The TSS Duke of Lancaster - Or - What is That Ship on the River Dee Estuary ?
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The TSS Duke of Lancaster - Or - What is That Ship on the River Dee Estuary ?

The TSS Duke of Lancaster, ship wreck on the River Dee estuary, abandoned ship at Llanerch - y - mor, old ship at Mostyn, Mostyns fun ship, ships built at Harland and Wolff, turbine steam cruise ship, turbine steam ferry, ships owned by British Railways, ships built for British Railways, British Railways ferry,

Visitors to the North Wales coast or the Wirral Peninsula who find themselves on the River Dee estuary, are surprised to see the wreck of a large, white ship berthed in sand on the Welsh side of the river bank.

The ship in question is the TSS Duke of Lancaster and contrary to popular belief, she is neither a wreck run aground on sandbanks nor a ghost ship with a dark and lurid past.

Below I will tell you the history of the TSS Duke of Lancaster, explain how she became part of the North Wales landscape and divulge how her whole working life was shaped by significant trends in British culture.

Built at Harland and Wolff in Belfast in 1955 along with her sisters the Duke of Rothesay and the Duke of Argyll, the TSS Duke of Lancaster started life as a luxury cruise ship for British Railways.

In those days British Railways was not just a rail company but also a large travel company which owned not only trains, but hotels, coaches, ferries and cruise ships.

From 1956 until 1963 the TSS Duke of Lancaster could be seen sailing the seas around the British coast as she took holiday makers on luxury cruises to the Scottish Isles, Scandinavia and Spain.

In those days the ship was kitted out with luxury bars and lounges, silver service restaurants, comfortable cabins and a spacious promenade deck for soaking up the sun, seeing the sights or for romantic, after dinner strolls to watch the setting sun.

The TSS Duke of Lancaster was a turbine, steam ship which had a top speed of 21 knots and room for 1,800 passengers. At 376 feet long and with a berth of 57 feet, she was a majestic sight in her black, white and red Sealink livery.

For six years she was the epitomy of awe inspiring, luxury cruise holidays for the British middle classes, taking them to what was in those days far away, exotic locations in a vessel, most considered, reserved only for the very rich.

However, the cruising hey day of the 1950's came to an abrupt halt when the package holiday abroad became popular in the early 1960's. People were now able to jet off to Spain, southern France and even North Africa in just a few hours, and when they arrived, would be chaufferred to a luxury hotel situated on a sun kissed beach with  guaranteed sunshine and high temperatures.

All this spelled the beginning of the end for the Scandinavian and Scottish Isles cruises and British Railways were left with a fleet of luxury ships that had nowhere to go.

However, another trend that was beginning to take off with British holiday makers at that time was the self drive holiday. At this time more and more of the British working classes were becoming private car owners and those that could not afford to take advantage of the new package holidays abroad decided to drive themselves abroad instead, choosing to stay in camp sites or caravan parks rather than hotels.

As the United Kingdom is an island, many new ferries were needed to cope with this extra demand.

British Railways, ever on the look out to cash in on tourism, decided to turn their now defunct cruise ships into ferries and the TSS Duke of Lancaster became one of them. 

                                  

                           THE TSS DUKE OF LANCASTER - during her time as a cruise ship. 

From 1963 until 1979 the converted, cruise ship spent her days sailing from Heysham in Lancashire to Belfast in Northern Ireland, Fishguard in Wales to Rosslare in the Republic of Ireland and from Holyhead in Wales to Dun Loghaire in the Republic of Ireland.

She had been converted in order to accommodate 1,200 foot passengers, 105 cars and had cabin space for 400 people for use on her night ferry services.

Although the TSS Duke of Lancaster was now a ferry, she was infact the most luxurious in her class, as she was still kitted out with all her luxury trappings from her cruise days, much to the surprise and delight of her many passengers, many of whom had thought that they had boarded the wrong ship !

During the sixteen years that the TSS Duke of Lancaster was being used as a busy, working ferry service.yet another trend was taking off in the U.K.

During the 1960's and 70's Britain's economy was booming, work was plentiful and the nation's people now had something that they had never had before, expendable incomes.

However, there was one problem with all this, the hard working men and women of the U.K had nowhere to spend their money.There were of course shops, but the problem was, that the people who worked were left with no shop opening hours during their leisure time.

In those days there was no late night shopping, no 24 hour supermarkets, most men worked six days a week and few women could drive, meaning that Sunday was the only day of the week that a man could take his wife and children out shopping, but in 1950 the British Parliament had passed a bill - the 1950 Shop Act - prohibiting shopping on Sundays on religious grounds.

Industrious, Midlands based street traders Pat Scott and John Rowley were only too aware of the problems the general public were having due to this archaic trading law, and began to look for alternative ways of bringing shops to the masses on Sundays.

One loophole in this act was that the act shall not apply to seagoing ships, this got John Rowley to thinking about purchasing a ship to use as a market trading area, sounds simple enough, but there were many pitfalls to consider.

