Duke of Lancaster cruise ship to be restored to its former glory

Duke of Lancaster cruise ship to be restored to its former glory


Graffitied cruise ship Duke of Lancaster will be restored to its former glory where revellers can enjoy sea views from a top deck bar and restaurant if owner’s fundraising drive succeeds

  • The cruise ship, Duke of Lancaster, has been docked on the River Dee near Mostyn, North Wales since 1979
  • After being moored up the 70-year-old cruise ship was turned into a floating tourist attraction, The Funship
  • It has also been used as a warehouse and an art gallery although the current plan is for a tourist attraction 

A cruise ship is set to be brought back to life at a dock – with a top deck bar to enjoy the sea views.

The Duke of Lancaster ferry spent its glory years transporting passengers in its first-class quarters.

It travelled the seas providing a silver service on trips to Ireland, Scotland and Europe through the 1950s and 1960s.

The cruise ship, Duke of Lancaster, has been moored on the River Dee since 1979, when it was turned into a floating tourist attraction

The vessel, pictured, was built by the legendary Harland and Wolff in Belfast – where RMS Titanic was launched 

After the tourist attraction closed, the vessel was used as warehouse storage and later as an art gallery 

The vessel’s condition has worsened as it sits on the River Dee in North Wales. A fundraising effort is under way to return Duke of Lancaster to its former glory 

The vessel was used on Irish Sea routes as well as offering cruises to Europe. She was later reconfigured to carry cars 

TSS Duke of Lancaster (pictured above), built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, began its life as a passenger ferry and cruise liner in 1956, replacing a 1928 steamer of the same name built by the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company

Passengers pictured onboard the turbine steam ship in its heydey. They were treated to silver service while travelling from Ireland, Scotland and Europe, with the vessel’s first-class quarters even branded ‘the best around’ during the 1950s and 60s

Duke of Lancaster was considered one of the more luxurious vessels crossing the Irish Sea with lots of first class accommodation. It was commissioned for British Railways

An interior view of a dining area on TSS Duke of Lancaster. In 1979 the vessel was beached at Llanerch-y-Mor in north-east Wales and turned into a floating leisure and retail complex called The Fun Ship

The ship was then docked on the River Dee near Mostyn, North Wales, in 1979 to be turned into a tourist attraction.

It was set to be a floating leisure complex called The Funship and was decked out with arcade games inside.

But owner John Rowley became embroiled in a row with councillors over the ship’s future – and it has stood empty for over 40 years.

John and his son Antony are now raising cash to restore the top decks into a working bar and restaurant for tourists.

Antony said: ‘It’s been docked here since 1979 and it’s still the same inside, the bar, the restaurant, the cafeterias – everything is still exactly as it was. We’re keeping the original features when we restore it.

‘The area needs it. There’s nothing in the area, it needs a tourist attraction. We’re trying to do everything we can for the local community by bringing more tourists back into the area so everyone can do well out of it.

‘We already get tourists who come down to walk on the coastal path just to have a look at the ship, but with the site being open, it will attract thousands.’

Passengers play bingo aboard the ship. After the huge vessel took its final trip in 1978 it was sold to a Liverpool-based company who wanted to re-use it as a dry docked attraction

The vessel is beached in a poor condition at Llanerch-y-Mor in Flintshire, north-east Wales (location pictured above). It has previously been transformed into an open-air gallery and featured in BBC 2’s Coast, a documentary series

The ship has remained frozen in time at Llanerch-y-Mor near Mostyn in Flintshire, north-east Wales, with the same bar, cinema (pictured above), restaurant and cafeterias

Antony, who grew up on the ship, hopes the top decks will be restored within the next 12 months after raising cash through fun days at the dock.

He said: ‘A few weeks ago we had Covent Garden street performers, live wrestling, bouncy castles and stalls.

‘We also have a beach bar there that we built which is permanently there. One of the original lifeboats is being used as a beer bar so people can sit in there and have a beer next to the bar.

‘All the money we earn from the events goes into restoration of the ship.

‘The area has been closed for 30 years because we had disputes over the access of the ship which has now all been rectified.

‘That’s why we’ve held the first event and now we’re going to start doing more events and everything we do will go into restoration.

‘The main goal next would be to open up the top decks with a bar and then we will slowly work our way down.’

Antony says the ship could eventually be transformed into a venue fit for plush parties and weddings.

Duke of Lancaster was one of the last passenger-only steamers built for British Railways as the growth of car ownership made that type of vessel obsolete

He said: ‘We have lots of other people who want to do other events here as well.

‘There are people who want to have weddings here. They can use the bar, the pier, they can put a marquee up or have the wedding here.’

Duke of Lancaster was one of the last passenger-only steamers built for British Railways.

It was designed to operate as both a passenger ferry and a cruise ship – travelling as far as Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Spain.

Antony added: ‘All the local businesses and local people want something to happen on this site. It’s been a long time coming.

‘It’s been sat here for so many years empty and we’ve not been able to do anything and now we can finally start doing something.’

TSS Duke of Lancaster: A timeline of the passenger ferry that’s been frozen in time for over 40 years

1956: The ship is built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast as a passenger ferry for British Railways, primarily on the Heysham-Belfast route.

It also operates as a cruise ship around Scotland and to Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Norway.

Circa 1965: Altered to a car-ferry with the main deck reconstructed to make room for vehicles.

1970: Resumes service as a car-ferry on the Heysham-Belfast route.

1975: The vessel is removed from service on the route.

1975-1978: Operates on the Fishguard-Rosslare crossing for a short period of time before becoming the regular relief vessel on the Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire service.

1978: Laid up at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria.

1979: Purchased by Empirewise Ltd, who wanted to re-use it as a dry docked attraction, but was later closed following alleged long-standing legal disputes with the local council.

1985: Used as a warehouse for a clothing company.

2011: Featured in BBC 2’s Coast, a documentary series.

2012: Majority of the coin-operated machines were sold to Solitaire Liverpool Ltd.

2013: Ship transformed into an open-air gallery.

2015: Vessel remains beached in a poor condition at Llanerch-y-Mor in Flintshire, north-east Wales.   

Source: National Historic Ships UK 

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