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From the mid-1960s, passenger ships such as the Lancaster were gradually being superseded by car ferries.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-programme 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The three ships continued on the Heysham-Belfast route until the service was withdrawn on 5 April 1975.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 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. The ship was brought into a permanent dock and 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.
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 having large amounts of its exterior paintwork covered in rust, the interior of the ship is in good condition. It was featured in the 2011 series of BBC2’s Coast.
In early 2012 several local arcade game collectors made a deal with Solitaire Liverpool Ltd and were able to purchase most of the coin operated machines left behind inside the ship at the time the fun ship closed. Removing the games required the use of cranes and other heavy lifting equipment. It is now covered with Grafitti done by artists from all over Europe.
|Name:||TSS Duke of Lancaster|
|Owner:||1955–1963: British Transport Commission
|Operator:||1955–1963: British Transport Commission
|Port of registry:||Lancaster, United Kingdom|
|Route:||1955–1975: Heysham – Belfast
1975–1979: Holyhead – Dún Laoghaire
|Builder:||Harland & Wolff, Belfast|
|Out of service:||1979|
|Identification:||IMO number: 5094496|
|Status:||Out of service, In permanent dock|
|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|