Along with her sister ships the TSS Duke of Rothesay and the TSS Duke of Argyll she was amongst the last passenger-only steamers built for British Railways (at that time, also a ferry operator). She was a replacement for the 1928 steamer built by the London Midland and Scottish Railway, RMS Duke of Lancaster.
Built at Harland & Wolff, Belfast and completed in 1956, she was designed to operate as both a passenger ferry (primarily on the Heysham-Belfast route) and as a cruise ship. In this capacity, the Lancaster travelled to the Scottish islands and further afield to Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Spain.
From the mid-1960s, passenger ships such as the Lancaster were gradually being superseded by car ferries. Rather than undertake the expensive option of renewing their entire fleet, British Railways instead began a part-programme of conversion. In order to maintain ferry services whilst these modifications took place, the Lancaster’s duties as a cruise ship ceased. On 25 April 1970 the ship returned to service, having had her main deck rebuilt to accommodate vehicles via a door at her stern. The ship now provided space for 1,200 single-class passengers and 105 cars, with a total cabin accommodation for 400 passengers.
The three ships continued on the Heysham-Belfast route until the service was withdrawn on 5 April 1975. The Duke of Lancaster was then briefly employed on theFishguard-Rosslare crossing, before becoming the regular relief vessel on the Holyhead–Dún Laoghaire service until November 1978. The ship was then laid up at Barrow in Furness, Cumbria.
The Duke of Lancaster arrived in Llanerch-y-Mor in August 1979 to start her new life as the Funship. Despite Delyn Councils’ own resolution in favour of the project (which led to the financial commitment) they subsequently refused numerous planning applications, even for signage, opposed the granting of bar licenses, issued a magistrates’ summons over a lack of sufficient fire escapes, applied for a High Court injunction to close the ship on safety grounds, refused permission to trade on the car park area although the Coed Mawr was allowed trading at the time without planning permission, required the Funship to charge an admission fee to supposedly protect the trade in Holywell town centre although the Funship targeted tourism and even sabotaged a Welsh Development Grant awarded for sea defence and landscaping purposes. All this was followed by the serving of 13 separate Enforcement Notices, around 1985, blighting the site until 1990 when the Council lost on their actions at the hands of the Secretary of State for Wales. The Council were ordered to pay unprecedented costs. They had failed yet again. In 1994 the Council struck once more claiming monopoly rights in the High Court. They claimed the Funship Market was within a 6 mile radius of their newly opened Holywell Market and was direct competition, therefore had to close. They applied to the High court for an interlocutory injunction forcing the Funship to close whilst the case went for trial.
That was probably the death knell for the Funship with her owners sick of the attacks they closed the business in 2004. They have continued to fight the case over the years and are still doing so but unfortunately the ship has stood closed ever since.
Despite having large amounts of its exterior paintwork covered in rust, the interior of the ship is in good condition. It was featured in the 2011 series of BBC Two’s Coast.
In early 2012 several local arcade game collectors made a deal with Solitaire Liverpool Ltd and were able to purchase most of the coin operated machines left behind inside the ship at the time the fun ship closed. Removing the games required the use of cranes and other heavy lifting equipment.
The plan is to transform the ship into the largest open air art gallery in the UK. As of August 2012, the Latvian graffiti artist “Kiwie” was commissioned to spraypaint a design on the ship. The ship is slowly being covered with graffiti described as “bright and surreal”. The first phase of the project saw Kiwie and other European graffiti artists paint murals on the ship between August and November 2012, and the second phase (starting at the end of March 2013) included the work of British-based artists such as Snub23, Spacehop, Dan Kitchener and Dale Grimshaw. One of the artworks is a picture of the ship’s first captain, John ‘Jack’ Irwin.
Source : Wikipedia