11th March 2024 - Written by R.Young

troubled waters for beached ship

                                                            Troubled Waters for Beached Ship - The Duke of Lancaster

The Duke of Lancaster

The Duke of Lancaster was built in 1955 by Harland & Wolff, and started its journey in 1956 where it became a 376ft cruise liner and passenger ferry, sailing from Europe, Ireland and Scotland. Back in its day, the ship offered silver service to its guests and had the best first-class quarters around. 

This 4,450 gross tonnage vessel has a beam of 57ft and she used to sit in the water with a 14ft 11in draft. She could accommodate 1,200 passengers, and in her prime could travel at 21 knots.

In 1978, at the end of her active life, the ship changed hands, and the Liverpool-based owner, John Rowley, had big plans for her. In 1979, the Duke of Lancaster was frozen in time as she was beached on the banks of the Welsh estuary, at Llanerch-y-Mor.    

The plan was to turn her into “The Fun Ship”; a dry-docked hotel conversion which included a retail and leisure park, comprising of an amusement arcade and a top-deck bar. Unfortunately, by the mid-1980s, the owners decided to walk away after long standing legal disputes, and the dream fell apart. 

However, for around 30 years, Rowley did try and set up a project to restore the ship in order to attract tourists and boost the community, but sadly, the dream still didn't materialize. So, in 2012, he allowed street artists to come and leave their mark on the hull, and the Duke of Lancaster was transformed. Then again, in 2017, she was modified a second time, when the artwork was covered up with black paint, giving her a more traditional look. 

                                 Troubled Waters for Beached Ship - The Duke of Lancaster

 Later, in 2021, Rowley’s son Antony said they’d started another project to bring her back to life and usable by the public, consisting of several money-raising events that would go towards renovations. 

However, more obstacles surfaced, and the project was dropped. Although, one obstacle was a welcome one, when the family agreed to her being used as a film set for an ITV six-part drama, set in the same era as the Duke of Lancaster, and was to star Sir Lenny Henry.

Troubled Waters for Beached Ship - The Duke of Lancaster

So, in 2022, the Duke of Lancaster posed as the famous HMT Empire Windrush, who is remembered for her duty of bringing more than 1,000 Caribbean immigrants to the UK in 1948. Many of her passengers were Second World War veterans. In 2023, ITV released a drama written by and starring Sir Lenny Henry, called Three Little Birds, set in 1957, post-windrush. 

The drama is loosely based on Lenny’s mother who journeyed to the UK from Jamaica, onboard a cruise ship.

Troubled Waters for Beached Ship - The Duke of Lancaster

The fate of the Duke of Lancaster still hangs in the balance, as Antony advised of recent plans by Network Rail that will compromise her further. Currently, there is an access road at the back of the ship which is very narrow, bumpy and quiet. Unfortunately, it is misused for things such as fly-tipping, and therefore, has lead to a proposal to restrict access by adding permanent vehicle barriers allowing only pedestrians and cyclists access. This plan has serious consequences for the ship, because, if emergency vehicles and client vehicles have no access to the ship, she won’t be able to open to the public.

                                 Troubled Waters for Beached Ship - The Duke of Lancaster

   With this in mind, the owners are reluctant to spend more money on renovating the ship, incase the dream, once more, runs aground. 

Therefore, the ship's future still looks murky and uncertain. 

So, for now, more than 40 years after she was beached, the Duke of Lancaster remains just an iconic landmark off the coastline of North Wales.

contact us & more

Motoryachting offers free information, believed to be true at the time of publishing. If you are the captain or yacht owner and your yacht is available for sale or charter, then please contact us and we can update our information.