First, a viable site was needed, second a vessel had to be purchased, and thirdly, the said vessel needed to be overhauled in order to be a fully operational trading centre.

After much searching, John Rowley found a small, tidal dock on the River Dee estuary at Llanerch - y - Mor, near Mostyn Docks in North Wales.

Finding a ship was slightly more problematic. A ship of a certain size was needed as the ship needed to be large enough to house such a venture, but small enough to be moored at the small dock site, but large enough so as it could withstand the continual ebb and flow of the tide without it breaking up.

By 1979 the package deal holiday abroad had now become cheaper and much more accessible to the general masses, meaning that fewer people were now taking self drive holidays.

This meant fewer ferries were needed and that the poor old TSS Duke of Lancaster was out of work again, but unlike the last time, there seemed to be few other work options left open to her. Or was there.........?

                                       

                  THE TSS DUKE OF LANCASTER - as seen during her days as a Fun Ship Complex.

By this time the now redundant Duke had been held up in port at Barrow in Furness. The ship was in good working order, in pristine condition below deck and by no means was she ready to be broken up for scrap.

John Rowley got to hear about her, and after his first inspection of her, realised that he had found his ideal ship in the TSS Duke of Lancaster and that his vision for a Fun Ship Complex to fulfill the demand for public shopping on Sundays, was finally going to be put into practice.

This huge ship was pulled by tug boat from Barrow to Mostyn during the first week of August, 1979.

Her gross tonnage was a staggering 4,450 tonnes and this proved rather problematic once Rowley and his team had finally berthed their monster vessel at the tiny north Wales dockside.

Realising this large ship would break up during the erratic and powerful tides found on the River Dee estuary, Rowley purchased a barge and dredger in order to take sand from the river bed and fully encase the hull of the ship in sand in order to keep her stable.

Once this was achieved, the ship was overhauled into Rowley's dream, fun ship with the car deck used for market stalls and it's upper decks kitted out with bars, restaurants,lounges, a cinema, an amusement arcade, a pool hall, a creche and access to the ship's wheel room which would be used for guided tours.

The ship opened for business in 1980 and the Fun Ship Complex became an instant hit with people of all ages.

Mum's got to do their shopping indoors, children could play in a controlled and secure environment, bored teenagers were able to enjoy the amusement arcade, pool hall or cinema, dads got to inspect the wheel room or just take a leisurely break with a cold beer in the ship's bar and the old folk could sit with a cup of tea in one of the comfortable lounges whilst taking in the stunning River Dee, estuary views,

Throughout her working life, the TSS Duke of Lancaster had been the epitomy of fun, laughter and happy times, but even her sailing days now paled into insignificance with the pleasure that she was now bringing to the hard working men and women of north Wales and north, west England in her new guise as an upmarket, static leisure centre and market venue. 

                              

                                    THE TSS DUKE OF LANCASTER - as she is today. 

However, due to the fact that the ship was only assessible by way of a low railway bridge that emergency vehicles were unable to access, the Fun Ship's life was short lived and she was forced to be closed down due to health and safety regulations in 1986.

From that time she has remained on her sandy platform on the banks of the River Dee where her owners, Liverpool based fashionwear company Solitaire, have as yet, no plans to sell, restore or scrap the TSS Duke of Lancaster.

Today, her exterior looks rather unkempt and unloved, but her interior is well appointed and still able to show off the remnants of the fine and majestic cruise ship that she once was.

Other ships known by the same name. 

There have been two other vessels with the name The Duke of Lancaster -  The TSS Duke of Lancaster built in 1895 which was torpedoed and sank in the North Sea in August 1915 and the RMS Duke of Lancaster which was built in 1928 and was replaced in 1956 by the present TSS Duke of Lancaster.

What was the fate of her sisters ?

As for her sister ships, the TSS Duke of Rothesay spent twenty one years working as a cruise ship and then a ferry on the Heysham to Belfast route, before she was sold for scrap and broken up at Faslane in Scotland in 1975.

The TSS Duke of Argyll however, had a much more varied career. Between 1956 - 1975 she worked both as a cruise ship and ferry in UK waters, as a passenger ferry in Greece between 1975 - 1994 where she was renamed the Neptunia and The Corinthia, and as a passenger ferry in Hong Kong, where she was known as the Fairy Princess and the Zenith. After catching fire in 1995 she was then sold for scrap and broken up.

The TSS Duke of Lancaster has her own website, visit it here - dukeoflancaster.net 

The TSS Duke of Lancaster is also featured on this website -  hhvferry.com/dukeoflanc.

You may also be interested in my article - the-evolution-of-the-english-holiday-resort

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Comments (4)
Ranked #1 in Popular Culture

Excellent history.

Excellent work.

Good info here Dee, FB liked :) and thanks.

Excellent, well written and illustrated piece of work...........thanks

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