Cruise-liner that was beached on Welsh coast in 1979 could be restored

Ghost ship will rise again: Duke of Lancaster cruise-liner that boasted the ‘best’ first-class quarters in its 50s and 60s heyday but was beached and forgotten on Welsh coast in 1979 could be restored as venue

  • The Duke of Lancaster, built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, began its life as a passenger ferry and cruise liner
  • Passengers treated to silver service as they travelled from Ireland, Scotland and Europe in the 1950s and 60s
  • The vessel was sold to a Liverpool-based company in 1978 who wanted to re-use it as a dry docked attraction
  • In the years since then it has remained frozen in time –  but, decades later, it is preparing for a new lease of life 

A magnificent 1950s cruise ship that was left beached and forgotten on the banks of a Welsh estuary for over 40 years could be restored as a venue.

The Duke of Lancaster, 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 were treated to silver service as they travelled from Ireland, Scotland and Europe, with the vessel’s first-class quarters even branded ‘the best around’ during the 1950s and 60s, says a website dedicated to the ship.

However, after the turbine steam ship 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.

In the years since then it has remained frozen in time at Llanerch-y-Mor near Mostyn in Flintshire, north-east Wales, with the same bar, restaurant and cafeterias. 

But now, decades later, it is preparing for a new lease of life with grand plans to restore it to its former glory.

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

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

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

In 1979 the Duke of Lancaster was beached at Llanerch-y-Mor and turned into a floating leisure and retail complex called The Fun Ship. Flyers were printed and there were grand plans for a hotel conversion and various attractions.

But the dream was short lived and never came into full fruition. The owners of the ship walked away following alleged long-standing legal disputes with the local council and by the mid-1980s, the ship had closed.

One of the plans for The Fun Ship was an amusements arcade covering an entire deck, resulting in over 50 arcade machines ‘from the golden era’ being sealed shut inside the ship when it closed.

The ship’s owner, John Rowley, spent around 30 years trying to start a project that could restore the ship to serve the community and attract tourists. Sadly, it never happened, and in 2012, Mr Rowley allowed several street artists to leave their stamp on the vessel.

However, more recently things have been looking up for the iconic landmark. John’s son, Antony Rowley, said that after decades of trying, they had finally gotten an events project off the ground.

In early September, a variety fun day was held at the quay just outside the ship, with more events to come. The aim is to raise money that will go towards renovating the ship for it to eventually reopen to the public.

One of the plans for The Fun Ship was an amusements arcade covering an entire deck, resulting in over 50 arcade machines ‘from the golden era’ being sealed shut inside the ship when it closed

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

The interior of the ship, which has been left beached and forgotten on the banks of a Welsh estuary. But now, decades later, it is preparing for a new lease of life with grand plans to restore it to its former glory

In 1979 the Duke of Lancaster was beached at Llanerch-y-Mor and turned into a floating leisure and retail complex called The Fun Ship. Flyers were printed and there were grand plans for a hotel conversion and various attractions

More recently things have been looking up for the iconic landmark. Antony Rowley, the son of the ship’s owner, said that after decades of trying, they had finally gotten an events project off the ground

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 

Antony, who grew up on the ship, 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. On December 12, we’re holding a Christmas market on the Quay. 

‘There will be all local businesses and street food stalls and we should have one of the local schools doing a carol service. We’re slowly starting to do more and more.’

Antony said their first aim is to re-open the top decks into a working bar so the public can enjoy a drink while taking in the beautiful scenery. It is hoped it will be complete within the next 12 months.

‘All the money we earn from the events goes into restoration of the ship,’ Antony said. ‘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.’

He said the rest of the ship would take a lot longer to restore, however, with regular events hopefully being planned throughout next year.

‘We have lots of other people who want to do other events here as well,’ he added. ‘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. 

‘Any event is possible as of next year. We’ve just done these two this year to prove events are viable on this site.’

Antony said that although they are restoring the ship’s interior to make it fit for purpose, they will be sure to keep its original features for an authentic experience.

He 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.’

Antony said it gave him joy to give something back to the community, to create something that locals and tourists alike can enjoy and benefit from.

He said: ‘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.

The ship’s owner spent around 30 years trying to start a project that could restore the ship to serve the community and attract tourists. Sadly, it never happened, and in 2012, Mr Rowley allowed several street artists to leave their stamp on the vessel

An outdoor seating area on the ship. In September, a variety fun day was held at the quay just outside the ship, with more events to come. The aim is to raise money that will go towards renovating the ship for it to eventually reopen to the public

Antony said their first aim is to re-open the top decks into a working bar so the public can enjoy a drink while taking in the beautiful scenery. It is hoped it will be complete within the next 12 months

‘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.

‘There’s a Duke of Lancaster appreciation society that has around three-and-a-half thousand members, among others, and they’re all wanting something to happen here. 

‘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.’

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