous planning applications, even for signage, opposed the granting of bar licences, issued a magistrates' summons over a lack of sufficient fire escapes, applied for a High Court injunction to close the ship on safety grounds, refused permission to trade on the car park area although the Coed Mawr[clarification needed] was allowed trading at the time without planning permission, required the Fun Ship to charge an admission fee to supposedly protect the trade in Holywell town centre although the Fun Ship targeted tourism and even sabotaged a Welsh Development Grant awarded for sea defence and landscaping purposes.[clarification needed]

All this was followed by the serving of 13 separate Enforcement Notices, around 1985, blighting the site until 1990 when the Council lost on their actions at the hands of the Secretary of State for Wales. The Council were ordered to pay unprecedented costs. In 1994 the Council struck once more claiming monopoly rights in the High Court. They claimed the Fun Ship Market was within a 6-mile radius of their newly opened Holywell Market and was direct competition, therefore had to close. They applied to the High court for an interlocutory injunction forcing the Fun Ship to close whilst the case went for trial.

That was probably the death knell for the Fun Ship with her owners sick of the attacks they closed the business in 2004. They have continued to fight the case over the years and are still doing so but unfortunately the ship has stood closed ever since.

Despite having large amounts of its exterior paintwork covered in rust, the interior of the ship is in good condition. It was featured in the 2011 series of BBC Two's Coast.

In early 2012 several local arcade game collectors made a deal with Solitaire Liverpool Ltd and were able to purchase most of the coin-operated machines left behind inside the ship at the time the Fun Ship closed. Removing the games required the use of cranes and other heavy lifting equipment.[3]

Future plans[edit]

The plan is to transform the ship into the largest open air art gallery in the UK. As of August 2012, the Latvian graffiti artist "Kiwie" was commissioned to spraypaint a design on the ship.[4] The ship is slowly being covered with graffiti described as "bright and surreal".[5] The first phase of the project saw Kiwie and other European graffiti artists paint murals on the ship between August and November 2012, and the second phase (starting at the end of March 2013) included the work of British-based artists such as Snub23, Spacehop, Dan Kitchener and Dale Grimshaw.[6] One of the artworks is a picture of the ship's first captain, John 'Jack' Irwin.


  1. ^ a b c d Duke of Lancaster, hhvferry.com, retrieved 12 December 2007 
  2. ^ "Explorers got into this huge abandoned ship on the Welsh coastline - what they found inside blew them away". Wales On-line. Retrieved 25 March 2017. 
  3. ^ Grafiti mākslinieks «Kiwie» apkrāso kruīza laineri, tvnet.lv
  4. ^ BBC News: Duke of Lancaster: Street art murals on beached ship accessed 9 December 2012
  5. ^ "In pictures: Duke of Lancaster art project grows". United Kingdom: BBC News. 2013-04-08. Archived from the original on 2013-04-09. Retrieved 2013-04-09. 

External links[edit]