The Duke Of Lancaster

Date Visited: December 2010

The Duke Of Lancaster has been beached just outside Mostyn on the North Wales Coast since 1979, meaning that it's been there for longer than it was in actual passenger carrying service.

This isn't an explore in the traditional sense, as I didn't go on board, or even over the fence. I'd imagine accessing the ship is very difficult unless you have some climbing skills, which I don't, or permission from the owners, which is unlikely (although I haven't asked). However, while I'm sure it's very interesting on board, I was more interested in just looking at the ship and it's position on the landscape.

The following history is from Wikipedia:

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). 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 Lancaster travelled to the Scottish islands and further afield to Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Spain.

From the mid-1960s, passenger ships such as the Lancaster were gradually being superseded by car ferries. 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. 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.

The three ships continued on the Heysham-Belfast route until the service was withdrawn on 5 April 1975.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

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. 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 it 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. Despite rumours that the ship would be scrapped, the company stated that they have no plans either to sell it or to restore it 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.

I found the actual location of the ship here on Geograph, and have lifted this interesting snippet from there:

The beach had to be prepared to take the ship so that it would sit at an even keel. Two concrete barges were towed from Birkenhead Docks and scuttled where the ship would come to rest. They were partially visible when I last visited in the late 1980s. One of the barges was a standard WW2 barge, but the other is an historic vessel, the Elmarine, built between the Sankey Canal and the Mersey at Fiddlers Ferry, near Warrington during WW1. She was the prototype for a number of very large barges of 1,000 tons built for the Admiralty in 1917 and 1918. One series of these were built as the Elmarine, in pre-cast concrete sections. Two, the Cretecamp and the Cretecove were built at Fiddlers Ferry.

There's also some more very good reading here.

Finally, there is the 'official' website, the Duke of Lancaster Appreciation Society which contains many photos and the owners version of events surrounding the ship. Well worth a look!

UPDATE: There are a number of posts on my blog that I've written about some of these photos:

UPDATE 11-07-2011: The ship appeared on the BBC2 series 'Coast'. Click here to watch it on BBC IPlayer, it's on from about 53 minutes, and they actually go onboard the ship for a look round.