TSS Duke of Lancaster

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Duke of Lancaster.jpg
Duke of Lancaster beached near Mostyn, North Wales
Name: TSS Duke of Lancaster
Owner: 1955-1963: British Transport Commission
1963-1979: Sealink
1979 - present: Empirewise
Operator: 1955-1963: British Transport Commission
1963-1979: Sealink
Port of registry: Lancaster, United Kingdom United Kingdom
Route: 1955-1975: Heysham - Belfast
1975-1979: Holyhead - Dún Laoghaire
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast
Yard number: 1540
Launched: 1955
Maiden voyage: 1956
Out of service: 1979
Identification: IMO number: 5094496
Status: Out of service
General characteristics
Type: Turbine steam ship
Tonnage: 4,450 GT (gross tonnage)
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 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.

In service

Along with her sister ships the Duke of Rothesay and the Duke of Argyll she was amongst the last passenger-only steamers built for British Railways (at that time, also a ferry operator).[1]

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 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From the mid-1960s, passenger ships such as the Lancaster were gradually being superseded by car ferries.[1] Rather than undertake the expensive option of renewing their entire fleet, British Railways instead began a part-program of conversion. In order to maintain ferry services whilst these modifications took place, the 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The three ships continued on the Heysham-Belfast route until the service was withdrawn on 5 April 1975.[2] The Duke of Lancaster was then briefly employed on the Fishguard-Rosslare crossing, before becoming the regular relief vessel on the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

The Lancaster was sold to Liverpool based company Empirewise Ltd, who intended her to be used as a static leisure centre and market. She arrived at her new home at Llanerch-y-Mor, near Mostyn, on 10 August 1979.[1] The ship was beached and the hull was sealed not in concrete as is commonly thought but surrounded by a large tonnage of sand pulled out of the Dee estuary. Known as "The Fun Ship", it was also possible to visit her bridge and engine room. Conversion for use as a 300-room hotel did not appear to go beyond the preliminary planning stage. Its use as "The Fun Ship" was relatively short-lived and was subsequently closed to the public because access to the ship is via a bridge under the North Wales railway line which is too low for emergency vehicles. Over time, the vessel has become increasingly derelict.

The ship was later used as a warehouse by its owners Solitaire Liverpool Ltd, a clothing company registered to the same address as Empirewise Ltd.[3] Despite rumours of the ship being scrapped, the company stated that they have no plans to sell it, or restore it[4] and its current use is uncertain.

Despite having large amounts of its exterior paintwork covered in red-leading, the interior of the ship is in very good condition.


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