It was once an elegant passenger ferry and cruise ship commanding the seas around the British Isles and North-West Europe. But the former railway steamer TSS Duke of Lancaster has spent the last 30 years rusting away by the North Wales coast. Other than those littering the ocean floor, it’s unusual for ageing vessels to escape scrappage in this day and age, and with a few notable exceptions (such as the reputedly haunted Queen Mary at Long Beach and forlorn liner SS United States in Philadelphia), the Duke of Lancaster is one of the last survivors of its era, certainly in the UK. Happily, there is an ongoing preservation effort to tell this great ship’s history and ensure its survival, as well as a Facebook group currently boasting 1,117 members.
Built by Harland & Wolff of Belfast (famed manufacturers of RMS Titanic), Duke of Lancaster was launched in 1956 and served as a passenger ferry on the Heysham-Belfast route, and a cruise ship around the Scottish islands, Scandinavia and Western Europe. Much smaller than grand liners like RMS Queen Mary and configured for more local routes, the ship nevertheless featured a beautifully appointed first and second class interior, some of which reportedly still exists today.
With her sister ships TSS Duke of Rothesay and the TSS Duke of Argyll, Duke of Lancaster was one of the last passenger-only steamers built for British Railways, which then operated ferries. But the ship moved with the times and when passenger vessels passed the mantle to car ferries from the mid-1960s, British Railways converted Duke of Lancaster to carry 1,200 passengers and 105 cars, with cabins for 400. While the ship’s service life was increased by more than a decade, the elegant second class lounge accomodation was unfortunately ripped-out during conversion.
Retired in 1979 and ending her days docked at Llanerch-y-Mor near Mostyn, Wales, plans to convert the ship to a 300-room hotel failed and TSS Duke of Lancaster became the short-lived Mostyn “Fun Ship“. Later used as a warehouse by owners Solitaire Liverpool Ltd, its current use is uncertain. Despite the Duke of Lancaster’s outward appearance, her interior is reportedly in good condition. Few pictures exist, but 28 Days Later offers an exclusive look inside the rusting ship. Find out more about the ship and preservation efforts here.