The TSS Duke Of Lancaster has a colourful history, having served as a railway steamer and then later as a car ferry. It became an arcade for a brief period before finally becoming abandoned. Its most colourful period, however, came in 2012 when graffiti artists from around Europe were invited to create artworks on the abandoned vessel.
Originally a British Railways steamer, the TSS Duke of Lancaster was launched on 1 December 1955 and first carried passengers in 1956. The ship was built at Harland & Wolff in Belfast and was the sister ship of TSS Duke Of Rothesay and TSS Duke Of Argyll. The original design allowed it to act as both a passenger ferry and cruise ship. It replaced an earlier ship of the same name operated by the London Midland and Scottish Railway company, a steam turbine passenger ship called the RMS Duke of Lancaster.
The ship began operating as a passenger ferry between Heysham in Lancashire, England and Belfast in Northern Ireland. It also operated a cruise ship travelling around the British Isles, to the Scottish Islands and on short European tours to Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain.
With the advent of car ferries in the 1960s, ships such as the TSS Duke Of Lancaster became redundant and so its owners decided to modify it so as to enable it to carry vehicles. The option to convert their fleet was seen to be much more economical at the time for British Railways. The main deck was rebuilt to accommodate vehicles via a door at her stern and as a result, it would no longer serve its secondary role as a cruise ship. Space for 105 cars was available onboard after the conversion as well as room for 1,200 passengers. The ship returned to service on 25 April 1970, serving the Heysham to Belfast route once again.
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. It was docked in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, England.
The ship was sold to a company who wanted to turn it into a leisure centre and market. It was moved to its new home in Llannerch-y-Mor near Mostyn in North Wales in August 1979 and became known as the Fun Ship. 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. Mostyn was also recently home to the ship Ville de Bordeaux which carried Airbus A380 airplane wings to France for assembly.
There have been plans to reopen the Fun Ship over the years however this has not come to fruition. The TSS Duke Of Lancaster remains beached near Mostyn Docks on the River Dee where it has been since 1979, now decaying and abandoned. The coin operated gaming machines were bought in 2012 by Solitaire Liverpool Ltd and removed using cranes and lifting equipment.
That year also saw a plan to paint the exterior of the rusting ship, creating the largest open air art gallery in the UK. The Latvian graffiti artist Kiwie created a piece in August 2012. Further works by British and European artists were commissioned and the rusted metal of the ship was replaced with a riot of colour. Unfortunately, the graffiti was covered up when the ship was painted black in 2017.