|Date||11 June 2011|
|Location||Llannerch-y-mor, Mostyn, Flintshire||SJ 17755 79575; 53.30670°N, 3.23573°W|
The turbine steamship Duke of Lancaster, one of British Railways’ last passenger-only steamers, was built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast in 1956. Her length is 114.6 m and beam 17.5 m. She operated as a European cruiser from 1958 to 1969 and was later converted for use as a car ferry. A stern loading door was added and the main deck rebuilt in order to carry up to 105 cars. With space for 1,200 passengers, including cabin accommodation for 400, she operated on the crossing from Heysham in Lancashire to Belfast from 1970 to 1975. She then saw service on the Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire crossing until 1978, leaving Holyhead for the last time in January 1979 to be laid up in Barrow.
Exploiting a loophole in the Sunday trading legislation — certain provisions of the Shops Act, 1950 did not apply to ‘any sea-going ship’* — Liverpool-based Empirewise Ltd purchased the ship with plans to open a leisure and retail complex which would include a Sunday market. Having found a suitable location — a disused fishing dock on the banks of the River Dee at Llannerch-y-mor near Mostyn — her new owners then arranged for the ship to be transferred from Barrow. On her final voyage the ship was towed by two tugs from Bangor and arrived at her final resting place on 10 August 1979.
Soon afterwards serious concerns for her safety arose on account of the tidal conditions at the dock. The decision was therefore made to beach her. An old concrete barge from the Menai Strait was scuttled at her stern and then a makeshift dredger was used to pump sand around the hull so that she could securely rest on an even keel.
Bar licences were obtained but there were issues with the local council in obtaining full planning consent. Nevertheless, the ship opened to the public in 1980 as The Funship. The car deck provided space for 100 market stalls together with a cafe and bingo hall. There were also various other cafes, bars and restaurants on board as well as an amusement arcade, pool hall, and a children’s play area and cinema. Additionally, there were plans to convert the cabins into hotel accommodation.
With ongoing difficulties with the local council, The Funship closed to the public in the mid 1980s, briefly reopening in 1992. During this time the owners, now trading as Solitaire, were also running a clothing business based in a city-centre shop in Liverpool.
At the present time the future of the Duke of Lancaster is uncertain.
* Shops Act, 1950 PART IV SUNDAY TRADING General provisions in England and Wales 56. (6) The foregoing provisions of this Part of this Act shall not apply to any sea-going ship.