TSS Duke of Lancaster was one of the last passenger-only steamers built for British Railways back when the company was also a ferry operator. Built at Harland & Wolff, Belfast and completed in 1956, it replaced another ship of the same name, RMS Duke of Lancaster.
She primarily operated as a passenger ferry on the Heysham – Belfast route, but as she was also designed to be a cruise ship, she traveled to the Scottish islands and further to Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Spain.
The History of Duke of Lancaster Ship
From the mid-1960 passenger-only ships were starting to being replaced by car ferries and British Railways decided to gradually convert its ships. In 1970 Duke of Lancaster went back to service after her main deck was rebuilt to accommodate vehicles via a door at her stern. Now, the ship had space for 1,200 single-class passengers and 105 cars, with total cabin accommodation for 400 passengers. The ship returned to service on 25 April 1970, serving the Heysham to Belfast route once again.
For the next 9 years, the Duke of Lancaster served the Heysham – Belfast route, the Fishguard – Rosslare crossing, and the Holyhead – Dún Laoghaire service. On 5 April 1975, the route was closed and the TSS Duke Of Lancaster was moved to the crossing between Fishguard in Wales and Rosslare in Ireland. It spent a few months as a relief ship on the route from Holyhead in Wales to Dún Laoghaire in Ireland before being removed from service in November 1978. In 1979 it was docked in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, England.
That was when Duke of Lancaster started her second life as ‘The Fun Ship’, a floating leisure complex. Although the local government was at first in favor of the project, it later became reluctant, refusing to provide numerous licenses on safety concerns. During the 1980s, a series of legal battles took place and The Fun Ship was served by 13 separate Enforcement Notices. In 1990 the local government lost on their actions at the hands of the Secretary of State for Wales and were ordered to pay unprecedented costs.
This wasn’t the end though. In 1994 local government struck once more claiming monopoly rights and taking the case to the High Court. This forced The Fun Ship to shut down while proceedings were taking place. Finally, in 2004, sick by decades of attacks, the owners decided to permanently shut the ship down.
It operated as an arcade and bar for a number of years, frequently gaining the ire of local residents. It was eventually closed in 2004.
Since then there has been a lot of discussion about what needs to be done with the abandoned ship. Although its interior is said to be in good condition, the exterior is rusty as it’s been left exposed to the elements. In 2012 a graffiti artist decided to create the largest outdoor graffiti gallery by starting painting on the sides of the ship. Today though most of the art has either faded or painted over.