The TSS Duke of Lancaster is a former and one of the last passenger railway steamers that has been docked and concreted in at Llanerch-y-Mor, on the River Dee for almost 40 years. It began life in Belfast at the hands of maritime manufacturing giants Harland and Wolff, who also built The Titanic. The Duke of Lancaster had two sister ships, Duke of Argyll and Duke of Rothesay. Duke of Lancaster was designed slightly different so that it could accommodate cruises as well. It had a capacity of 1200 single class passengers and 600 first class passengers.
It was built and launched in 1955 to serve the overnight Heysham – Belfast passenger ferry route. It’s maiden voyage came the following year in 1956. The Heysham to Belfast service operated with two vessels going either way, apart from in peak season when some daytime and double night journeys were put on. This rotation system allowed the Duke of Lancaster to fulfill it’s cruises whilst the regular route was covered by the sister ships. These cruises continued until 1966 and went as far as Norway, Denmark, Holland, and Spain. But most commonly the Scottish Isles.
By the mid 1960’s the car ferry revolution was taking hold and British Railways seemed to have lacked the anticipation. So with the ships outdated and not enough time or money to build a new fleet, they set about adapting the ships to include cars. The Duke of Lancaster had it’s main deck rebuilt with vehicle door at the stern in 1970. The rebuild took four months. It went into the shipyard in early January and was returned on the 25th of April.
Unfortunately the car ferry operation never quite produced the hoped-for revival of the Heysham to Belfast service and in July 1974 it was announced the service would terminate in October. This was later extended to April 1975. All three Dukes were then sent to Barrow for lay-up.
The Duke of Lancaster briefly spent two weeks covering the Fishguard – Rosslare crossing, before taking up it’s final employment on water, the Holyhead – Dun Laoghaire route. The Lancaster continued this route for the next few years, until it officially retired in 1978. Once again the ship was sent to Barrow for lay-up.
Rothesay and Argyll sufferred differing fates. The Duke of Rothesay was sold for scrap, whilst The Duke of Argyll went on to serve in Southern Europe as The Neptunia and Corinthia, and then Hong Kong as Faith Power, Fairy Princess and finally Zenith. In 1995 it caught fire and was sold for scrap.
A Liverpool company called Empirewise bought The Lancaster with the intention of it being a static ship used as a leisure and retail centre in Llanerch-y-Mor, near the port of Mostyn. This fabulous ship’s final journey came to an end on 10th August 1979 when it arrived in North Wales and has stayed ever since.
The Fun Ship
In the early 1980’s, The Fun Ship opened it’s doors for business. It was a static entertainment and retail complex, where visitors could also visit the engine room, play arcade machines and shop at the market. But the venture was short lived. It traded for a few years, but ultimately had to close after disputes between the ship’s owners and local authorities. Co-owner Mr John Rowley who now lives in Romania, claims councillors opposed plan after plan. Planning permission was refused, enforcement notices served, bar licenses declined, as well as other grievances. Lack of fire escapes and lack of a road for emergency services, were also reasons authorities gave for declining plans.
A Facebook group called The Duke of Lancaster Appreciation Society have started an online campaign to see the ship restored and they remain ever hopeful.
As our first explore of the day, we arrived bright and early after a three and half hour journey. We had a good two hours there uninterrupted, in which we managed to get close and get all the angles and shots we wanted. The drone was new so was great getting that into the action and we’re very happy with how it turned out.
We’re leaving the ‘How We Got In?’ section for a later date after a future visit, in the hope it’ll be ‘How We Got On’.
So you’ve seen the footage, now enjoy the photos we got in the gallery below.