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

TSS Duke of Lancaster beached near Mostyn,
North Wales, 2010
NameDuke of Lancaster
  • 1955–63: British Transport Commission
  • 1963–79: Sealink
Port of registryUnited Kingdom Lancaster, United Kingdom
BuilderHarland & Wolff, Belfast
Yard number1540
Launched1 December 1955
Maiden voyage1956
In service1956–79
Out of service1979
IdentificationIMO number5094496
StatusPermanently beached at Llannerch-y-Mor Wharf
General characteristics
TypeTurbine steam ship
Tonnage4,450 GT
Length114.63 m (376 ft 1 in)
Beam17.46 m (57 ft 3 in)
Draught4.54 m (14 ft 11 in)
Installed power2 x Parmetrada steam turbines
Speed21 knots (39 km/h; 24 mph)
Capacity1,200 passengers

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

As of 2021 it was owned by Anthony Rowley and The Duke of Lancaster Appreciation Society.[1]

In service

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).[2] She was a replacement for the 1928 steamer, Duke of Lancaster, built by the London Midland and Scottish Railway.

Built at Harland & Wolff, Belfast, launched on 1 December 1955 and completed in 1956, she was designed to operate as both a passenger ferry (primarily on the Heysham to Belfast route) and as a cruise ship.[3][4] In this capacity, the Duke of Lancaster travelled to the Scottish islands and further afield to Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Spain.[2][5]

From the mid-1960s, passenger ships such as Duke of Lancaster were gradually being superseded by car ferries.[2] Rather than undertake the expensive option of renewing their entire fleet, British Railways instead began a part-programme of conversion.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, Duke of Lancaster's duties as a cruise ship ceased.[5][6] On 25 April 1970 the ship returned to service, having had her main deck rebuilt to accommodate vehicles via a rear 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.[5]

The three ships continued on the Heysham to Belfast route until the service was withdrawn on 5 April 1975.[5] Duke of Lancaster was then briefly employed on the Fishguard to Rosslare crossing, before becoming the regular relief vessel on the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

Fun Ship

Duke of Lancaster arrived in Llanerch-y-Mor, North Wales from Barrow-in-Furness, in August 1979 to start her new life as a business venture and retail complex as "the Fun Ship" to circumvent the-then sunday trading laws as it did not apply to ships, the owner John Rowley saw this legal loophole.[7] However, there were frequent legal battles with the local councils and the owners closed the business in 2004. As a result of this the owners "walked away". Subsequent owners have faced similar issues.[8]

The dock built around the ship with aggregates was filled with sand to prevent drifting after the towyn storm in the 1980s as well as a F.B. 18 – FCB ferroconcrete barge in place.[9][better source needed] The 1941 dated barge 'Rea 3' (No. 182422) was towed from Liverpool on 19th August 1981 as water source for possible fire emergencies for the ship.[10][better source needed]

Another concrete barge 'Elmarine' the first of its type heralded as "the lightest sea-going concrete boat in the world" launched on the 4th January 1919 was previously positioned in the dock as a groyne, however over decades was filled in and is used as a breakwater.

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.[11]

Art gallery

The ship in 2015

The plan was 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.[12] The ship was covered with graffiti described as "bright and surreal".[13] 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.[14] One of the artworks is a picture of the ship's first captain, John 'Jack' Irwin. However in 2017 both sides of the ship were painted black.[15]

In 2021 some work was being done on the interior of the ship and deck areas refurbished for anticipated use as a dockside attraction.[16] In 2022 the ship was used as a 1957-era film set for an ITV series. However the restoration project encounted difficulties and stalled. As of early 2024 the future of the ship was uncertain. Due to illegal dumping activity near the ship, a local proposal would place vehicle barriers at the ship's access road. Without emergency vehicle access the ship could not be open to the public.[17]

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ John, Lucy; Hughes, Janet (3 October 2021). "The cruise ship that became blank canvas for Bristol graffiti artists after being frozen in time". BristolLive. Bristol Post. Retrieved 21 May 2024.
  2. ^ a b c d Duke of Lancaster, hhvferry.com, retrieved 12 December 2007
  3. ^ New Ship for Heysham-Belfast Service Railway Gazette 9 December 1955 page 689
  4. ^ Inaugural Voyage of TSS Duke of Lancaster Railway Gazette 19 October 1956 page 448
  5. ^ News Railway Gazette 19 September 1969 page 683
  6. ^ The Duke Of Lancaster: Trapped In A Pirate Republic? by John Rowley (Author)
  7. ^ Rhys, Steffan (1 June 2016). "Explorers got into this huge abandoned ship on the Welsh coastline – what they found inside blew them away". Wales Online.
  8. ^ "Concrete Barge Spotter's Holiday !". The Concrete Fleet. Retrieved 21 May 2024.
  9. ^ "The Concrete Barges by the 'Duke of Lancaster' - Llanerch-y-Mor". The Concrete Fleet. Retrieved 21 May 2024.
  10. ^ "Explorers got into this huge abandoned ship on the Welsh coastline - what they found inside blew them away". Wales On-line. June 2016. Retrieved 25 March 2017.
  11. ^ Grafiti mākslinieks «Kiwie» apkrāso kruīza laineri, tvnet.lv
  12. ^ BBC News: Duke of Lancaster: Street art murals on beached ship accessed 9 December 2012
  13. ^ "In pictures: Duke of Lancaster art project grows". United Kingdom: BBC News. 8 April 2013. Archived from the original on 10 April 2013. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  14. ^ Crump, Eryl. "The Duke of Lancaster gets mystery black paint job". Daily Post. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  15. ^ John, Lucy (2 October 2021). "The huge cruise ship that's coming to life again after being docked on the Welsh coast for 40 years". Cardiff, United Kingdom: Walesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 20 May 2024.
  16. ^ Young, R. (11 March 2024). "Troubled Waters for Beached Ship". MotorYachting.com. Super Yachting Limited. Retrieved 21 May 2024.
  17. ^ "The Duke of Lancaster (Registration number 2318)". National Historic Ships UK. Retrieved 21 May 2024.