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There are few more startling sights to be seen on the coast road through Flintshire than that which strikes you as you approach Llanerch-y-Môr. There, apparently resting proud within the fields a little off the road, is a ship - and, at 376ft, a big one at that. This then is the famous Duke of Lancaster, a North Walian icon since 1979. But despite initial appearances, the ship is not in fact berthed in a field, but rather docked, or more accurately concreted into the dock at Llanerch-y-Môr.

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The Duke of Lancaster was built for British Rail (later Sealink) at Harland & Wolff in 1956, one of three of her type - steam turbine powered passenger only ferries, and considered the height of luxury for the time. While her sister ships, the Dukes of Argyll and Rothesay were employed exclusively as passenger ferries on the Heysham (Morecambe) to Belfast route, the impressive Lancaster was a little different, built to operate also as a cruise ship. As such, she plied her trade amongst the Scottish Islands, but on occasion sailed as far as Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and even Spain. She was comfortably able of taking on 600 first class and 1200 second class passengers. The Lancaster, then, has always been a little special.

 

However, by the mid 1960s, the rise of the car ferry business quickly began to make the age of the passenger only trade redundant. The Lancaster, along with her sister ships, found themselves luxurious obsoletes. Unable to find the funds and support to build new, purpose built car ferries, British Rail decided to refit the existing Dukes in order to accommodate cars. Between January and April 1970, the Lancaster was refitted in order to be able to take on 105 cars, several coaches (from the stern) and 1200 passengers (with cabin accommodation for 400). She worked the Heysham to Belfast route until 1975, before briefly working the Fishguard to Rosslare route, and later Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire.

 

The end came in 1978, when the Lancaster and her sisters were retired, laid up in Barrow-in-Furness. She was sold to the Liverpool firm, Empirewise Ltd and in 1979 towed by tug to Llanerch-y-Môr. There, the plan was to make the ship into a static leisure centre of sorts, and was reopened as the ‘Fun Ship’ - a name which it retains to this day. For a while one could tour the ship, including the engine room, and browse market stalls, visit the amusement arcade (one has to be a certain age to understand the draw of arcade machines) and cafe. There were ambitious plans to turn the ship into a 300 bed hotel.

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However, all came to an end, as plans became mired in disputes with the local authority. There are any number of reasons - some undisputed, others argued over. But the result was the same. By the mid 1980s, the Duke of Lancaster became, in effect, a ghost ship - at Llanerch-y-Môr on the Flintshire coast. There have been any number of hopes that the Duke would be brought back to some kind of life, and they remain still to this day, plans. The arcade machines were removed in 2012, graffiti artists have had, with the permission of the owner, their way with it, but now painted black, it rests, awaiting something. Internally, the ship is in excellent condition, a time capsule of the 1970s. Given its iconic status, it is to be hoped that it will not be allowed to rust away to utter decrepitude. The sea is patient and implacable, and will consume all eventually.

 

It is still possible to get close to the ship, on both the port and starboard sides. But it is from the starboard that one gets the best view, the boulder strewn shore its foreground. It remains a wonder, in truth, the Duke of Lancaster - a reminder of a time before the hurly burly of car ferry madness, when ferries were something more than vessels of human cargo, and one could travel the Scottish Islands, or even the ferry routes between Ireland and the United Kingdom in considerable luxury.

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Interestingly, beside the Duke is a World War One era concrete barge, by the name of Elmarine, which was towed over from Birkenhead at about the same time as the Lancaster to act as a breakwater. Best viewed on Google Maps, since it is largely hidden from view now, though it is possible to see part of the craft in the photo above.

 

 

Further Reading - Online

 

Coflein entry - https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/506943/

Duke of Lancaster - https://www.hhvferry.com/dukeoflanc.html

The Crete Fleet - https://thecretefleet.com/concrete-ship-blog/f/the-concrete-barges-by-the-duke-of-lancaster---llanerch-y-mor?blogcategory=Concrete+Ships+-+British+WWII

Life in the Mouse House - https://mousehouselife.wordpress.com/2022/04/06/the-duke-of-lancaster-a-ship-frozen-in-time/

Mostyn History Preservation Society Film Archive -

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvBrgId81O8

Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TSS_Duke_of_Lancaster_(1955)

BFI - https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-duke-of-lancaster-1956-online

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